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UK Space Industry

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 4 February 2021

We now come to the Back-Bench debate on the future of the UK space industry. To move the motion, I call the man in the Irn-Bru mask, Owen Thompson.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of the UK space industry.

I am delighted to have secured this important debate today and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for us to consider such an important topic. We all need good news stories in these difficult times, and I believe that the growing space industry, with timely and sensible support from the Government, could quite literally provide a rocket boost to the economy and be a force for good for the country and the planet.

Space is one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, trebling in size since 2010. It will inspire the next generation and provide fantastic opportunities in science, engineering and technology. It has huge potential for the levelling-up agenda, creating highly skilled jobs right across the UK from Shetland to the south-east of England. It can also play a crucial role in measuring and meeting climate change targets. I welcome the fact that space has been recognised as a critical national infrastructure, in that we now depend on space for navigation, communication, broadcasting, running public services and increasingly for national security. It impacts all our everyday lives and has the potential to really enhance them. So while I am delighted by the recognition of the scale of the potential for space, there needs to be a better co-ordinated and determined effort to support the industry to reach its goals, and I look forward to getting the details on that from the Minister later today.

Space is already a growing success story. It supports 41,900 jobs in 13 of the regions and nations of the UK, bringing in some £14.8 billion in 2016-17. The Scottish space industry also punches well above its weight and is home to almost a fifth of the total jobs in the UK sector, valued at £880 million in 2017-18. Scotland now hosts more than 130 space organisations, including the headquarters of 83 UK space firms. We now need to build on that strong base to be globally competitive at every stage of the process from the design and manufacture of smaller satellites through to the launch and the interpretation and application of the satellite data produced. We have our unique selling points, and we are making great progress. Glasgow is now a European capital for manufacturing small satellites, building more than any other place outside California.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He is absolutely right about the importance of the space industry and the significance that it has for Glasgow’s economy. Research in the space sector is hugely important as well. Madam Deputy Speaker, I was sporting a University of Glasgow mask, just as my hon. Friend was sporting an Irn-Bru mask. The University of Glasgow has played a huge part in the identification of gravitational waves, for example, which is helping our understanding of the universe as well as driving forward technological developments.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Use of the data that we can gather from space is important in so many different ways that can contribute to so much that we can take forward.

Innovations by companies such as AAC Clyde Space, Spire Global and Alba Orbital are already driving this world-class agenda. We are leading the way in rocket development in Europe through firms such as Skyrora in my Midlothian constituency and Orbex in Forres. We are making progress in the research and analysis side of the industry, and companies such as Ecometrica, Carbomap and Space Intelligence are helping to move Edinburgh towards becoming the space data capital of Europe. Edinburgh is the only place in the world to work with a NASA robot, the Valkyrie, outside of its headquarters.

Key industry players such as Ukrainian-born Skyrora boss Volodymyr Levykin tell me that they moved here because of the connections, the skilled workforce and our suitability as a place to live. Scotland is developing a space industry ecosystem, and the more it develops, the more it triggers further exponential growth. The Scottish Government were therefore right to identify space as a key priority for future growth. Their support has helped to give the burgeoning young industry a shape and structure, with the ambition to be Europe’s leading space nation and capture a £4 billion share of the global space market by 2030.

The Scottish Space Leadership Council has helped to bring together key figures from the public and private sectors, to ensure that their views are represented at all levels of government and to drive growth and collaboration, but we need co-ordination across all levels of government. A space strategy has often been promised, but we are still waiting to see it delivered. I am sure those watching today’s debate will be as keen as I am to hear what the Minister has to say on that front. To take things forward, we need to get low-cost access to space from UK soil. It is good news that seven UK spaceport sites are working together through the Spaceport Alliance to support launch activity. It is also good news that the space hub to be built in Sutherland’s A’ Mhòine peninsula received planning permission last year. With locational advantages for flight paths and access to orbits that 95% of small satellite launches require, it is now set to be a national centre for vertical launch and could support 400 jobs in the highlands and islands by 2025.

Yet getting the regulations in place is at times more like moving through treacle than rocketing away into a new space future. We need to get the regulations to permit rocket launches, to give clarity about how the system will work and to get it right. The framework was set up in the Space Industry Act 2018, but it is still not in place, and we still await the outcome of the consultation process. When we hear the results, I certainly hope that the Government will have listened carefully to industry voices and taken their concerns on board. So far there has been a lot of dither and interdepartmental confusion, and unfortunately a lack of determined leadership from the Government on these regulatory issues. I might be tempted, Madam Deputy Speaker, to suggest that a rocket somewhere might be helpful, but I shall resist. However, it is not always clear who is in the driving seat, if anyone.

We cannot jeopardise the achievements of an innovative home-grown industry by letting it drift and losing out on launch capability to neighbouring nations. The Minister will be aware of the real threat of international competition to UK launch businesses. One of our home-grown companies, Skyrora, has already tested a rocket with a 26 km altitude, but it had to do so from Iceland, where the regulations were taken forward, with all the essential safety aspects, but more quickly and far more favourably than has been managed here.

The concern is that the licence application process for launch will take far too long to process, resulting in the industry being uncompetitive. I hope the Minister can assure the House in her response today that there is a development strategy in place that embraces all parts of the space industry and has a clear imperative around which the Government, regulators and industry can coalesce to ensure the full potential of space ambition.

I was slightly concerned that, despite not having our home-grown regulation sorted, the Government were so happy and keen to sign the transatlantic technology safeguards agreement, to enable US launches from UK soil, potentially to the detriment of the industry here. The TSA was signed last June and announced by press release, but the text was not made public until October. Many industry players in the UK say they did not have a chance to read and comment on the plans until that point and had not been consulted on the details, nor was there an opportunity for questions and debate in this place, despite the promise given in response to written questions that I submitted. This might turn out to be a benign agreement, as the UK Government have claimed, but there has been no process to scrutinise it, and some aspects certainly raised the concern that UK start-ups could be ousted for big US-based corporate players.

The Government must do more to allay industry fears that it could transpire to be an exclusivity agreement, and they must reassure the industry that they understand and are sensitive to the commercial context in which these companies operate. The industry remains in the dark about how the agreement will actually function in practice, and it will only see the impact once it starts to acquire export licences. That kind of scenario testing should have been conducted openly and transparently beforehand.

Some might question why we are talking about space at all, in the midst of a public health emergency and when people cannot feed their families, but space shapes all our lives. The sector helps to keep us safe, and it is precisely the sort of high-skilled growth industry that we need to support to drive the economy to recover.

There is also a responsibility—the green role that could be carved out by the space industry, which the Scottish Government are certainly very keen to pursue. Space is central to tackling environmental and social justice issues around the globe. Forget the outdated image of a space race, with astronauts boldly going where no one has gone before. The future will be very much focused on making things better where we are now. Data from satellites plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change and finding solutions for major issues that scar our planet. Some 35 of the 45 essential climate variables defined by the UN are measured from space. Similarly, of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the UN with an aim of ending poverty by 2030, satellite data plays a critical role in 13.

