Space Industry

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 24 April 2024.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest 4:30, 24 April 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the UK space industry.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and a delight for me to talk about this extraordinarily thriving industry right here in the UK.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for space, I get the opportunity to see at first hand what is happening in the UK. The group has recently put on four exhibitions, taking over the Attlee Suite here in Parliament to highlight various aspects of our thriving space industry. We started last year with launch and propulsion, followed by current applications that use space, and we have finished with two sessions on the future of space and the important issue of space sustainability. The exhibitions were well attended by parliamentarians, civil servants and industry experts, and over the four events, more than 40 space companies had the chance to highlight their skills and products to attendees. The exhibitions were supported by ADS and UKspace, and my thanks go to the teams that helped both with those events and in supporting the all-party parliamentary group.

Such drop-by exhibitions serve to highlight that the UK space industry is thriving, active and innovative. Indeed, it is the leader in smart thinking for the sustainability of space and how we will preserve it for future generations. Smart thinking on things such as ESG —environmental, social and governance—kitemarking for UK-licensed space flights, and the wider discussions of space sustainability bonds mean that the UK is a thought leader that will ensure that the ultimate infinity of space is not lost to us because of an impenetrable cloud of space debris orbiting the earth.

At this point, I should declare that my fascination with the sector goes so far that I take an interest in specific companies and organisations, and I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I will, of course, avoid speaking about those interests that are financial this afternoon, for important reasons.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Gentleman for introducing the debate. I spoke to him beforehand and I am keen to ensure that whenever this process moves forward on the engineering side, we in Northern Ireland can benefit. Does he agree that, with engineering the largest subsector in Northern Ireland and especially in the field of aerospace, skill and capacity levels are high and therefore ripe for further investment? Does he further agree that Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom must be globally promoted as being shovel ready or, to use the terminology, rocket ready for greater investment?

Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I will mention Belfast later. Queen’s University Belfast has recently hosted some incredibly important energy-beaming experiments, which will completely open up the possibility for the UK to be world leaders in space-based solar power. I will talk a little more about that later.

My interest in space also derives from my unachieved desire to be an aeronautical engineer. My career in the City of London and an interest in economics have given me the insight to recognise that the space industry is the epitome of what Adam Smith talked about in his 1776 book “The Wealth of Nations”. The space industry epitomises a mature economy’s desire to seek ever more productive activities and the UK is doing particularly well in that area.

The UK space sector as a whole has a turnover of some £17.5 billion per annum, employing nearly 50,000 people, 2,300 of whom are apprentices.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Member for giving way and for obtaining this debate, which is of particular significance in Scotland and in my constituency. I recently visited San Francisco and its space industry, where Edinburgh University is highly regarded. An ecosystem and an environment have been created there that engender growth and co-operation between the university and the private sector specifically on space. Does the hon. Member feel we are doing enough in this country to engender the same sort of ecosystem in places such as Edinburgh, where there is that potential?

Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest

We are, but we could always do more. It is interesting that the hon. Lady chose that moment to intervene because I was just about to mention the amazing things going on in Scotland. Scotland is fascinating for a whole load of different reasons, but she is absolutely right to raise those important points. How we take forward our space industry now through the relationship with the Government is incredibly important to its success. I will talk more about that later, but she should be proud that Scotland is doing so well. I am pleased to see several Members from Scotland who are here to rightly represent the interests of their constituencies, and I look forward to hearing from them all.

In fact, my next line was that more CubeSats are built in Glasgow than anywhere else in the world. Indeed, the space industry in the UK has led to a number of key hubs for space across the country, in addition to Glasgow and Scotland more widely. While it is sometimes easy to overdo the definition of a hub, we have a handful of significant centres leading the way. Harwell Science and Innovation Campus near Oxford hosts a large campus of space companies, from start-ups supported by the Satellite Applications Catapult to offices for big primes and the European Space Agency. Surrey has its research park at Guildford centred around the leading UK satellite company, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Cornwall has a hub developed around the Newquay spaceport and Goonhilly earth station. Leicester has its own science and space park with a fabulous museum and, of course, a space-dedicated university. Scotland has not just its hub around Glasgow, but potentially three vertical and two horizontal launch centres.

