July 13, 2012
The European Space Agency is emulating the emphasis on collaboration with the private sector adopted by the U.K. Space Agency that was stood up last year.
Britain has long been a second-tier player to ESA relative to its economic strength in Europe. U.K. contributions to ESA programs lag far behind those of France, Germany and Italy. For a time it looked like Britain might fall behind Spain in funding European space.
But a few years ago the British view of the space sector changed. Instead of being seen as a playground for dilettante engineers, space is now viewed as an economic engine in a nation that badly needs one.
Following two years of strategic investment, including a national space technology program funded at £10 million ($15.5 billion) and the creation of the U.K. Space Agency in 2011, London is seeing results.
Since 2010, the U.K.’s space sector and its downstream markets have contributed £9.1 billion to the economy, while the creation of the U.K. Space Agency has allowed more flexibility for spending limited resources — civil space spending accounts for roughly £300 million per year, enabling British companies to better position themselves to win ESA contracts.
“I hope the track record has been established of this government’s commitment to space as one of the crucial high-tech sectors of the future,” says David Willetts, minister for universities and science.
Speaking during the Farnborough air show, Willetts brandished figures from Britain’s space sector, touting 15.6% real growth since 2008-09, with the average annual growth rate over the last two years reaching 7.5%.
Of the sector’s total $14 billion turnover since 2010, however, upstream markets accounted for just $1.4 billion, though downstream sectors reported an average annual growth rate of 8.5% between 2008-09 and 2010-11.
The U.K. government is expected to produce a more thorough accounting of the size and health of Britain’s space economy in September, but Willetts says the numbers show the dynamism of the sector at a time when Britain is struggling for economic growth, and that the nation’s commercial space sector is poised to seize 10% of the global market by 2030.