The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has launched a 12-week consultation to assess whether the UK’s civil space strategy would be better co-ordinated by a single agency.
The UK’s space activities are currently managed by the British National Space Centre (BNSC), a cross-governmental organisation that co-ordinates Britain’s civil space programmes with input from academia and industry.
In a statement issued on 21 July, Lord Drayson, science and innovation minister, said the UK space industry had thrived under the BNSC.
Citing the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, he said: ‘We now have to look ahead to the next 40 years. I want this consultation to be inspired and influenced by this idea. So we can provide the best support to our world-leading space sector. So it can continue to flourish and when the economic growth takes hold, make an even bigger impact on the UK economy and our lives.’
Prof Sir Martin Sweeting, chairman of Surrey Satellites, told The Engineer Online that UKSpace, through reports such as Case4Space and Space Secures Prosperity, has highlighted the growing economic impact of the UK space industry, and the important role it plays in Britain’s national infrastructure.
He said: ‘A national agency should help to raise awareness of these issues across a broader range of government departments.’
He added that difficult market conditions present an opportunity to have a debate on the technologies that matter to society. With the space industry’s contribution to the economy set to double to £14.2bn in the next decade, Sweeting argued investment in the industry could act as a ‘ladder out of recession’.
He said: ‘It is sometimes said that “change is impossible when things are going well”, so perhaps a time of economic difficulty is actually the best opportunity to have a debate on how to re-allocate scarce resources to those industries that have the greatest potential.
‘Clearly any such agency would need to strike an intelligent balance between space science and other areas of potential expenditure on space.’
However, there are concerns that the creation of a new agency will do little to take advantage of the growth opportunities unless it is backed by increased investment.
Prof George Fraser, director of Leicester University’s Space Research Centre, said: ‘On balance, it’s a real opportunity in the UK, but like everything else it has to be backed up by real structure, staff and funding.
‘This is one of a slew of initiatives where the government recognises and states very forcibly what the value of the UK space industry is. The statistics are always there and always promoted. It’s a question of internal reorganisations in the government structure to make this new agency happen.
‘Changing the labels without changing much else will probably not be helpful.’