The global opportunity is immense. Across the world, turnover is expected to grow from £270 billion in 2019 to £490 billion by 2030. It is vital that the UK not only participates in that growth with our own domestic ambitions, but accelerates its opportunity by seeking wider export markets.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

I declare an interest as the UK space adviser—non-paid, of course. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are putting more money into the space sector than any other Government before them?

Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest

They are, but it could always be better. Again, I will come to that later, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that support from Government in this complicated sector is incredibly important.

To get back to the export market opportunities, the team at space consultants Space4Sight has identified 25 nations across the globe that are only now starting to show their space interest, all of which would benefit from a collaboration with UK companies and expertise. Indeed, I am heading to Vietnam in a month in my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Vietnam, and one of the scheduled meetings is to promote UK space exports to that economy, which is growing incredibly strongly. This is a huge opportunity for the UK to grow space technology exports to newly identified space nations.

Although we are good at this stuff, we must not be complacent. We have a lead in many areas, but without the right environment, we could lose out to other nations. We need to think about what space is. I have always seen it as a thriving economic sector, yet I notice that the Government, in their last restructuring, chose to locate it in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, as opposed to the Department for Business and Trade. Space is a business, not a science project. While I have immense respect for those supporting the sector in DSIT, and they have done an incredibly good job, I hope the Minister will reassure me that his Department sees space as a sector that contributes to our economy, with a lot of commercial opportunity.

I would not want the Minister to feel that I do not appreciate what his Department and some other Departments do for the sector. The Government invest directly in space activities and, according to the OECD, our public spending amounts to around 0.025% of our national GDP. It sounds like a small number, but it represents quite a significant amount of money. However, when compared with other countries, it starts to look a bit small. It is half the relative commitment of Germany, India and Belgium. It is a third of the commitment of Italy and Japan, and a quarter of the investment by France and the United States of America. The sector is highly commercial, but because of the challenges of high upfront costs, other countries have discovered that de-risking opportunities for investors through grant funding stimulates private investment. I hope Members of all parties agree that we should get behind stimulating private investment in the sector through grant funding.

We should not necessarily see space as a sector in its own right. We have other assets in the UK that would benefit from a symbiotic relationship with this super high-tech, high-productivity sector of the economy. The City of London has been a global leader of finance and financial markets for a few centuries now. Expertise in trade finance, investment, insurance, currency trading and the wider associated legal service has made the City of London a global financial hub for a long time, but our lead position is always under threat. For the City to remain a leader, it needs to remain relevant.

A few years ago, I prepared a discussion paper on how we can take inspiration from Gordon Brown’s tax interventions in the UK film industry to find a way to stimulate the City as a space finance hub. Gordon Brown created tax breaks for film investment. I suspect a direct line can be drawn from his intervention to the success, for example, of the Harry Potter franchise. That series of films would always have been made but, without that tax incentive, those spells may have been cast with a Hollywood accent.

A selected tax break here, an innovative approach to governance there, and the City could dominate the world as the go-to place to raise money for space-related opportunities. The City would continue its path from being innovative financier of trade across the globe to modern financier of trade beyond the globe. Other ideas are coming out of the City that would be good to get behind. Professor Michael Mainelli, who is now Lord Mayor of London, has been promoting a space protection initiative that looks at the further purchase of space debris retrieval insurance bonds to go on space flights to ensure that any debris could be recovered in the event of a satellite going out of service. Perhaps they could be called space junk bonds.

If we combine that financial expertise with our world-beating universities and wider technical capabilities, the UK will become the destination for all aspiring space entrepreneurs and developers. With imagination for things such as a British space bank, copying the British Business Bank or UK Infrastructure Bank, the funding that the British Government might offer could be leveraged several times. That would reinforce the message that the Government in the UK are not just grant funding but supporting space through innovative strategic partnerships.

Either way, uplifted long-term funding for the space sector to deliver priorities in the national space strategy, such as the space industrial plan; adopting a long-term approach to industrial strategy that includes a policy commitment to grow small and medium-sized enterprises; and an improved wider understanding of the space sector to encourage more people into science, technology, engineering and maths careers, would have an extraordinarily energising effect on this highly productive sector of our economy. That would certainly solve our current productivity conundrum.

