Home Business News Scottish vs UK national space strategies: Lists of dreams or pivotal moment for the European Space Industry?

Scottish vs UK national space strategies: Lists of dreams or pivotal moment for the European Space Industry?

by Alex Hayes
23rd Nov 21 12:12 pm

Both Scotland and Britain have released their official space strategies declaring their vision, mission, and ambitions for the future of space exploration. In broad brush strokes, both strategies emphasize the importance of space technology and its future applications such as removing space debris, developing space infrastructure, and delivering space transportation services. Both strategies also discuss the potential for gaining economic, societal, and environmental benefits from the space industry.

With strong visions for the future, both Scotland and the UK have ambitious goals to achieve. At the same time, the race for the New Space is gaining momentum, so let’s see what these two countries have on the roster for the future of space exploration.

Forget about “Global Britain”. It’s “Galactic Britain” now

The UK’s National Space Strategy lays out an ambitious goal to become “Galactic Britain,” which means becoming Europe’s biggest player in the space technology market. One of the most crucial steps towards this goal is becoming the first country to launch orbital rockets from Europe in 2022. While becoming Galactic Britain might sound a bit far off, having a fully functional launch site on British soil next year is a much more realistic target.

The UK’s vision for New Space is to build one of the most innovative space economies in the world by protecting the country’s interests in space, shaping the space environment, and using new technologies to solve challenges at home, overseas, and outside our home planet.

The core objectives of the UK Space Strategy are to grow and promote the space economy, lead innovation and scientific discovery, protect the national interests in and through space, and promote the interests of UK citizens in the upcoming space era. To achieve these goals, the government is investing heavily in building spaceports in England, Scotland, and Wales. Right now, spaceports are being built in the Shetland Isles, Sutherland, Argyll, Prestwick, and several other locations.

The government has expressed its plans to empower space businesses and help new startups grow. However, there is no clear statement regarding the funding for civil, military, and commercial space activities. What is planned for sure is to deliver the UK’s first Defence Space Portfolio, which includes investing £5 billion over the span of 10 years in the development of military satellite communications.

As of now, there are not too many space companies in Britain that are capable of contributing to the UK’s big space mission in the near future. The government and investors should focus on promoting such startups as OneWeb, Skyrora, and Alba Orbital that have already made strong contributions to achieving Britain’s vision. Nonetheless, the country needs more space businesses and more support to achieve its objectives.

Reactions to the National Space Strategy

It has to be said that there’s not much certainty or concrete information in the UK’s Space Strategy. The UK has a monumental mission ahead of itself and great ambitions but lacks severely in terms of actual solutions and tangible milestones. Additionally, Britain has been lagging behind its partners at NASA for decades. Look no further than the Prime Minister’s foreword to the Strategy; even he admits that Britain has been failing to use its full potential and take advantage of the opportunities that the space industry provides. It’s true that the UK’s space efforts have long been overshadowed by those of NASA. In its current state, most of the UK’s space sector relies heavily on partnerships with American colleagues.

The National Space Strategy is all about putting Britain in the front rank of the space industry and using its potential to benefit people here on Earth. The government makes a bold promise to create a “Galactic Britain” and ignite a new era of the space industry in the UK. However, much work lies ahead before all these grand ambitions come to fruition.

Scotland strikes back

While Britain offers a grand vision for the future while being rather vague in terms of tangible benefits it would bring to the country, the Scottish Space Strategy sets a number of concrete goals right off the bat. Scotland’s ambitions include achieving the following goals by 2030:

• Greater than £4 billion annual contribution of the space industry to the country’s economy
• Five-fold increase in the space sector workforce, up to 20,000 employees
• Scotland becoming one of Europe’s leaders in commercial space development
• Launch sites in Scotland providing orbital services to clients across Europe and the globe
• An increased and diverse workforce in terms of talents and skill sets

The plan is to achieve all these goals by 2030 by supporting and partnering with the private sector and industry groups like the Scottish Space Academic Forum, Scottish Government Space Group, and Space Scotland. Does Scotland have the potential to achieve these goals? Yes, it does, and it would be fair to say that Scotland has a rather realistic set of goals considering the current state of its space industry.

Right now, Scotland is home to one-fifth of the UK’s total space sector jobs, and proportionally, Scotland employs twice as many people in the space industry as the rest of the UK. Since 2016, the number of space businesses in Scotland has risen by 65%, and the industry currently generates some £880 million a year for the country’s economy. Considering the space sector’s steady growth of 12% annually for the past several years, the goal of reaching £4 billion in economic activity by 2030 seems quite achievable.

The Scottish Strategy involves strong cooperation between the space industry, academia, government agencies, and other public sector bodies. Overall, the strategy sets a small number of goals but makes sure those goals are clear and realistic.

Should we take the UK National Space Strategy seriously?

Let’s face it: Britain is not going to colonize the galaxy in the following decade. Nobody is. For all the loud talk about Galactic Britain, the UK’s Space Strategy is rather vague. However, Britain is a powerful country with a strong economy and great ambitions. Additionally, the British space sector is deeply rooted in cooperation with its international partners such as NASA. So does Britain have what it takes to become one of the world’s leading space nations in the following decade? It surely does, and with a strong investment in STEM education and the space sector, it might just be able to make a confident step towards its galactic ambitions.

Final thoughts

We should not view the British and Scottish Space Strategies as opposed to each other. After all, Scotland itself is part of the United Kingdom. While their approaches may be slightly different, their goals are the same — to make their country a leading player in the global space race and bring economic prosperity to citizens. The main problems of the British and Scottish strategies are the same, too – bureaucracy and funding. UK space companies need solid investment to make their space ambitions come to fruition. However, judging by their current strategies, it seems like the Scots have their action plan figured out rather more precisely.

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