LaunchUK: the European leader in commercial small satellite launch – GOV.UK

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Published 15 July 2022

© Crown copyright 2022
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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/launchuk-brochure-the-uk-spaceflight-programme/launchuk-the-european-leader-in-commercial-small-satellite-launch
I have always been fascinated by humankind’s curiosity and capabilities in engineering, science and technology, and believe that the sky is never the limit. My interests have led me to look at how to use space for peaceful purposes, and to further our understanding of the world and universe. I’m lucky enough to have followed my passions and had a fascinating career associated with the engineering challenges of rocketry. Now, I have the honour and privilege to use what I know to help shape the UK to be the leading commercial small satellite launch destination in Europe.
As Deputy Chief Executive and Senior Responsible Owner for the UK Spaceflight Programme, I work alongside leading professionals from industry and governments to deliver the UK Space Agency’s role of catalysing investment into the UK space sector, delivering missions and capabilities and, importantly, championing the power of space to benefit our planet and its people.
The National Space Strategy clearly sets out our ambitions to build the UK as one of the most attractive and innovative space economies in the world. Space presents significant opportunities, with the global space economy projected to grow from an estimated £270 billion in 2019 to £490 billion by 20301.
It’s inspiring to see industry and government working together to achieve this ambition, from developing modern technologies focusing on space debris removal and in-orbit servicing, to enabling launch from UK spaceports. The first UK launches will take place in 2022, servicing this global demand for commercial small satellite launch.
To enable these launches, UK Government has designed modern regulatory and licensing approaches to cater for new launch vehicles, such as Orbex’s Prime, Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One, ABL Space System’s RS1 and Syrora’s Skylark L and Skyrora XL. The regulations also allow for new missions for satellite owners and operators, and we are collaborating with international partners to open new commercial opportunities across the globe.
The UK is paving the way for the modern era of space and launch capabilities in Europe, and I can confidently say the excitement and anticipation is felt by all as we head towards the first launches this year. This evokes the same spirit of collective endeavour and teamwork from the pioneering days of UK heritage in launch and space systems engineering. We have a wealth of experience, skills, and peoplepower to deliver sector-leading satellite design and manufacturing, operation and utilisation of space data, making it the ideal location to support UK and global launch providers.
Ian Annett, Deputy Chief Executive and Senior Responsible Owner for UK Spaceflight Programme, UK Space Agency.
The UK Space Agency is committed to catalysing investment in the UK space sector, delivering missions and capabilities, and championing space for the benefit of our planet and its people.
LaunchUK, the UK government’s spaceflight programme, is delivering this by supporting the space sector to attract new investment and grow its launch services and spaceports. This will provide high-skilled jobs and wider economic and social benefits to communities right across the country.
In 2022, the UK will be the first country to launch a rocket into orbit from European soil. By 2023, there will be three operational spaceports in the UK, offering a full suite of launch services to domestic and international customers. By 2030, we will become the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe.
Having UK launch capabilities complements existing strengths and creates a complete spaceflight capability from small satellite testing and manufacture to a competitive, responsive launch offering, boosting UK and international businesses. The UK has it all, supported by a modern and flexible regulatory environment.
The UK space sector is cementing its position as the leading small sat launch destination in Europe. A strong business environment, talented workforce, and a world-class space sector stand ready to host and support your space business to thrive. All the benefits of a modern space ecosystem are located here, so we invite you to join us in our mission and expand your spaceflight business in the UK.
Every year, the UK space sector attracts hundreds of new investors, start-ups, and returning customers, generating a wave of new jobs and growth. We have some of the best talent in the world to support your business both now and in the long-term and help you to take advantage of the nation’s thriving spaceflight sector. In 2019/20, the UK space sector generated £16.5 billion in income, creating new organisations and jobs right across the supply chain, despite the impact of the global pandemic.
Over the past decade (2012 to 2021), 145 unique investors invested nearly £6 billion across UK space organisations2, making the UK the second largest attractor of private investment in emerging space companies in the world.
You can find a wealth of talent up and down the country, and we are home to some of the world’s leading space universities, ensuring a healthy flow of skilled specialists. Additionally, since 2000/01 employment in the industry has more than tripled, with an annual growth rate of over 6%3.
The UK is also a leading member of the European Space Agency (ESA) and works closely with other international agencies and organisations to support trade and investment, participate in global space programmes and develop national space capabilities.
All these elements together make the UK the most attractive destination in Europe to setup and grow your space business. Our Department for International Trade is on hand to provide support and information to guide you through establishing your business here.
For decades, the UK has excelled as a world leader in the manufacture of satellites, spacecraft and highly complex payloads, making it ideal to service national and global launch needs. For example, Glasgow manufactures more satellites than anywhere outside the Unites States of America (USA), demonstrating our level of skilled workers and proven heritage in the global space market.