Data from earth observation satellites has been used to combat wildfire spread in the Amazon, to monitor glacier melt and air pollutants, to aid disaster relief operations, to measure ozone damage, to measure damage from natural disasters, such as the Fuego volcano, to track and predict malaria outbreaks and to tackle illegal deforestation and pirate fishing vessels.

It is great to see Scotland leading the way. Satellites built and launched in Scotland can monitor the environment in ways not previously possible, including mapping global carbon levels. Glasgow University and Strathclyde University focus on that work with their innovation district, and I welcome plans for the new £5 million satellite centre involving the universities of Edinburgh and Leeds, which will use cutting-edge satellite technology to help combat climate change, including helping lower the risk of people being affected by flooding.

Rocket launches do not exactly have a reputation for being green, but the new space industry must be an environmentally responsible one. Efforts must be made to reduce harmful emissions at launches, and I would like to see a role for environmental regulators such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in regulating spaceflight. The good news is that modern micro-launches being developed are a world away from the traditional massive gas guzzling old ones. Orbex, for example, built a micro-launcher fuelled by bio propane, which produces 90% fewer emissions than standard kerosene. Skyrora has successfully tested a fuel called Ecosene, which is created from plastic waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

In conclusion, the UK space industry is a massively positive story, but to ensure a happy ending, the Government must: give clarity on their long-term strategic goals; sort out the regulations with urgency; improve the level of scrutiny and consultation in their agreements; show an understanding and sensitivity to market forces; and show ambition in harnessing the potential of space in boosting our post-covid recovery and in tackling climate change. We are at the edge of a vast universe of possibilities for the space sector, so it is vital now that the Government provide the necessary vision, energy and direction to propel us forward.

May I declare an interest as the chairman of the parliamentary space committee? As I am sure you can appreciate, Madam Deputy Speaker, three minutes is not long enough to go through everything that the space industry has to offer at this moment in time—a lot is going on in the space industry.

The space sector in the UK is a growing sector that has seen a 60% growth in turnover since 2010. The sector employs 42,000 people directly, including 1,500 apprentices. In 2018, it had a turnover of £14 billion, with £5.5 billion of exports. The UK space industry has more than 1,000 companies—these sectors are vital to the UK’s growth—and it generates £79 billion turnover in a year, £46 billion of that in exports supporting over 1 million jobs across the whole of the UK. As you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a very big industry indeed.

This debate is an opportunity to highlight the Government’s continued interest in the UK space sector and the ambitions to build back better following the covid-19 pandemic. People do not realise that more or less everything in our lives is affected by what goes on in space, from me sitting in my constituency making this speech, all the way through to mobile phones, technology enabling GPS satellites, and even the regulation of gas flows across the UK in certain applications. It is a huge and very complicated industry.

Recently the Government have had a lot of investment in innovation from the UK space sector. We have been at the forefront of global innovation, from sustainable fuels for rocket launchers to the next generation of earth observation. Last month, Rolls-Royce and the UK Space Agency announced that they are joining forces on unique research into how nuclear power technologies could be used to part-power space exploration. Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines is continuing to develop a SABRE—synergetic air breathing rocket engine—for propelling both high-speed aircraft and spacecraft. Some day in the future, we will be able to fly into space. The Government recently invested £500 million in a low-earth-orbit satellite communication system, and the order books are bulging, with over £2 billion-worth of investment coming in. That shows that the UK is pushing forward on its agendas and objectives for the UK’s space programme. We are definitely a big player in the space industry.

In future, we must still collaborate in the ways that we are doing, enable our terrestrial sites to have ballistic space ports as well as horizontal space tourism airspace, and hopefully give the Space Industry Act 2018 more teeth as regards dealing with the Civil Aviation Authority, which is actually stifling the space industry.

I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) has secured this debate.

As we have heard, the UK’s main proposal for a vertical launch site from the UK mainland is in Sutherland in my constituency. It would be churlish of me not to thank Her Majesty’s Government—the UK Government —and indeed the Scottish Government and the Minister for the work they have put into making this project come to the point that it has. Let me emphasise the massive local support in Sutherland for this project. It is enthusiastically supported. Local people see it as one way of stopping depopulation of the highlands, to which I shall return in a moment. At Dounreay in Caithness, we have a huge skills resource. It was, and still is, a nuclear facility, but it is being decommissioned. These people have tremendous skills and they must be redeployed. My ambition is to see the best-quality employment opportunities being offered to them as they leave the site in future.

We have the weather for this. We have a rail link to Thurso, which is nearby. We have a good road link up the A9. Most importantly, today the Scottish Government have confirmed that an SPO—specialised operations— permit will be given to Wick John O’ Groats airport in the next four years. That is crucially important in terms of the air link. The site has planning permission, as the hon. Member for Midlothian mentioned. A full environmental audit has been carried out. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have kept a close eye on all these aspects. This is massively important. As the hon. Gentleman said, if we get going with it, we will steal a march on other countries and we can do very well. It is important to be optimistic and look to the future once we get through the pandemic.

I started with thanks and I conclude with thanks—first, to Highlands and Islands Enterprise. This is a very simple equation. Making the Sutherland space launch become a reality will be a major factor in heading off our ancestral nightmare—depopulation and the prospect of highlanders, particularly the young, leaving their homeland to find work. That would be a tragedy. This project is one way of keeping the lights on in the straths and glens.

I have one final thanks—this may seem rather unusual—and it is to somebody who has actually gone out of his way to be enthusiastic about space launches from the UK: none other than the Prime Minister. When we come to the first launch, I hope that I will have the opportunity to buy him a dram. Indeed, I extend a warm welcome to all other Members to join us to watch the first rocket into space—I will pick up the bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is right that three minutes is not a long time to discuss the enormous potential of the UK Space Agency but, then again, it takes only two minutes and 30 seconds for a rocket to leave the earth’s atmosphere, passing the Kármán line, and go into orbit, so Members can do better than that. I am proud to have been the UK’s Space Minister—twice actually—between 2018 and 2020. Not only is it the best job title in Government, but my daughter used to call me the “Minister for the Universe”, confusing that with my other title of Universities Minister.

There are enormous opportunities ahead in the 2020s. As Space Minister I created the idea of the National Space Council, with the promised national space strategy that has been talked about. I also managed to deliver a record uplift in the UK’s contribution to the European Space Agency—nothing to do with the EU—of £1.9 billion a year over the next four years. However, we can and must do more. I am sure that the Minister will recognise that this role is a huge opportunity for her as well.

