The UK space sector employs 42,000 highly skilled people, generating more than £300 billion for the wider economy. We recently committed ourselves to investing £374 million a year—a record 15% increase—with the European Space Agency over the next five years, and our national space council and space strategy will help us to lead the way in the evolution of this high-technology sector.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work as vice-chairman of a newly formed all-party parliamentary group, the parliamentary space committee. I know that he plans to fly to the United States next month to attend the launch of the European Space Agency’s solar orbiter, which was built in Stevenage. It is a fantastic piece of UK science engineering and was funded by the Government to the tune of £216 million.
I understand that the space industry has proposed a space innovation fund, and I am interested in working with the industry on that. The national space council will consider how we can build on existing commitments through a comprehensive UK space strategy, which will help to create thousands of jobs across the country.
It is good to hear what the Minister says about the space sector, but may I ask him specifically how all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will benefit from that potential, and, in particular, how Northern Ireland will benefit?
Last year, during a fantastic trip to the Belfast region, I had an opportunity to meet representatives of Thales Alenia Space, which is working on some of the capsules that encase satellite technology. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to ask that question. Our national space strategy constitutes a one nation approach that will involve every part of the UK, from a horizontal launch site down in Newquay in Cornwall to a vertical launch site up in Sutherland in Scotland—we are also thinking about establishing a spaceport in Wales. Every part of the UK will be involved in space, and rightly so.
We have a growing share of one of the fastest-growing markets in the world—the market for satellites—but no country in Europe has the ability to launch satellites into space, and there is a race to be the first to do so. Will my hon. Friend update the House on when we expect the Sutherland site to be ready for the launch of the first UK satellite?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his hard work on space when he was Business Secretary. He was responsible for working on the Satellite Applications Catapult increase, and for the £99 million satellite testing facility at Harwell, which will mean that satellites can be tested here rather than our having to go abroad. He also set out our mission to be the first country in Europe to have both horizontal and vertical launch. As for Sutherland, I am working closely with the highlands and islands authorities to ensure that we can achieve our vertical launch, and that we work with Lockheed and other partners to do so as soon as possible.