Developing space relations to boost Britain as science and tech superpower

Posted on 1 May, 2023 by Advance 

Philip Mackereth, Systems Engineer and Project Manager at Exobotics, considers how developing international space relations could drive Britain towards its goal of becoming a science and technology superpower.

Image courtesy Exobotics

The space industry is one of the most exciting and rapidly growing sectors in the world, with the potential to revolutionise the way we live as well as work. As a result, countries around the world including Britain, are recognising the importance of international space relations in fostering innovation and economic growth.

Developing such relations is essential to Britain's ambition to become a leading science and technology superpower, and will enhance existing operations across countless businesses, affording unprecedented opportunities for growth.

The UK government recently launched the International Bilateral Fund (IBF), which is set to see industry, research and academia organisations receive up to £20 million to aid work with international partners on cutting-edge projects in priority areas including launch, earth observations (EO) and sustainability, with further funding being introduced over the next two years.

In collaboration with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the UK Space Agency will oversee the funding of up to 30 projects, with funding of over £1.5 million available for each project over two phases, to increase scientific and commercial innovation and collaboration.

This builds upon the current £370 million Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) investment plan to cement the UK as a global science and technology superpower by 2030. It will also bring many associated benefits such as aiding the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

Powerhouse for highly-skilled job creation

As the space sector remains a growing industry with enormous potential for technological development, building the national space-sector will boost creation of highly-skilled jobs in the UK. Existing workforces will have opportunities to upskill, and may be able to break into new markets created by the space industry, for example in precision manufacturing or software systems.

New partnerships will lead to new teams and relationships being forged, through which the industry can be advanced. In order to be at the cutting-edge, there will be an ongoing need to invest heavily in research and development for new space technology. This investment will lead to new research centres being formed in Britain’s universities. Research projects usually last several years, and will bring benefits from both cross-disciplinary collaboration, and wider relationship-building between states.

Creating more highly-skilled jobs with the addition of support roles such as communication teams will reduce unemployment and boost the UK’s economy.

Encouraging innovation and knowledge sharing

The space industry is a hotbed of innovation, where cutting-edge technologies are continually being developed and tested. By working with other space-faring nations, the UK can gain access to new technologies, knowledge, and best practices, and bring them back to the UK to boost innovation and competitiveness.

Such collaboration also enables the sharing of costs and risks, which can help reduce the financial burden on individual nations, and accelerate the development of new technologies. Growth of the space sector will also only serve to strengthen Britain’s wider economy as it is well established that investment in the space sector leads to spin-out benefits across many other industries.

Britain has a history of excellence in technological innovation and research, highlighting its potential to grow to become a leading hub in space research and development.

Breaking down barriers preventing access to space

Historically, space activities have been dominated by a few countries, making it challenging for new entrants to gain access. However, this is changing rapidly. International collaborations help make space increasingly accessible and affordable, allowing more countries to enter the commercial space race. Developing international space relations could help emerging space nations overcome any technological and regulatory barriers they may face.

Such cooperation can also help promote the peaceful use of space - of increasing importance in turbulent times - and establish a global framework for managing space activities.

Enhancing business operations across numerous sectors

The space industry is not just about rockets and satellites; it also has a wide range of downstream applications, such as telecommunications, navigation, and climate monitoring to name the least.

Developing international space relations can build bridges between the different sectors, fostering new innovations and helping the likes of the energy, transportation, and agriculture sectors to improve their operations and enhance productivity.

Britain’s goal of becoming a leading Science and Technology superpower is ambitious but definitely possible.

Current UK space activities already offer enormous potential for economic growth, job creation and innovation, but by collaborating with other space-faring nations, the UK can leverage its expertise and resources, be granted access to new markets and technologies, and better establish its presence on a global scale.

While the UK has already made some significant strides in developing international space relations such as the collaboration with the European Space Agency and the formation of a National Space Council, much more needs to be done to unlock the full potential of the UK's space industry. To achieve this, the UK must continue to invest in space research and development, and foster a supportive regulatory environment.
By doing so, the UK can build upon its rich space heritage and establish itself as a global leader in space science and technology.