Space is involved in every aspect of our lives. It is probably involved in this debate today, with satellites passing information back from various constituencies. The economic output for space in the UK is estimated to be £300 billion, rising to £340 billion by 2030. Worryingly, however, only 10% of that activity is actually UK owned. There is a huge issue of sovereignty that we need to tackle when it comes to the UK space industry. Ninety per cent. of our satellite activity is through foreign-owned satellites, so we need to look again at what we can deliver for the future.

As for Government investment in space, yes we are doing well, but we spend roughly £500 million a year, which is a third of the French Government’s budget and half of the German budget. When it comes to a new national space strategy and the future, we need to consider a few things. First, looking at the UK Space Agency, we need to create a separate UK space delivery agency so that the Space Agency is a commissioner that pushes through projects such as horizontal launch down in Newquay. Secondly, we need to double our space budget up to £1 billion a year. We should have a national procurement fund for space worth £250 million a year and a space innovation fund worth £150 million a year. That would ensure that the UK can really be on a par with other European nations and other countries, putting the space industry right at the centre of our vision for a new global Britain.

Today’s debate is a decade on from the space innovation and growth strategy of 2010, in which we aspired to a 10% share of a growing global sector. Today, a lot has happened, and the market has hugely grown. The Government are right, therefore, to focus on the increased market opportunities ahead.

To celebrate what has been achieved, our small satellites, led by Surrey Satellite Technology and AAC Clyde Space, have done good work around the world. For example, they have partnered with the Government of the Philippines to help their efforts at greater information for agriculture and, indeed, natural disaster awareness. Such opportunities, both environmental and security, echo across all the world’s regions, with chances to boost crop production and the livelihoods associated with it, reduce deforestation and increase carbon reduction. All of that comes in the lead up to COP26, so this is an appropriate moment to discuss our role in space. Such activity could be boosted by launches in Cornwall and the Shetlands, putting us at the front of European efforts, alongside Sweden, to have launches from the continent.

Our wider role in global navigation systems, now that we have left the European Galileo project, needs to be clarified, along with the future of the UK-based European Space Agency, as the EU creates its own entity. Although we currently stand second only to the US when it comes to providing finance for space, our Government spending on R and D, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) referred to, hardly places us in tier 2 and some way behind France and Germany.

Does this matter? My instinct is that for the UK to continue to be at the leading edge of space technology, with skills, jobs and growth benefits, we need the National Space Council to work closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the strategy promised but not yet seen. I hope that will include opportunities for greater UK supply chains, as well as for how we take forward the role of OneWeb, particularly in our aims for autonomous vehicles.

We should, as a result of all these things, be looking at a future where robotics and advanced manufacturing play a key role, with finance raised from our capital markets, venture capital and other institutional funds. This will be helped by the partnership between scientists, technology, business, markets, the regulator and Government —exactly what has been delivered on vaccination. It is an initially surprising similarity, but, as other countries and unions have found, it is a difficult one. If the Minister and BEIS can together harness the good work of the decade-old Satellite Applications Catapult—shall we just call it the space catapult?—and the new Space Growth Partnership, we may have the vehicle to do it. With a really good regulatory policy alongside this and the best framework in the world, we will attract investment and a rocket-fuelled role for our economic recovery.

It has long been known that the Hebrides have a reputation for looking beyond planet Earth upwards. I am thinking of the heavens, in fact, and the Hebrides are of course very like heaven, as well you know, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the 1200s, the philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus lived here, but in the modern age the Hebrides hold another record. In 2017, the highest and heaviest object to be launched into space was launched from the Hebrides Range in Uist. It went up to a height of 155 miles, or 250 km, which is of course about 25 times higher than commercial space flight, so we have a head start in many ways, perhaps we could say over the centuries, of looking beyond the surface of the earth. We are aware that some public funding is going to Sutherland and Cornwall. There are two other areas—in Shetland and here ourselves in the Hebrides—that would be looking to get the same sort of support, hopefully, that the Government of the UK have given to these other sites.

We also want to see some progress on the Space Industry Act 2018. While regulation is welcome, there are concerns that the licensing process may be quite a lot slower than in other nations. Already we have a site earmarked, which is called Spaceport 1, and we hope to have a sub-orbital launch facility during 2021, accelerating local jobs and bringing economic growth—much needed economic growth—to the area. We can do sun-synchronous and polar orbits, using both north and south trajectories. Access to the site does not require significant local infrastructure investment; it is just about there already. The planned use with the Ministry of Defence brings facilities, and it has the expertise to do this, because obviously, when we launched in 2017 we had that level of expertise. There will be a substantially reduced development cost by using the Hebrides, and we just hope that this will come to fruition for sub-orbital launches because it could be a win-win situation for all concerned.

The expertise and the track record of the Hebrides Range proves this can be done. There is good local backing, and good local infrastructure, from Joe MacPhee and Alison MacCorquodale at the local council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. There are many things just ready to go in the Hebrides for this, and, in fact, without the leg-up that other places have had, it is probably the premier spot to do this. It already has the track record, which I mentioned earlier, of the 2017 launch, and we are ready to build on that and go further. We just need to make sure that all those around us are as prepared as we are in the Hebrides to get it going, and we are looking for the UK Government to do their bit in support, and on the legislative framework and on licensing as well, to make sure that progress comes to us to the benefit of all from these islands.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) on securing this important debate on the future of the UK space industry.

My Guildford constituency is a space hotspot and is the foundation of the local space sector. Over three decades ago, Surrey Satellite Technology was formed as a spin-out company from the University of Surrey. It is still going strong today, employing 350 staff, and has achieved worldwide success in the manufacture of small satellites. From the foundations of this company in Guildford, the number of space companies and organisations in the area has grown to 185. The wider enterprise M3 local enterprise partnership area has recently become the only LEP to have been recognised by the UK Space Agency for its rich potential. It has received an award of £70,000 for activities to stimulate further growth.

Continued investment in the sector is vital, when we think about what a company such as Surrey Satellite Technology has achieved. This includes 69 satellites launched in the last four decades and space development and training programmes for international customers, including the US, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Chile, Thailand and South Korea. I know that the Minister will recognise how important the sector is for our exports and future trading relationship with partners all over the world.

Government plans for an ambitious national technology satellite programme are extremely welcome. A long-term co-ordinated plan would allow industry to invest in developing new technologies in projects that play to the UK’s strengths, fostering innovation, economic growth and inspiring young people into science, technology, engineering and maths careers. Speaking of those careers, I am pleased to hear that Surrey Satellites offers an apprenticeship programme and a graduate scheme. Along with Surrey Satellites, the space sector in Guildford is the proud home to Lime Microsystems, MTS, Ricardo, SATRO, Thomson Environmental Consultants, Eosense, DMC International Imaging and the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies.

