20 Sep 2023
by Felix Barr

Observations from Yorkshire: How the UK can become an emerging space tech superpower

Guest blog from Felix Barr, Cluster Development Manager at Space Hub Yorkshire. Part of techUK's #SuperchargeUKTech Week 2023.

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By 2030 the UK space industry is forecast to be worth over £40 billion – driving significant global investment opportunities and international trade. It has never been more appropriate for the UK to exploit its capabilities and drive forward innovation in a sector that is constantly evolving. The opportunity is there for the UK to successfully define itself as an emerging space tech superpower.

Private companies have pushed the boundaries of innovation within the Space sector like never before and have subsequently advanced research and development of the industry significantly. As a result, any country looking to compete on the world stage should place attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) at the top of the agenda. Thankfully, the UK is already in a position of significant strength.

Leading the way in FDI

Since 2003 the UK has secured £339 million of foreign direct investment in 61 Space sector inward investment projects, supporting 2,000 high-value jobs. The USA (33), France (11), Sweden (4), Italy (4) and Canada (3) are the top source countries for UK Space FDI projects, making the UK, according to a recent PWC-UK Space Agency report, the most attractive destination for private investment in Space after the US (beating Europe). The report also found that the sector has matured over the last 7 years and that 95% of space investments were in revenue-generating companies in 2022, compared to 56% in 2015.

Industry and academia, working alongside regional government in the form of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), must take advantage of these FDI opportunities to promote growth and harness the talent within the UK. Regional Space Clusters can help support this, as they aim to unlock the Space Sector for all and demonstrate the immense technical capability of the UK. Space Hub Yorkshire is one such cluster, and they have identified a strong space sector across Yorkshire which is high growth, high productivity and has the potential to act as a catalyst to create highly skilled jobs and support a strong and resilient economy.

Regional opportunities

Space-enabled technology and services will underpin £600 billion of growth in UK GDP by 2030, delivering jobs that are 2.6X more productive than the UK average. Yorkshire and the Humber can expect Space-enabled technology and services to underpin £50 billion of regional GDP growth by 2030. Space Hub Yorkshire look to capitalise on these opportunities by harnessing the world-class expertise and talent in the region coupled with an ecosystem that is underpinned by world leading universities with nationally recognised research strengths. The UK can make the most of its academic expertise by combining deep technical capability and world-leading knowledge to deliver future commercial applications of geospatial intelligence and Space data.

Across the nation there are universities pioneering research and development with their knowledge, capabilities and facilities.  Materials innovation has become a regional focus for Yorkshire, driven by the White Rose University Consortium and the N8 Group of world-class universities – including York, Sheffield and Leeds. Facilities such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Precision Technologies at the University of Huddersfield have become go-to location for complex solutions to industrial manufacturing and engineering challenges across sectors including rail, aerospace and automotive. In turn, this will accelerate the development of the Space sector and firmly cement the UK as an emerging space tech superpower.  

Developing skills and growing exports

In the Government’s Space Sector COVID Support Plan, it states that all parts of the space economy offer opportunities to level up across the whole of the UK, stimulating new centres of excellence and creating highly skilled, high-value jobs. To successfully to become an emerging space tech superpower, there must be a skilled workforce that can support the industry. The UK space industry expects that an additional 30,000 highly skilled people will need to be trained to support UK space industry growth ambitions by 2030. For this to become a reality, there must be pathways and an increased awareness of Space employment opportunities throughout education. Placements provide insights to students on the ever-expanding landscape of the sector, while apprenticeships can effectively equip individuals with the appropriate skillset to flourish.

As well as FDI, a true indicator of a superpower is the size of its exports. In 2019 the UK Space industry exported more than a third of its output (£5.5 billion) in Space sector goods and services, highlighting the desire for UK skills. France, India, Japan, Germany and Luxemburg were among the largest importers of these products. Yorkshire’s existing capability and expertise, particularly within satellite data applications and component manufacture, offer sizeable export opportunities and businesses are supported by the combined work of the Department for Business and Trade, Space Hub Yorkshire and the LEPs.

Collaboration will ultimately be key to the UK’s journey to becoming an emerging Space tech superpower. Taking learnings from clusters such as Space Hub Yorkshire will provide building blocks on which international success can be created and subsequently accelerate economic growth. By acting as a pioneer of new technologies within a constantly evolving sector, the UK can continue to be at the forefront of the ever-changing landscape.

Please contact [email protected] if you are interested in finding out more about how techUK will be collaborating with Space Hub Yorkshire in the coming months

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Felix Barr

Felix Barr

Cluster Development Manager, Space Hub Yorkshire