There are further ways the Government can help our growing space sector and the many SMEs that participate. SMEs not only act as suppliers to the big primes in programmes and projects, but have their own prime missions and services. That brings world-beating capability to the market. We need to consider how we can further boost the sector. For example, a British space bank might also be an equity investor as well as a debt funder, complementing the UK Space Agency’s grant funding. Government procurement can act as an anchor customer for demonstrator missions. Scaling up the space technology exploitation programme would help, for example, to boost rapid development and implementation of cross-Government space policy programmes, thereby boosting economic activity in the sector.

I want to finish with some thoughts on an area where we are leading the way, and which demonstrates how widespread the application of space technology can be: space-based solar power. I should declare that I serve as the chair of the advisory board of the Space Energy Initiative, a coalition of businesses, academia, Departments and specialists in this burgeoning area of solar energy from space. I also serve as a non-executive director of Space Solar, the UK’s leading company seeking to develop this actually not very new technology. I stress that those are non-financial interests; I give my time on a pro bono basis.

That is an example of how an emerging sector is growing fast right here in the UK. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero sponsored and set up a three-day conference last week to study this area, at which I spoke on the last day. It was astonishing to be in a room with such an extraordinary collection of highly intelligent people, looking at something they all know is not just a probability but a reality that will provide dispatchable, baseload, cheap green energy at gigawatt scale within the next 15 years.

Although many doubters suggest that that is science fantasy, UK primes, the UK Space Agency, international primes, the European Space Agency, leading universities and the UK Government all know that this is a reality. Space-based solar power will happen, with or without UK involvement. We are fast approaching the time when we need to decide whether we are to be the driver of this innovative approach to net zero or just another passenger.

If we seize the opportunity, space-based solar power will provide cheap, clean energy faster and cheaper than nuclear. It will be an astonishing export asset for the UK, be it through licensing the technology to other nations or selling the power directly from the satellites. It will tackle other issues in the UK, such as grid equalisation. I repeat that the UK is leading in this field. It is leading because the Government have supported not just the ESA’s Solaris programme but UK research for UK businesses.

In the last few weeks, a huge success has been achieved in the field of energy beaming through 360° using phased array antennas—and it was done in Belfast. The Government have stepped up to the plate to make this happen, and have indicated possible further support through match funding.

However, it does not matter whether we are talking about space-based solar power, GPS where the technology not only finds the nearest pub but times financial transactions, internet services via OneWeb, or Earth observation that helps everyone from generals in Ukraine to farmers seeking yield improvement. A massive range of services comes from the UK space industry, and many of us do not even realise that they happen. We must therefore strive to make sure that our space entrepreneurs are a success, and that this British business success supports the whole of our economy and public finances. That means that we need Government support, because we do not want to find ourselves, as we have done in the past, inventing something brilliant but not exploiting it commercially. For example, Frank Whittle was a brilliant engineer who invented the jet engine, only to see, a few years later, an American pilot flying an American aeroplane over America, using British technology to break the sound barrier. We do not want to see that again.

We are really, really good at this stuff and the Government know we are. That is why we can never get enough support in this incredible industry. I am conscious that many other Members are keen to speak, but I am sure that the Minister has heard what I have said and I very much look forward to his speech later.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

I remind Members that they need to bob if they wish to be called in the debate.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 4:46, 24 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Murray. I pay warm tribute to Mark Garnier for securing this debate and for the work he does in the sector. We have spoken about the strategic significance of the space industry for the United Kingdom as a whole. Everything he said in that respect was absolutely correct, but the words in his peroration—about ensuring that we maximise the opportunities that will come from the industry—were particularly pertinent. For my constituency, that goes beyond the high-level opportunities that the hon. Gentleman identified.

There are a number of specific local opportunities for Shetland, as we host on Unst—the most northerly of all the Shetland Islands—the Shetland spaceport at SaxaVord. We have seen that quite remarkable progression in recent times as a consequence of a lot of hard work by the Shetland spaceport, and I pay particular tribute to Frank Strang and his colleagues for getting it to this point. It is now licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority, and we were delighted that it got a commitment of £10 million from the Government in the Budget. Indeed, such is the nature of the achievement that the Shetland spaceport is now even getting some interest from the Scottish Government—something else that must be welcomed.