As I was growing up, I was not one to spend my time gazing at the stars. I was more interested in people, the choices we make and how we live our lives, but I think we can all recognise that many of the things that we use and take for granted are the result of research and innovation in the space sector—google it and the list is endless. We can be proud of our UK space industry and, with the focus of this Government, I believe that we can be assured of its future success.

The value of the UK space industry has more than trebled since 2010 and impacts on our daily lives, including the TV we watch, GPS navigation in our cars, and the covid apps on our mobile phones. While these services are delivered by large equatorial satellites, the UK would be likely to specialise in launching small, low-orbit satellites that are used for Earth observation, such as weather patterns, signs of climate damage or tracking shipping.

Scotland is a major player, with almost a fifth of UK space sector employees. Glasgow is the leading producer of micro-satellites, while Strathclyde, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities have innovative research departments. Scottish companies, such as Skyrora and Orbex, are already developing commercial launch vehicles and both have produced low-carbon fuels to minimise their climate impact. Scotland also hosts five of the seven potential spaceports, including Prestwick airport in my constituency. Prestwick already has many advantages as a horizontal launch spaceport, with a 3 km runway, clear weather, good transport links and Scotland’s largest aerospace campus.

The UK space industry is currently held back by the lack of a domestic launch site, but the licensing and regulation system of the Space Industry Act 2018 is still not finalised. The industry is concerned about the technology safeguarding agreement with the US, which could exclude foreign-launched customers from UK spaceports. It would be a failure if they just ended up as long strips of tarmac awaiting the occasional visit of a US vehicle.

The biggest unresolved issue is that companies must accept unlimited liability to indemnify the Government against third-party damage. This is disproportionate, as small satellites would largely burn up on re-entry. Without a cap on liability, though, it is impossible to get insurance, and this is already driving some micro-satellite companies out of the UK. There is also concern at the lack of consultation on moving regulation from the UK Space Agency to the Civil Aviation Authority, especially as the latter has its hands full with taking on aviation safety after Brexit.

It is critical that spaceports stimulate the whole sector, with a boost to research, innovation and manufacturing, and that they inspire more young people to go into the sector. The most important requirement is an overall space strategy so that the opportunities of this global industry are not missed.

It is a privilege to contribute to this debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister sum up, because I wish to put a number of points directly to her.

Moray is not going to be home to a spaceport, but we have heard about other potential locations here in Scotland, particularly in the north of Scotland, from the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), who has been an advocate for the Sutherland centre, and I am sure we will hear later from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) about the plans up there.

Nevertheless, Moray is part of the process, particularly as it is home to Orbex. I have visited Orbex at the enterprise centre just outside Forres and was immensely impressed by the work there to be part of the UK’s space plans. It is great that Orbex is making high-value, high-invested jobs available here in Moray to develop and work with the Sutherland space centre. The jobs are greatly appreciated by the local community.

Chris Larmour, who heads Orbex in Moray, has been in constant dialogue with me about how we can continue to promote the company and its benefits here in Moray and about what Moray can offer as a base to Orbex and its teams. Chris was hopeful that I could put some points to the Minister and I agreed to set out some of his queries. He is looking for the Government to assist in the overcoming of any obstacles to the delivery of the Sutherland spaceport in Scotland, thereby helping to deliver hundreds of jobs and significant new economic benefit to the Moray region. Will the Minister look into what the UK Government can do to overcome any obstacles to the delivery of the Sutherland spaceport? Will the Government also consider working towards the development of reciprocal rights to launch UK rockets from American spaceports? That is another key issue for companies such as Orbex.

It is great that Scotland and Moray are leading Europe in the space sector through companies like Orbex, which has received strong support for an environmentally sustainable launch system from the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency and private venture capital funds. This is a great news story not only for those parts of Scotland and the United Kingdom that will have spaceports, but for constituents such as mine here in Moray who can provide so much support and so many benefits to spaceports and to the local economy where they are based. We are delighted to have Orbex, providing high-quality jobs here in Moray, and I know that Orbex will appreciate the support of the UK Government and, in particular, responses to the points I have raised with the Minister.

I declare at the outset: I am a member and officer of the all-party parliamentary group on space, like some other Members who have spoken.

One highlight of my political career was the opportunity to meet Major Tim Peake—indeed, I have met him twice—shortly after which I was able to get his biography, which is one of the best reads about the impact that space can have on an individual’s life. It challenges young people in particular never to be afraid to ask the necessary questions. Indeed, I believe that that book should be on the national reading curriculum for schools, because it really encourages young people to gain knowledge of space and understand how space can contribute in so many different ways to the nation’s wellbeing. Major Tim Peake is an inspirational character and we are very fortunate, as a nation, to have him.

I also wish to mention Airbus’s role. It employs more people in the UK space programme than the US aerospace and prime defence companies combined. The United Kingdom is actually at the cutting edge of a lot to do with space but probably does not blow its own trumpet sufficiently well to promote what it does.

Northern Ireland plays its part in the space sector. Its strategy supports the growth of the UK space sector by exploiting key upstream resources and developing world-class space downstream capabilities. Northern Ireland’s regional aerospace cluster contributes £1.3 billion to the overall UK aerospace industry, making it Europe’s eighth largest aerospace region in revenue terms, and its innovative and skilled companies are involved in every major aircraft programme globally. Northern Ireland’s space strategy programme contributes well above its weight.

Not enough is said about how space is a distinct opportunity for UK leadership on the world stage. Indeed, it underpins the ability to enable ambitious diplomatic, security and prosperity objectives. In security alone, 90% of Ministry of Defence capability is dependent in some way on our space programme. On prosperity, space technologies underpin £300 billion per annum to the UK economy, making this a massive programme. In diplomacy, space brings £150 million in official development assistance to more than 40 countries. We have before us an opportunity to build our space programmes, invest in our National Space Academy and make sure that space is the future for the UK.

May I thank the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for securing this debate? It is important for many reasons, not least because the space sector provides an opportunity for significant post-covid growth, and indeed growth that features high levels of productivity. A report by the London School of Economics showed that small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector are growing by more than 30% per annum. The UK is already a world leader in space science, in producing small satellites, and utilising space data; and as part of the Government’s strategy of achieving 10% of the global space market share by 2030, it has been decided that we also need to focus on space launch services. We have the suppliers and the customers; now we need the infrastructure, the equipment and the services to bring them together in the launch sector. But I ask the Minister: are we pursuing our 10% market share goal with sufficient purpose and are we prioritising the areas that will bring the biggest benefits? The largest value sub-sector of launch services, the design and manufacturing of rockets, has so far received the lowest amount of support funding from the UK launch programme. Only one UK launch vehicle company has benefited from the “LaunchUK programme, whereas seven spaceport sites have already received support.

