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Domestic Space Industry

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 15 March 2023

It is a great privilege to open the batting for the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Not since the white heat of technology under Harold Wilson have a Government put more money into research. I know the Opposition will welcome this Department.

No sector embodies the opportunity more than space. That is why, in the past 10 years, we are proud to have doubled the size of the sector to £16 billion. We set out a £10 billion plan for the next decade. Through regulatory leadership, insurance and finance in the City, £400 million in earth observation and our cluster programme, we intend to grow this economy all around the country.

As a science geek, I love this new Department. The Chelmsford-based company Teledyne e2v is the world leader in space imaging. When the earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, its technology from way up there in space pinpointed the exact location of collapsed businesses, sent rescuers to the spot and saved lives. It also provides crucial monitoring of our planet’s air, oceans and volcanos via the Copernicus programme. The European Space Agency wants to continue to use e2v tech for the next generation of Copernicus satellites, so will the UK continue to participate in Copernicus post-2024 so that companies like e2v can continue to sell to—

Order. The right hon. Lady, as much as she might be a science geek, ought to know that questions need to be shorter to give somebody else a chance. Put in for an urgent question. Come on in, Minister.

I pay tribute to Teledyne, which is a great company. That is why we have put £1.8 billion through the European Space Agency, so that little companies like that here in the UK can benefit. On Friday, I visited Space East. We support the cluster it is a part of. Following the Northern Ireland protocol agreement, the Windsor framework, we are actively discussing with the EU the membership of Horizon, Copernicus and Euratom, and funding earth observation programmes in any case.

I welcome anything that focuses on science and technology. It has to be good for our country. On the domestic space industry, I very much welcome what the Minister has just said. However, if we are to grow the sector, we need the next generation of mathematicians, scientists, engineers and computer programmers. What is he doing to ensure that the education and training system brings forward the workforce for tomorrow?

That is an excellent question because skills are key. All around the country we are growing space clusters. Just yesterday we launched Leicester Space East, which is part of the national network. We prioritised skills in the science and technology framework, published last Monday. The UK Space Agency has an active skills programme and we are working with UKspace to set out a map of the jobs that are being created—380,000 in this economy over the next 10 years. We intend to ensure that our higher education and further education sector is supplying them.

The Westcott Space Cluster in my constituency is a tour de force of innovative excellence, with a particular focus on ensuring small and medium-sized enterprises can use open access testing facilities, such as through the satellite applications catapult DISC. Does my hon. Friend agree that that open access support is essential? Will he visit Westcott to see it for himself?

Next month, I will be joining the team from HyImpulse at the SaxaFord spaceport in Shetland to see the hot fire test of its new HyPLOX75 motor. Like many companies in the sector, it is very keen to know when we will get an announcement regarding the space flight phase 2 programme. When will we get that announcement? If we are not going to go ahead with that programme, what will the Government be doing to encourage companies like HyImpulse to do their business in Scotland?

I was in Scotland just a few weeks ago meeting the team behind the Shetland and Sutherland launch. We are committed to launch in both Cornwall and Scotland. We are providing funding to support those two spaceports. I will happily come and visit when I am next up. In Scotland, Buckinghamshire and all around the country, we are growing space clusters to give jobs and opportunities to a new generation.