If you look at the right map, Mrs Murray—by which I mean a map that has Shetland on it, and not just parked somewhere in the Moray Firth in a box—you will see that Shetland, and Unst in particular, sits at the highest latitude point in the United Kingdom, and indeed one of the highest in Europe. That, in turn, allows for a greater payload to be launched for the same fuel efficiency, turning many of the disadvantages with which we have struggled for so long into advantages. Because of where we are, there are natural opportunities for security and safety that would not necessarily be found closer to other larger centres of population.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I was privileged to visit my right hon. Friend’s constituency last month to see the SaxaVord spaceport and the work being done there. Does he agree that a lot of that work reflects the ingenuity and effort that went into developing the oil and gas industry in Shetland, and which is now being used in a similar way to develop SaxaVord, and that that has already been recognised by the space industry elsewhere in the world?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend understands that it was a privilege to visit Shetland. She is absolutely right about that. What I am coming on to say fits well with that, because there are lessons for Shetland to learn from its engagement with the space industry and from how we have successfully engaged with the North sea oil and gas industry for the past 40-odd years.

The history of Saxa Vord, even in my time, has not always been a happy one. Back in the day, it was an RAF radar station waiting for the Russian bear in the cold war to come screaming over the polar ice cap. With the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall, it was felt that that sort of presence was not necessary. That may have been somewhat premature. I remember, as a Member of Parliament, when the RAF announced its drawdown from Saxa Vord in 2005. I remember going to a meeting of the local community in the Baltasound Hall and the feeling of absolute desolation at that point, because RAF Saxa Vord had become such a massive part of the local economy of Unst. That was to go virtually overnight, and it was a struggle to find something to replace it. We welcome the coming of the space industry to Shetland, but we welcome it on our own terms and—as we did with the offshore oil and gas industry—we want to maximise for ourselves the opportunities that it can bring to our communities.

Some of this is already starting to emerge. SaxaVord spaceport has a science, technology, engineering and maths initiative that already has collaborative research and development projects under way with academic institutions, including the University of Alaska, the University of Strathclyde and the University of Edinburgh—I suspect that Edinburgh probably has the least welcoming environment, in terms of temperature, of those three.

SaxaVord also has an outreach programme for local Shetland schools and colleges, generating future technical skills in the area and ensuring a sustainable spaceflight ecosystem in Shetland and the wider United Kingdom. For us as a community, keeping young people in our community or giving them opportunities to come back when they have been away and had their education is critical. We see this as an opportunity.

It has to be said, though, that the coming of a spaceport to Unst will be transformative for the community. One project that the community is keen to proceed with—and which is deserving of some support from the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government—would be to replace our inter-island ferries with fixed-links tunnels going from mainland Shetland to Yell, and Yell to Unst. It is a case that stands well in its own right. It is not an easy thing. To see the opportunities that come from the construction of tunnels, look no further than to our neighbours to the north-west, in Faroe Islands. That is the sort of thing that should be Shetland’s price for playing host to the space industry. That is the sort of opportunity that we as a community should be entitled to exploit and to expect co-operation on, and support from, Government and elsewhere.

We are putting a lot of ourselves into this industry. This industry has great significance strategically for the United Kingdom, as well as economically and militarily, and in just about every other way imaginable. When the Minister replies, I hope he will acknowledge the significance of the contribution that Shetland stands to make to the rest of the United Kingdom, and that there is an understanding that, if we are to step up to the plate for the benefit of the rest of the United Kingdom, then the rest of the United Kingdom should acknowledge that responsibility.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 4:53, 24 April 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mrs Murray, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Garnier on securing it.

Something exciting has been happening in the space industry in Cornwall in recent years. We have seen the revival of the world-leading Goonhilly satellite tracking station, and I am incredibly proud to have Spaceport Cornwall, based at Newquay airport, in my constituency. It is something that I started championing before I became a Member of Parliament, way back in 2014, when the original call for sites for a spaceport went out. I worked very hard with Cornwall Council, the airport, the Government and the UK Space Agency to get the licence for the spaceport, and I was absolutely delighted that in January 2023 we had our first launch—well, almost. Frustratingly and sadly, due to a faulty $100 fuel filter, the final stage of the rocket burn failed, so the satellites did not reach their intended orbit.

However, that should not detract from the fact that, for Spaceport Cornwall, we played our part perfectly. Everything went well at the spaceport itself. Spaceport Cornwall remains the only licensed spaceport in Europe, and we are ready to launch again.