We have heard a lot in the mainstream press about spaceports; they are, after all, a prerequisite for the UK’s launch ambitions and critical national infrastructure. However, the breakdown of the value of each launch will see spaceports gaining fees of about 2% of the total value of a launch, which compares with the launch vehicle representing more than 60%; we are talking about a difference of thousands versus millions of pounds. It is therefore clear that the UK should be doing all it can to gain this value of the upstream space market. To be clear: if another nation launches its rockets from our spaceport, we get thousands, but they get millions. The benefits of supporting more than one domestic rocket company would be immense in terms of new jobs, productivity, growth in skills, technology and benefits to UK supply chains.

However, it is not too late to correct the balance. A company in my constituency, Raptor Aerospace, is developing the next generation of suborbital launch vehicles. Yes, in among the golden waves of North Norfolk’s finest agriculture, a company is designing and building rockets to access space—it is one of only three significant home-grown rocket companies. Raptor is a start-up that has doubled in size in the past 12 months, and it will grow faster still in 2021. The company has developed a unique hybrid rocket engine facility in the east of England, and the company’s trajectory will see the launch of a development rocket from a UK spaceport later this year, with a commercial space-capable rocket the following year. We have brave companies such as Raptor Aerospace that are willing to take the first steps. We must rely on them and the advantage of the synchronicity and the boost that developing launch capability can provide for all the UK.

It is a pleasure to take part in today’s debate, because if someone had told the eight-year-old me who was allowed to get up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon that I would one day be discussing the prospect of a spaceport in Scotland—of the UK grabbing 10% of the global space market by the end of the decade—would I have believed them? I suspect I probably would, because it was only in January 1961 that Kennedy promised to send a man to the moon and back safely by the end of the decade, and it was achieved in 1969. Perhaps the biggest thing that space exploration has given us is instilling the belief in an entire generation that anything is possible. I am sure the scientists who hon. Members have mentioned were inspired by that in different ways. We have already grasped more than 5% of the available space market, but we must harness that spirit of belief to achieve our goal of 10%.

While I am immensely proud of what is being achieved in Edinburgh, I am confident that scientists there and across the country would agree that a spaceport in Scotland, particularly, would be invaluable to the continued growth of the industry. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for his work in supporting the development of this project by Highlands and Islands Enterprise—a project that is so important to all of us. Like Dounreay and the University of the Highlands and Islands before it, it attacks a major issue that has blighted this area of the country, the highlands, and in fact many areas of Scotland: lack of employment and an absolute absence of opportunity for young people. More than 10 years ago, as an employee of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, we carried out a survey that found that the majority of young people felt there was no career for them in the highlands.

This is where a space programme can help so many young people. It can create revenue, reverse economic decline, and give young people opportunities. We should do everything we can to ensure that girls and young women are encouraged to be part of it from the beginning, and I make no apology for saying it is a prime example of something that demonstrates the benefits of working together across the United Kingdom. The space programme gives us the power to do wonderful things for this country, and we should harness that. We should have a fund dedicated to British entrepreneurs entering the space industry. It should include groundbreaking research projects and a strong, nationwide supply chain, harnessing the almost unrivalled power of British engineering. Communities across the country are crying out for investment, and I believe this is the industry that can do it—that can build a better country for the future.

I am hugely proud to have Harwell Campus in my constituency for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is its space cluster. It has 105 organisations working on space, which is the largest number of organisations within walking distance of each other anywhere in the world. We have a whole range of organisations, from industry and academia to Government, working together, such as RAL Space—which is building the national satellite test facility that will enable companies to build the next generation of spacecraft and test them in the UK—and Astroscale, which works on sweeping the estimated 170 million items of space debris so that we can have a more sustainable space.

If most people were asked to envisage space, I imagine they would think of astronauts and spacecraft making landings, but as has been touched on, space affects a whole range of the challenges we are facing, from our understanding of diseases to our efforts on climate change. MDA at Harwell developed the new module that was recently installed on the International Space Station, allowing its crew to send the results of their experiments to Earth much faster to aid our understanding of ageing, Parkinson’s, cancer and a whole range of other things. Then there are companies such as Rezitech, whose technology enables us to monitor water pipes that might be at risk of bursting and threats to our forests.

There is lots being learned at Harwell, and in my three minutes, I want to touch on four important things. The first is the importance of our small and medium enterprises: we have great SMEs with real expertise, and when they work together in a cluster, we can multiply their impact. The second is the importance of the commitment from Government, which is why I think the national space strategy is so important: it will encourage companies to make commitments that they would not otherwise make without that assurance.

The third is inspiring the next generation to want to work in space. Thales Alenia Space has a great Mars balloon programme that allows young people to build experiments in Kinder-like eggs and send them to a 30 km altitude, so that they can mimic the atmosphere of Mars and hopefully be inspired to want to work in this area in the future.

The fourth and final one is ambition. Everything involving space involves ambition, and I am hugely pleased with the Government’s ambition to have 10% of the global space industry by 2030. That cascades through to companies such as Oxford Space Systems, which wants to be the global leader for its deployable antenna. With that ambition, the commitment from Government and the work at Harwell, we might even exceed that 10%, but we will certainly continue to punch above our weight.

It is exciting to watch the way in which the UK space industry is currently growing, but it is worth remembering that the roots of that growth are to be found in the civil space strategy of 2012 to 2016, which was launched by the then Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts. I want briefly to remind the House of what David Willetts said in the foreword to that strategy:

“The possibilities of the next fifty years represent something very inspiring for this country. Our pragmatic approach to private and public sector partnerships has helped pave the way for a new era of space activity in Britain, with the UK Space Agency leading the way. So, a strategy is more than simply words. A strategy can shape the future.”

Indeed, it does.

The progress we have seen since then has brought us to the point in Shetland where we are proud to be home to the burgeoning and ever-growing Shetland spaceport in Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland islands. Last year, we were delighted to welcome the partnership between Unst and Lockheed Martin as the preferred site for its UK Pathfinder launch operation. We hope to hear further information soon with regard to its future intentions. Just this week, we were delighted to hear the announcement of the intention of HyImpulse, a German company, to launch its maiden orbital flight from Unst in 2023.

The question is, how do we go forward? That takes me back to David Willetts’s words. We were dismayed to read recently in The Press and Journal that the view of Scottish Minister Fiona Hyslop is that the Sutherland site is best placed to achieve the first launch by the target date of next year. There are opportunities for all the communities involved in the growth of the UK space sector, and that was a rather bold and ill-considered assertion. It does not help anyone for the Scottish Government to be seen to favour one site over another.

As we look for a way forward, I take the Minister back again to the words of David Willetts and encourage her to build the strongest possible engagement with the companies that are doing business in this sector—they are the ones that know it best—rather than relying on information from politicians or public sector agencies, who may occasionally have an axe to grind. The Government have work aplenty to do in creating a fresh regulatory framework. Let us leave the commercial decisions to the companies that know best and that will put their money where their mouths are.

