Scroll down to find the pieces from Prospect’s space supplement
You might not know it, but Britain has a burgeoning space industry—40 per cent of all satellites currently in orbit were made in Britain. The government is now determined to push the space industry as far as it can go.
The economic arguments for that ambition are strong. Jobs in the space sector are generally well-paid and require highly-skilled personnel, exactly the type of productivity-boosting employment that the government craves.
Good news, then, that No 10 included a big slab of space spending in its industrial strategy plans—£50m—which, as the CEO of the UK Space Agency tells me, is a useful amount indeed. But the aim of this spending is not to kick-start a government-backed space programme of the sort that put men on the moon. This time round the aim is to draw in the private sector, so that companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic take the lead. Both companies are working on their own independent space launch capabilities.
One of the sites from which these new craft might launch is Newquay. For anyone who’s visited the north Cornish town, its associations might lean more towards surfing, buckets and spades, and ice cream. But, as the Director of Spaceport Cornwall explains Newquay airport turns out to be especially well suited for launching spacecraft.
What’s more, the government’s new Space Industries Act gives it powers to grant spaceport licences, and provides a body of regulation governing how those ports should operate. The creation of a centre of activity like that, either in Cornwall or in one of the other proposed locations for a UK spaceport, such as the north of Scotland, could provide the British space industry with a centre of activity, around which companies can grow.
Brexit will bring problems. As Sam Gyimah, the minister overseeing Britain’s space ambitions, writes, the UK’s participation in Europe’s Galileo satellite programme is crucial. If Brussels forces Britain out of the programme, it will cost the European Union billions and delay the project for years.
But it’s not all cold, hard politics. John Mather won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2006 for creating an image of the background radiation of the entire universe—no small feat. As he reminds us, humanity’s instinct to investigate space is an ancient one and he is now overseeing the construction and launch of Nasa’s new satellite telescope.
The modern world, he points out, is shaped by our ability to send complex objects into space. The communications technology on which we now rely would be impossible without this ability.
If Britain helps to shape the future of space innovation, then it will help to determine the way that future generations will live. There can be few higher aims than that.
Britain in space: Is the country ready for a giant leap?
Could Cornwall be the site of Britain’s first spaceport?
Sam Gyimah: If the UK leaves Galileo programme it will cost the EU billions
The UK and next generation space launch technology
Space: The numbers
Prosperity from space
Physics Nobel Prize-winner John Mather: Our history, and our future, is in the stars
Defeating the digital deficit