Also, there continues to be great interest in the facilities that we have, especially the satellite integration clean room—a world-class facility, and there are not many around the world—and our space systems operations facility, which is a dedicated office block on the spaceport site that continues to receive expressions of interest from people who want to locate there. Last month, Slingshot Aerospace announced that it will expand into the UK, with new offices in London and Cornwall, and just this month Space Ai, the Argentinian blockchain innovators, announced that it will set up new offices at the spaceport in Cornwall.

We continue to attract interest from around the world, and there is still a great deal of interest from launch operators who want to launch from Cornwall. There are advanced discussions going on with a number of potential partners that could see us launch satellites from Cornwall once again in the coming months.

In my view, the UK will struggle to fulfil its space sector ambitions without launch capabilities, and although it feels like all the attention is now on Scotland and the vertical launch site there, as Mr Carmichael highlighted, it is important not to forget that in Cornwall we have a UK launch site that is licensed and ready to launch.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Inevitably in a competitive process, that kind of rivalry can emerge, but the real rivalry is between the UK space industry and the space industry elsewhere in Europe and the world. There must surely be a role for horizontal launch in Cornwall and for vertical launch in Shetland, and also at the Sutherland space site.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who makes the point that I was literally about to make—it is amazing how often that happens in debates. I am convinced that there is room for both. If the UK is really going to play the role that it aims to play, of being a world-leader in the space industry, we need both capabilities in the UK—vertical launch and horizontal launch. I am convinced that horizontal launch will very much be part of the future of space launch. As satellites become smaller, a horizontal launch will be the sustainable and more accessible option for many operators who want to put satellites into space.

Will the Minister ensure that his Department and the UK Space Agency do all they can to continue to support Spaceport Cornwall, and also work with us so that we can secure the partners to enable us to launch satellites from Cornwall once again in the months and years to come? The UK has an absolutely huge opportunity to stay ahead of the rest of Europe. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out, we are in a good position in the global space race to ensure that the UK can take advantage of that opportunity.

Spaceport Cornwall is a huge opportunity economically for the UK, and specifically for Cornwall, to attract investment and create the highly skilled and well-paid jobs that we desperately need in the Cornish economy. But for me, this has always been about something more than that. It has been about inspiring young Cornish people to believe that they can go and get the qualifications in science, technology, engineering and maths, and then have a career in the space industry while still living in Cornwall. That is what has driven me throughout this whole process.

With the establishment of the spaceport and the work that the team have done to engage with schools and colleges, we have already seen literally thousands of schoolchildren from the south-west come to see what is going on there and be inspired. That is so important, because one of the challenges we face with our young people in Cornwall is a lack of aspiration. There is no replacement for something on their doorstep that inspires them to say, “Yes, I can go on, get the qualifications and get a good career in this sector.” To that end, we were delighted that Cornwall secured the replica LauncherOne rocket, as a visible and tangible display: the centrepiece of an education centre that will inspire our young people and stimulate their interest in the space industry for generations to come.

There has been a bit of misunderstanding, in that the UK Space Agency seems to think that we are looking to build a tourist centre. We are not. It is an education centre, which will attract visitors and, in particular, inspire young people. Can the Minister look at what support his Department and the UK Space Agency can provide to Cornwall, so that we can create a world-class education centre? It will play a part in inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, not just in Cornwall and the south-west but across the whole country. We will need them in the UK if we are going to fulfil our ambition to continue to be a world leader in space.

These are exciting times. Just as Cornwall has always pioneered and led the way in new technology, whether that was the steam engine or Marconi and wireless communication, we again want to play our part in leading the UK into space launch.

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

I remind the SNP spokesperson and the shadow Minister that they have five minutes and the Minister has 10 minutes, because this is an hour-long debate. I call Carol Monaghan.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology) 5:02, 24 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray; it is fitting that you are in the Chair today, because you have been such a champion for Spaceport Cornwall —I hope that that might get me an extra minute or two—alongside Steve Double. I want to correct him slightly. He talked about the failure of the launch, but the launch was actually successful; the failure came after. We have to take the positives from that, because this will be a learning process.

As a former teacher, I know that there are two things that get children really excited: dinosaurs and space. If we could get dinosaurs on space rockets, we would have everything sorted! The space sector is important for technology development, Earth observation and, increasingly, security and defence. Scotland plays a key role in that. We have already heard from Mark Garnier, whom I congratulate on securing this important debate, about the importance of Glasgow in satellite manufacturing, with companies like Clyde Space and Alba Orbital. We also have space data analysis in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, as we have heard from Christine Jardine.