I welcome the Government’s ambition to have 10% of the global space industry in the UK. It is right that we aim to be a significant player in this increasingly important global sector. However, in order to achieve that aim, we will need to have a launch capability here in the UK. We lead the world in the design and manufacture of satellites—particularly small satellites—but we currently then ship them to the other side of the world for launch. Having our own launch capability in the UK will not only be important in an ever more uncertain world but will reduce costs and the environmental impact.

Cornwall is ready to play a major part in this through Spaceport Cornwall. Based at Newquay airport in my constituency, it will be one of the world’s first horizontal launch sites for satellites. Horizontal launch has many advantages over vertical launch, as it requires far less infrastructure, has a smaller carbon footprint and is much more accessible for smaller satellites. Cornwall has been chosen as the ideal site for horizontal launch and things are progressing well. With the successful first satellite launch of our partners Virgin Orbit last month, we are now in a position to launch satellites from Cornwall next year. That will bring much-needed well-paid jobs to Cornwall and attract business investment, which will aid the Government’s levelling-up agenda in one of the poorest parts of the UK. It will also help to inspire our young people to pursue qualifications in STEM subjects and open up career opportunities in electronics and engineering.

The thing we need now is for the regulations to be put in place. We need them in place urgently in order to be able to obtain the necessary licences. There is concern, however, that the regulations are looking to take a one-size-fits-all approach for both vertical and horizontal launch. Those two means of launch are very different. Horizontal launch, which is basically little different from a large passenger jet taking off, until it reaches altitude for rocket launch, should not be bogged down by unnecessary regulations that are required only to cover vertical launch. Will the Minister therefore look carefully at the regulations to ensure that they differentiate between launch mechanisms and are fit for horizontal launch?

In June this year, Cornwall will host the G7 leaders’ summit, and we are keen to use the opportunity to showcase the UK and Cornwall’s space sector ambitions. To do that, we would like to bring the Virgin Orbit plane, Cosmic Girl, to Cornwall for the G7. Will the Minister work with Spaceport Cornwall to do all we can to enable that to happen?

I thank the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) and congratulate him on setting the scene so well.

The Government’s target of 10% of the global space market by 2030 is something we all want to see. The latest figures, from the “Size and Health of the UK Space Industry 2018” survey, show:

“Total UK space industry income grew to £14.8 billion in 2016/17”,

which is estimated to represent

“5.1% of the global space economy”.

These are lofty goals, yet seeing the skill levels of workers in our nation—for example, the workers in the Shorts, formerly Bombardier, factories in my constituency and their ability to turn their hands and machinery to new complex designs—I sincerely believe those goals to be achievable. Many independent engineering firms in my constituency, such as Cooke Brothers, Huddleston and others, are ready, skilled, able and willing to turn their hand to this and to be part of the achievement in the space industry. We need, however, to be able to connect the design firm in Bristol with engineering firms in the Ards peninsula, or Newtownards town in Strangford. There is a job to be done to ensure that the UK-wide skills are utilised for the benefit of us all and that everyone gains in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The majority of the income of the space industry— £12.4 billion—is generated by the downstream segment of the industry through space applications such as direct-to-home broadcasting. Upstream activities, including space manufacturing—launch vehicles, satellites, payloads, scientific instruments—generated an income of £2.4 billion in 2016-17. When we achieve our goal of doubling the UK share of the global industry, it will allow other areas, such as my constituency of Strangford, to come into their own and to play their part. I want to see us all gain in this great nation and to see the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy take an active role to make the connections and to support diversification of facilities UK-wide to be part of the growing global potential.

I was heartened to hear this quotation from Dr Michael McKay, the head of the strategy and co-ordination office in the directorate of operations at the European Space Agency:

“Northern Ireland possesses the high precision engineering expertise, research competence and innovative thinking that is necessary to meet the demands of tomorrow’s European and International Space Programmes and their application. Clearly identifying the opportunities where we can use these skills is the key to growth”.

Let us not lose that comment. We need to utilise that. I sincerely look to the Minister to understand how Northern Ireland will play an integral part in this tremendous opportunity for everyone.

The morning after I was appointed

the science Minister, and two years later Business Secretary, my very first engagement was to meet all the representatives of the UK’s space sector at the Farnborough airshow. I did so because I was convinced right from the outset that this was an industry where we could forge a very strong future for the UK. It was an opportunity—technologically, in engineering terms, economically, regionally and scientifically—from which we could prosper.

One thing we know, looking ahead to the future, is that the whole world is going to be using more satellites and more satellite technology, whether for monitoring crops or helping to navigate autonomous vehicles around our streets. Because our skills in all the related disciplines, from precision engineering to the analysis of big data, are so well developed and so profound, this is a huge opportunity for us. When we launched the industrial strategy, we reserved a very big place within it for space and satellites for that reason. Two of the major components of that industrial strategy were the national satellite test facility that my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) referred to and the competition to have satellite launch facilities. As we have heard in this debate, if we are going to build the technology, how much better it is to be able to launch satellites as well.

The Space Industry Act went through the House at that time, through the industrial strategy. It was an exciting time for an exciting sector, but I have to say in all candour that I am concerned that, in recent months and years, the Government seem to have been a bit more ambivalent about industrial strategy than I think is appropriate given the opportunities. In the 2017 industrial strategy, we thought that we should have capacity for vaccines manufacture so we established a vaccines manufacturing and innovation centre. We thought that we should have capability in battery manufacturing; we established a Faraday challenge. We established the initiatives that we have today.

I hope that, in the months ahead, the Government might reflect that, although not everything about that strategy was right, to have a forward plan—bringing industry, academia and places all together to work together to put the whole weight of the country behind that—is a recipe for success. It is not too late to do that, but other countries are looking at the same possibilities that we have. So I hope the Minister and the new Secretary of State will take up with enthusiasm the potential of industrial strategy once again.

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as well as my role as an officer of the all-party group on space.

I think we would all agree that space is absolutely fantastic and fascinating for our country. We are a nation with global ambitions and it is an absolutely basic part of our global nation’s portfolio. We would all agree that we need to engage and do well in this sector. Since 2010 it has been our ambition to achieve 10% of the global space market, a win worth around £40 billion a year. As we have just heard, that was reinforced with the industrial strategy. This is a fine ambition, but it is just that: an ambition. It does not really constitute a grand strategy or a strategic goal.

I fear that we have lost our way; the reality is that we are not driving forward this ambition in the way we should be. While we are the sixth biggest defence economy on the planet, our space sector is now languishing behind that of Italy in its activities, and although we have any number of brilliant companies here in the UK engaged in this sector, international companies seeking to locate here are faced with an extraordinarily confused regulatory landscape. We have an incredibly untidy, confusing regulatory landscape with various Government Departments looking after various parts of this regime. Our new regulatory regime brought in under the Space Industry Act 2018 faces any number of problems and confusions. In addition, no one really quite understands why flight licensing has been transferred from the UK Space Agency to the Civil Aviation Authority. Even at its most basic level, we are failing so many businesses seeking to invest in the UK because we have failed to deliver a simple customer service proposition.

