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UK Space Industry

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2019

The UK plays a leading role in space science and exploration, and our commercial sector is globally competitive, underpinned by Government support of up to £370 million a year. We have further committed £92 million to develop options for a possible UK global navigation satellite system to maintain the UK’s security capabilities, and £31.5 million to kick-start small satellite launch from the UK as part of our modern industrial strategy.

I can tell from that answer that my hon. Friend recognises the increasing importance of the space sector in our everyday lives, particularly for communications and broadband. Does he therefore agree that elements of the space sector should be designated and treated as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure, thus receiving the extra support and potential financing that such designation would provide?

My hon. Friend is right that space capabilities are fundamental to UK prosperity and security. Every day, we rely on telecommunications, earth observation, position navigation and timing services from space. Many of the parts of the UK’s critical infrastructure—from telecommunications to transport—also depend on services from space to operate effectively, and that is why the space sector is designated as a critical national infrastructure sector, with efforts focused on improving the security of our critical assets.

Does the Minister not understand that the aerospace industry is crucial to the future of our country? A company that operates in my constituency made components for the Mars probe, and such firms, which are at the leading edge of technology, are terrified by the chaos of the possible no-deal Brexit that the Government are leading. The supply chains are so complex that the company in my constituency faces ruin, as does the country’s whole aerospace industry under this Government’s watch.

I congratulate the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on its success with the Mars landing. I recently went to Imperial College to congratulate the team that created the sensors that detected the first sounds on Mars. It is crucial to say that our commitment to the European Space Agency is independent of our relationship with the EU. We put in support of £370 million a year that allows us access to a market worth £6 billion. When it comes to ensuring that we have stability and security for the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I look forward to seeing him in the Lobby next week supporting the Government’s deal.

Last week, while the Chinese were exploring the dark side of the moon, NASA was 6.5 billion km away on the far side of Neptune taking photos of Ultima Thule, and the sensors that took those images were made in Chelmsford. Will the Minister therefore join me in giving a massive shout-out to everyone at Teledyne e2v and congratulating them on this world-first achievement?

Absolutely. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Teledyne e2v on its involvement in NASA’s New Horizons mission. The stunning image of that distant world showcases UK technology at the leading edge of space exploration. As I said, we have already detected the first sounds from Mars through a project led by Imperial College and the University of Oxford, and Surrey Satellite Technology will unveil tomorrow its completed build platform for the Eutelsat Quantum—the first geostationary telecommunications satellite that will be fully reconfigurable in orbit—which highlights the UK Space Agency’s continual successes.

Will the Minister outline how many new jobs have been created to meet the need for 30,000 new employees that was highlighted in last May’s “Prosperity from Space” report?

The sector currently employs around 38,500 people and has grown significantly since 1999-2000, when 14,651 were working in the sector—that represents an annual growth rate of 6.7%. The UK has committed to ensuring that we grow our share of the global space market to 10% by 2030. That offers huge potential for increasing not just our share of the market, but the UK’s prosperity and productivity. I hope that the “Prosperity from Space” report, which was published by the space sector and my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), whom I thank, will lead to a deal for the space sector and, potentially, to investigation of a national space programme—