What we are not so good at—and this is not just in Scotland but across the UK—is selling ourselves: telling people what we are doing in the industry. In Glasgow, Edinburgh and other places where there are space sectors, why do we not have big signs with rockets and propulsion units? That would tell young people that the space sector is here, alive and vibrant, and that there are jobs to be had in it. The Government could play a role in that.

We have heard about the five potential spaceports in Scotland. Mr Carmichael talked about SaxaVord in Shetland, and we are looking forward to seeing the first vertical launch from that spaceport. We also have North Uist, A’Mhoine in Sutherland—Jamie Stone mentioned that—Machrihanish in Argyll, and of course Prestwick.

Scotland has great ambition in the sector. There is ability in our universities, so it is not a surprise or a coincidence that so many space companies have set up in Scotland. The ambitions are to capture a £4 billion market share of the sector by 2030 and an increase in employment in the space sector to 20,000. Those are ambitious targets, but they are achievable. To reach its full potential, the industry needs proper Government support. We have rejoined Horizon Europe, which is useful but there have been years outside Horizon Europe, and space talent now have to pay visa and NHS fees to come here, which is problematic.

Four years ago, the Government bought a £400 million stake in the satellite company OneWeb. On talking to the then Science and Technology Committee in 2021, Chris McLaughlin from OneWeb told the Committee that by 2024-25 we would be building satellites in the UK. We have not seen that yet, so I ask the Minister: we have heard about lots of companies doing great work, but how many jobs has OneWeb created in the UK for our £400 million stake? What steps have the Government taken to ensure that OneWeb’s second generation satellites will be built here in the UK? How are the Government raising awareness of the opportunities in the space sector, and what representations has the Minister made about reducing visa and NHS fees for those working in it?

There are real opportunities here. It is right that we inspire the next generation. To do so, we need physics teachers being paid proper wages. Without paying them proper wages, they will take their skills and work elsewhere. We need them here.

Scotland was famously at the heart of the first industrial revolution. As we enter a new era of industrial revolution, Scotland will once again play a key role in creating and developing new technologies in the space sector. I look forward to seeing more launches across the UK. I agree with the comments made today: there is room for horizontal and vertical. The more spaceports we have, the more we become a focus for the space industry across the world. I am sorry for the time I have taken, Mrs Murray—your tribute at the start took me extra seconds.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation) 5:07, 24 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Murray, and to follow Carol Monaghan. I congratulate Mark Garnier on securing the debate; as a member of the all-party parliamentary group for space, I can bear witness to what an excellent chair he is and what a great champion he is for the industry.

We all know that space is not just for the stars. Members from constituencies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England have all emphasised—I am sure Members from Wales would, too—the potential and actual contribution that it makes to their economies. Mr Carmichael and Steve Double particularly emphasised that point. The space industry impacts everybody and everything, from climate change monitoring and rural broadband to transport and agriculture. It is vital for security—just look at Ukraine—and for telecommunications.

In 2021 I spoke in a debate on space debris, which has been mentioned. That creates challenges and opportunities that literally go over most people’s heads. Labour’s first mission in Government is to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, and space provides key opportunities for growth. Our aerospace research and development is a long-term endeavour, and our industrial strength is the result of decades of support by successive Governments—and Labour would build on that legacy.

Although there remain challenges to overcome, our regulators must be responsive to innovation in the space sector, from in-orbit manufacturing, as we have heard about, to space-based renewables. Labour’s regulatory innovation office would rewire regulators to support innovation, including the space sector. The office would set and monitor targets for approvals, benchmarked internationally, and give regulators steers from Labour’s industrial strategy, which would help ensure that space was seen as an industry and not as a project, as the hon. Member for Wyre Forest suggested. We would also support the Regulatory Horizons Council, with deadlines for the Government to respond to its work. On that subject, when the RHC reports on space, will the Minister commit now to a timeframe for the response from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology? Will he also set out what specifically the Government are doing to support pro-innovation regulation for space?