While it is easy to criticise a lot of the details of the space offering, I do not want to pour cold water on what we do, but our problem is that we do not have a grand strategy. We seem to lack the clarity of vision that supports the delivery of this very important sector.

The reality is that space is a component of our national power. If we want to be a global military presence, we need to have a global space presence. If we want to be a global technology leader, we need to be a global space leader. If we want to avoid the same problems that we have faced with Huawei and 5G but in space, we need to grasp the technological nettle.

We need to recognise that our space landscape is unfathomably complex and impossible to navigate. We need to develop a strategy that will make all of this work. We need to have a proper secretariat that is empowered to deliver a cohesive and coherent space policy, and that can be effective across Government. We need to create the opportunity in other areas that will be able to support our commercial space industry, and we need to do well in academia. But we also need to look at one of the greatest resources we have in this country: the City of London.

We need to come up with a three-point strategy: create a proper strategic goal that embodies our true global Britain vision in space; build a structure with a clear delivery organisation at its head; and incentivise other brilliant sectors of the economy, especially financial services, to become a world leader in supporting our space sector.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for bringing forward this important debate. I also declare an interest as a vice-chair of the parliamentary space committee.

Over the last decade, the space industry has become one of the UK’s fastest-growing sectors. It currently employs almost 42,000 people and generates £15 billion annually. In Scotland, we are rightly proud of our thriving space industry. Three miles from where I am sitting is the heart of Europe’s small satellite industry, and Scotland’s space port sites offer great potential—it was good to hear from so many Members who represent those sites this afternoon. Glasgow University and Strathclyde University are training future space physicists and engineers, and the Scottish physics curriculum has been tailored towards space.

Many Members have spoken enthusiastically about the space industry this afternoon, but enthusiasm alone will not enable the industry to exploit its full potential. In the UK there is a lack of leadership and co-ordination between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Defence. Other countries—notably the US, China and India—are developing space technologies as a fourth arm of their armed forces. So the first priority for the UK is to have a credible space strategy that makes long-term investment possible.

It is also important to recognise that space is set to get crowded. Anywhere humanity goes, we take our ambitions and rivalries, and space is no different. The national and commercial race for space power and profit is back, and many are seeing the economic potential and defence necessities in space-based capabilities. Just to illustrate that, SpaceX has launched 1,000 new satellites in the last year alone. In this crowded commercial domain, companies will launch according to where the regulations are most supportive of the industry.

So where does that leave the UK? Well, there are a number of issues that we need to address. The licensing requirements under the Space Industry Act 2018 include complex regulation that must be simplified to avoid large administrative costs for licence applicants. The third-party liability insurance costs are a major challenge for small satellite operators. These costs are excessively high and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) has already explained, disproportionate to the low risks associated with this class of satellite.

Currently, one company is leaving the UK every month to launch elsewhere, and many more are electing not to come to the UK in the first place. This threatens the future of the UK’s small satellite sector and its wider supply chain, which needs focused Government support. A new insurance model is required for UK companies to remain competitive in the global market, and for the Government to leverage its space sector investments, including in launch sites and manufacturing facilities. The UK has a well-established earth observation capability, but there is growing competition. Other companies have significant national programmes and clear earth observation data and security policies, which enable greater investment certainty. Data exporters from the UK are disadvantaged because of the lack of such a policy, so that needs to be looked at urgently. As others have mentioned, the technology safeguard agreement between the US and the UK was entered into last June without consultation or scrutiny. That could be unreasonably restrictive to members of the UK industry, for example, if a company were to obtain a component from a country outside the missile technology control regime. It may also prevent companies from other countries coming to the UK to use launch facilities.

For informed policy to be developed—a policy that supports the industry—there must be suitably experienced regulatory staff to allow informed decisions to be made that take into account the global nature of the industry and enable UK operators to compete in this crowded global environment. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy drives innovation that is critical for other sectors and has an invaluable contribution to make to global challenges, such as climate change. We do have a thriving sector, but now we must develop a clear strategy with a supportive licensing policy to ensure that our ambitions are realised and our launch capability becomes a reality.

I thank the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) and the Backbench Business Committee for bringing forward this very important debate today. There have been so many excellent and well-informed contributions from all parts of the House and I am sorry that I cannot do them justice in my comments, but I will try to emulate their conciseness.

Space and its many unanswered questions inspire awe and excitement. For nearly 70 years, the official British space programme has been seeking to answer the big questions of our universe, drawing on the expertise of our world-leading science and research sectors. In fact, the British Interplanetary Society is the oldest space advocacy organisation on Earth. As a nation, we have a proud history of space exploration and international collaboration. In 1957, British Skylark rockets were launched from Woomera in Australia. At the turn of the millennium, the British National Space Centre was the third largest financial contributor to the European Space Agency.

The space industry is worth more than £14.8 billion per year and has grown five times greater than the wider economy since 1999. The success of this sector helps to drive prosperity across the UK. As we have heard, our UK space businesses spend around £750 million annually, with around 1,500 UK suppliers, based across every region of the UK. Many of the jobs created in space manufacturing are also highly productive, with the average salary of an Airbus UK space employee standing at £51,000, nearly 50% higher than the UK national average.

The UK’s proud history in space exploration, research and development makes it an excellent launch pad for future growth, with the right leadership. The UK and its place in the world is changing. We have left the European Union, which meant turning our back on the Galileo project that we did so much to bring about, at a cost of £1.2 billion to the taxpayer. The Government then U-turned on their plans to develop a rival sovereign satellite system, at a cost of a further £60 million.

Just this weekend, it was reported that the Secretary of State had decided to take control of strategy and policy away from the UK Space Agency, handing the almost £600 million budget directly to the Government. We are concerned that this constitutes a reactionary power grab following the controversy over the Government’s acquisition of OneWeb. Will the Minister publish the information that drove this decision, and set out the new remit for the UK Space Agency? What will she do with these new powers?

The Government talk excitedly about “global Britain”, but Labour wants to see an interplanetary Britain powered by a booming space sector. Space is not just for the stars. As we have heard, it impacts every household in the country—from climate change and rural broadband to transport and agriculture. From our smart phones to our credit cards, the UK space sector helps us all to prosper. The Government have made commitments to develop a new space command, designed to

“enhance the breadth of our space capabilities”

and help to fund high-risk/reward innovation projects, but there has been no clarity on the support provided to space research from this new ARPA-style moonshot programme.

Without a clear long-term space strategy, the hard work of our space sector—in developing spaceports and rocket launch pads, and space domain awareness projects and military-grade software, and embarking on satellite projects critical for our vital infrastructure—will not be fully realised. If we are to ensure the success of these programmes, we must understand whether we have the industrial capability to do so. Part of unlocking the potential of our space industry is knowing how we organise our industrial base to achieve our goals, and in turn where we will need further investment and finance to encourage outward investment in UK businesses.

There is no strategy for external investment, no strategy for skills—in particular diverse skills; space requires everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, region or age—no strategy for industry and manufacturing, and no strategy for sovereign satellite capabilities, or whether and how we will compete with SpaceX and others. Instead, we have the manifesto of a Government with their head in the clouds. Down on earth, as we have heard, the sector is still waiting to hear about the future of the new regulations introduced under the Space Industry Act 2018, particularly those dealing with administrative burdens and liabilities.

Nothing better illustrates the lack of strategy and transparency than the purchase of OneWeb, despite the advice of experts and the concerns of the UK Space Agency. First we were told it would be part of our sovereign GNSS—global navigation satellite system—programme, then it was not. We do not know what the Government have planned for OneWeb or whether this huge investment will even support jobs in the UK space sector, with the satellites continuing to be manufactured in Florida.

The space sector provides the UK with so many opportunities to grow our economy, push technological boundaries and boost our soft power by developing strategic interdependence with our allies. What discussions has the Minister had about progressive partnerships in space exploration and research and development?

A year ago, UKspace set out the urgent need for a coherent cross-Government space strategy. We still have not seen it. Labour would seek to support our sovereign capability in the space age and build on the UK’s proud history of technological innovation and space exploration. Labour is passionate about the long-term future and potential of the space sector. It provides high-skill, high-paid jobs, which are needed to address the major challenges of our time, but the absence of a clear and focused long-term space strategy raises many questions about how far we will benefit from the boundless possibilities of space.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) on securing this incredibly important debate and acknowledge the richness of this entire debate—there really are just far too many comments that I would like to make. I have been hearing words such as “opportunity”, “future”, “growth”, “jobs”, “inspiration”, “economic recovery”, “connectability”. All of these are just so exciting, and it is the reason why we really need to focus on the space industry.

To highlight just a couple of Members—there are too many to mention, although every Member has made such a valuable contribution—my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) talked about being Minister for the Universe. I think that is really exciting; I am the Minister for the Universe now. That is so great, and I could not agree more about making sure we seize this opportunity. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) talked about Tim Peake and the inspiration he can bring. I was really fortunate over Christmas to receive one of the books that so inspired him. That is the kind of thing we need to harness and capture.

On the subject of inspiration, I am sure the Minister will agree with me that we have the opportunity to inspire a generation of children. Aa an example, as I walked to the Chamber earlier for this debate, I received a voicemail from my boy enthusiastically explaining a new fact that he had learned about a comet. It is that kind of enthusiasm that we need to inspire among a whole generation, to take our education and our industry through to the next generation.

I thank my hon. Friend. I know his son Freddie, and wow! That is what we have to do: inspire future generations.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) talked about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. I remember that, and I remember thinking how important—how amazing—all these achievements were. Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) talked about how we must plan for our future. I am grateful for all those contributions, which were all valuable.

We must use space every single hour of every single day, and that is what makes it so exciting. From getting the latest weather forecast to navigating the oceans and operating the National Grid, satellites keep our troops safe, underpin every financial transaction and help scientists monitor our climate. Space innovations can and have transformed how we live and work, from automated cars to wearable technology, while space science helps us to understand our place in the universe and protect our future.

As I speak, British satellites are capturing high-resolution images around the globe to help us assess environmental hazards, manage natural resources and understand our climate. British technology is on the way to Mercury—gosh, that is incredible—making possible the European Space Agency’s first mission to study how the planet closest to the sun was formed. That is really amazing.

Satellites have kept our families, communities and businesses connected this past year, while space-powered technologies such as drones have supported the incredible efforts of our NHS, as was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford). That includes enabling my 86-year-old dad in Wales to watch this speech today.

The Government’s partnership with our inspirational space sector has been at the heart of its success. Our space growth partnerships bring together the UK’s space industry, research base and Government to drive our ambitions forward, and will help us build back from the challenges of the pandemic better and stronger than ever.

We have established a new National Space Council to co-ordinate space policy. We will grow our space economy across the Union, bolster our capabilities to protect the UK and our allies, foster innovation, and make the UK a world-class destination for global talent and investment. The UK’s priority for space will be set out in the first comprehensive space strategy, which will be delivered in the next six months. I could not agree more that we need that.

Our free trade agreement with the EU, worth £668 billion, is a vital step, allowing the UK to remain at the forefront of this high-tech industry. It paves the way for the UK to remain in the Copernicus programme, where there will be opportunities for UK businesses to bid for high-value manufacturing work and access satellite data, on which we will build science and commercial applications.

Outside the EU, our £374 million annual investment in the European Space Agency is ensuring that UK scientists and engineers take lead roles in this decade’s most exciting missions, from building Europe’s next Mars Rover to searching for life on other planets and studying the sun in greater detail than ever. We are investing in new international partnerships that will boost UK space exports and strengthen our collaboration on ground-breaking science and research with other leading space nations, such as the US, Australia and Japan.

We are also establishing major new national programmes to build the space capabilities that are vital to our prosperity and security. Our space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme is exploring new ways to ensure continued delivery of satellite navigation and timing services that are critical for UK energy networks and communications in the maritime, aviation and defence sectors, all of which we have heard about throughout this incredible debate.

We plan to make the UK a global hub for space innovation. We have launched a £15 million national space innovation programme, the UK’s first dedicated fund for pioneering space technologies, which will help solve some of the greatest societal challenges. Our strategic investment in the OneWeb satellite communication constellation demonstrates the Government’s ambition to put Britain at the cutting edge of the latest advances in space technology. Access to our own global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect people worldwide, creating jobs and building on a strong advanced manufacturing service base. Our aim is to be the first country in Europe to launch small satellites.

We have kickstarted work to build the first UK spaceports, including in Scotland, supported by grants worth £40 million. We expect the first launches from 2022, creating hundreds of secure, highly skilled jobs. To ensure that the UK’s launch offer is competitive and encourages new market entrants, the UK Government are putting in place a world-leading regulatory framework, with the Civil Aviation Authority assuming responsibility for the regulatory functions of the Space Industry Act, in addition to regulating orbital activities under the Outer Space Act 1986.

We are working with our partners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to build their local strengths and drive development of their sectors. Government initiatives will join and complement our existing areas of strength as part of our developing national space ecosystem, unlocking new talent and making a career in space a realistic prospect in every part of the country.

We have a truly vibrant space sector, which stretches across the nation, going further to ensure that our space industry benefits from every region. We must seize this moment and deliver.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the future of the UK space industry.

Sitting suspended.