As well as proper regulation, the industry needs greater stability from this Government, which has been in somewhat short supply, and not just at the macro level. We have seen the National Space Council that was set up by one Prime Minister cancelled by the next, and then reinstated by the one after that. We left the Galileo Project, and the U-turn on the rival system cost a further £60 million. The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee has also expressed concerns over the lack of coherence in the space strategy, and we heard about the ambiguity and the harmful speculation over the OneWeb deal after the Eutelsat merger, and the impact that has had.

The space industrial plan was three months late, and it is unclear how the Government see space relating to the key technologies in the science and technology framework, so could the Minister speak specifically to that point? I obviously welcome the Minister to his place, but he is the eighth Science Minister in five years. Does he concede that uncertainty is bad for business and bad for space? Labour’s industrial strategy, with our statutory industrial strategy council, will provide the stability and partnership that the industry needs, and enhance our sovereign capabilities, building on the work of the Satellite Applications Catapult and the UK Space Agency.

My final point is on skills, which Members have mentioned. The space industry is so important and it inspires the next generation of engineers. One of the reasons that I went into engineering was because I wanted to design spaceships. I never got to—not yet, but maybe that is still to come. Labour is proposing a national body that would be called Skills England, to provide leadership and bring together Government, businesses, training providers and unions to drive local skills needs. Expanding opportunities in this industry should create good jobs for people of all backgrounds. In February I visited Space Park Leicester, where the university, local government and industry work together to make space more accessible to all. Labour is pledging an action plan for diversity in STEM. I hope the Minister will support that, and I hope that we can see space as an opportunity for all.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) 5:13, 24 April 2024

It is a delight to be here under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Garnier on initiating this well-attended debate about the all-important UK space industry, as well as on his commitment to and leadership of the all-party parliamentary group. I am myself a former member, and I know how hard-working and formidable his connections are in this domain, together with my hon. Friend David Morris.

This is a tremendous week for UK space, and I hope all Members will join me in congratulating astronaut Rosemary Coogan on achieving her space wings and graduating from astronaut school on Monday, together with two other British astronauts, John McFall and Meganne Christian. We hope they all have the opportunity in the coming years to leave this orbit behind and fly into space.

It has been enlightening to hear all the important points that hon. Members have raised in today’s debate, including on the way in which space and its attendant industries touch every single part of the United Kingdom. Today’s debate encapsulates the importance of the subject, from Spaceport Cornwall all the way to the opposite tip of these isles in Shetland and Orkney. There could not be any better examples than that.

Space is important to everybody and is an important economic activity. That is why the Government have a clear set of plans, which I can assure everyone that we are delivering upon daily. In 2021, we published the UK’s first ever cross-Government national space strategy. We are now spending approximately £650 million a year on space, which is an uplift of more than 70% on the amount we spent as a nation in 2018-19. I should be clear that this does not include all the space-related investment and spend on projects via Copernicus, UKRI and the Ministry of Defence.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As the Minister knows, work continues apace at the Sutherland spaceport. It is interesting to note the recent announcement about the amount of investment that Orbex has attracted. Part of this is private money; when the markets speak, we listen. Returning to the remarks made by Chi Onwurah, it is about skills. The big challenge for us is how we will get the seedcorn we need to develop these homegrown skills. I suggest to the Minister that the Government should showcase proudly everything they are doing on this front, by holding space industry fairs—

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

Order. If this is supposed to be an intervention, it must be short.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Could I recommend that consideration is given to this in various parts, such as Caithness in my constituency?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to champion the spaceport in his constituency and to mention the importance of what is called private space, where companies such as Orbex are pioneering new ways of reaching for the stars. A number of hon. Members have also pointed out the significance of space in making an economic contribution and inspiring future generations. I will take away the hon. Gentleman’s wonderful suggestion of a space youth fair—let us see what we can do together with the UK Space Agency. My hon. Friend Steve Double made exactly the same point about Spaceport Cornwall.

It is often pointed out that the United Kingdom could be more joined up in its space endeavours. The space council, in whichever iteration, brings together other Departments in orbit with the Ministry of Defence so that we can continue to punch above our weight. We have recently opened a joint space command centre for both civilian and military space.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay mentioned his hard work before Spaceport Cornwall was even established, which is huge testimony to the work he does for his constituents across north Cornwall. He also mentioned Goonhilly and the very significant space cluster that exists in Cornwall. The Government remain extremely supportive of Spaceport Cornwall and all its endeavours, and the point is very well made about the launch capability of the United Kingdom, which I talk about to both the UK Space Agency and the Ministry of Defence in these uncertain times.

Moving to the other end of these isles, Mr Carmichael talked about Shetland’s spaceport. It does indeed have formidable natural advantages, and so inspired by the opportunity, the Government resolve to do everything they can. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor so significantly put an investment into SaxaVord, subject to reaching acceptable terms. In this very important week for defence spending, I offer this small vignette: the Labour party cut defence and closed RAF Saxa Vord, while this Conservative Government are investing in the future of Shetland. I hope that does not provoke an intervention from Chi Onwurah. [Interruption.] It is a fact. Facts sometimes can be provocative, but they are nevertheless facts.

We are bringing together many UK assets in space in the Harwell science and innovation campus space cluster. While it is also a significant contribution to levelling up, we have published not just the space industrial plan but plans for space clusters and space investment funds. I believe that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and myself will both be speaking at the North West Space Cluster in June, which will give us both an opportunity to commit to the future of space in that important region of the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest raised a point about Adam Smith, space is at the heart of the comparative advantage and the productivity of this nation.

It is a busy world in space. It is going to be a banner year. We hope to see space launches from European soil from the first time. Just this week, the UK Space Agency announced an £8 million investment in the UK innovation & science seed fund. When my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest opened the debate, he talked about the importance of getting capital to flow and of the connection with the City of London and finance. I hope that £8 million at the earliest stage—the seed and even the pre-seed stage—of the lifecycle could make a real contribution to growing the space supply chain and skills.

We will be responding to the Regulatory Horizons Council report on space well within the allotted timeframe. Before we break for the summer we will be publishing the space workforce skills plan, which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central raised. That is something very close to my heart and, I suspect, to the hearts of other Members. Jim Shannon has left the Chamber, but Northern Ireland, as with all the regions, is an important part of the space sector. Its legacy and history in aerospace engineering is something that I firmly hope we can continue to bring to bear.

Time is running out and there is so much more we could talk about. We are off to the European Space Agency, and our commitment to that body remains as strong as ever.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

The Minister has not mentioned visa fees for space experts coming here, nor has he mentioned OneWeb.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I would be delighted if the hon. Lady wanted to apply for another debate. I can see that there is a significant appetite to discuss some of these issues. The Government are very committed to maximising the economic and strategic advantage of OneWeb. It is a company that is based here. I have visited it just down the road in Shepherd’s Bush—I think it is still called Shepherd’s Bush. The new White City campus is where thousands of satellites, licensed and regulated out of the UK, are being flown as we speak and delivering all sorts of contributions to society. I am very supportive of the hon. Lady’s contribution to science, so I would love to engage further when we have more time. Mrs Murray is looking at me to say, “Hurry up.”

We will continue to work across this House through organisations such as the all-party parliamentary group, with industry, with the supply chain, and with our partners internationally, both through multilateral forums such as the European Space Agency and bilaterally. We will do all that with the objective of ensuring that the United Kingdom remains a strong spacefaring nation, and that the citizens of this country benefit from the prosperity and the inspiration that comes with space.

Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest 5:24, 24 April 2024

Thank you for overseeing this debate, Mrs Murray. It has been very enlightening, and I am conscious that Scotland is very well represented here. The space industry is fantastic, and I am grateful to the Minister for raising the points he did.

Launch is an interesting area: it is about logistics, but it is the inspirational path that people will look at. When we see rockets launching into space from the United Kingdom, that will be the point when everybody will get incredibly excited. I am grateful that we are doing extraordinarily well on space licensing here with the Civil Aviation Authority.

We have a fantastic opportunity in the space sector. I am an evangelist for the whole sector, and I think it is wonderful. I am grateful to the Minister for giving a commitment on the amount of money that will be invested into the UK space sector. That is absolutely crucial. Space is very difficult; it is very tricky. Getting things working in space requires a lot of investment in getting it up there. Commitment from the UK Government is exactly what we need to de-risk it and generate more private capital coming into the sector. Ultimately, we want it to be sponsored and funded entirely privately, unless the UK Government are a customer. We can get there, but the sector needs help to get that far.

I am conscious that we are about to have a bell for a vote any second now. Thank you very much, Mrs Murray.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the UK space industry.

Sitting adjourned.