The government also provides support to all kinds of business ventures through SME R&D Tax Credits for innovative space and technology projects, a Patent Box scheme to incentivise the development and commercialisation of patent products, as well as Research and Development Expenditure Credit which is a form of tax relief aimed at larger organisations.
The UK is uniquely placed to host a range of launch activities, with good access to various polar and sun synchronous orbits, ideal for monitoring the earth and providing telecommunication services. With its long coastline providing access to open waters, it is no surprise that our nation is ready to safely cater for a variety of spaceflight requirements.
The north of Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets. Other space transportation and emerging launch technologies, such as suborbital spaceplanes, balloons and air-launched vehicles, can also be launched from UK spaceports. From Shetland, Sutherland, Machrihanish and Prestwick in Scotland, to Snowdonia in Wales and on to Newquay in Southwest England, each spaceport has its own individual geography and local infrastructure to support different launch vehicles and spaceflight activities.
In addition, the UK is globally accessible by both sea and air. Once you’re here, a first-class transport infrastructure makes it easy to transport equipment securely and safely to where it needs to be, whether that is by road, rail, air, or sea.
Government and industry have worked together to design and put in place the most progressive and flexible regulations in the world. The Space Industry Regulations 2021, underpinned by the Space Industry Act 2018, are flexible high-level regulatory frameworks, enabling safe launch, and supporting the needs of industry. This legislation focuses on public safety, protecting the environment on Earth and in space, and safeguarding our national security whilst remaining flexible to emerging needs, technologies and markets.
Instead of traditional detailed and prescriptive operating requirements, operators of launches and spaceports will be required to demonstrate to the UK’s space regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, that risks have been managed to as low as is reasonably practicable, making the process more direct and streamlined.
It is important to recognise that UK launch services and emerging spaceports do not just open opportunities for launch vehicles and small satellites but also unlock opportunities throughout the spaceflight ecosystem. Satellite services underpin £360 billion per year of wider economic activity in the UK4, showing the scale of commercial opportunities for companies across the whole space supply chain, including:
Satellite Operators and Manufacturers, who provide and operate the payloads to solve global challenges and enable downstream services on Earth, from space. For example, OneWeb and Inmarsat both have operating centres in the UK, and work with multiple organisations and specialist fields to run space operations.
Launch Brokers, who support spaceflight operations between small satellite customers, launchers, and spaceports. Companies include UK Launch Service Limited and Commercial Space Technologies, along with a selection of other brokers providing a thorough advisory service tailored to the needs of clients and users.
Satellite Applications, who use data from small satellites here on Earth to solve local, global, and business challenges. These services can be found through the Satellite Applications Catapult and their Centres of Excellence.
Research, Development and Testing, to develop and put space products through their paces, ensuring they are space ready. Space focused academic institutions and laboratories, such as Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Surrey, and Leicester Universities are such examples.
Range Provision, operating a safe area for launch, testing, and tracking of spacecraft. To support range monitoring and development, the UK Space Agency awarded a National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) contract to Inmarsat, the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, to develop an in-orbit telemetry relay service for rockets called “InRange”.
Our new, and long-standing commitments with global nations demonstrate the UK’s position as a world-leading, space faring nation. We continue to work with international partners to develop strong global relationships, ensuring we have access to markets, financing, and supply chains all around the world. Safety, security, and protection of the environment are top priorities for our government – as laid out in the Space Industry Act 2018. This approach has informed our discussions and agreements with neighbours.
UK space businesses can benefit from new US partnerships through our 2021 UK-US Technology Safeguards Agreement. This ‘first of its kind’ treaty allows US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology and opens new doors to the US space sector for UK companies. This mutually beneficial agreement enables UK businesses access to new revenues and customers previously unavailable, while abiding by both countries’ commitments to non-proliferation.
The UK works closely with ESA and other institutions to grow trade and investment, participate in global space programmes, and promote an open, safe, and sustainable space environment. The UK Space Agency already invested £12 million, and is considering future opportunities, in ESA’s Boost! Programme – a fully commercial programme aimed at providing tailored support to national launch companies and related infrastructure. UK companies such as Orbex, Skyrora, D-Orbit, and Space Forge successfully secured funding to develop small commercial launch capabilities, demonstrating our sector’s commitment to the launch industry, and building a sustainable and diverse eco-system and launch market.
UK Government has prioritised strengthening spaceflight relationships with our near neighbours, working together to ensure safe launch, while realising mutual benefits for respective European nations. For example, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Faroe Islands and Iceland, securing their support for UK launch activities that might affect their interests, and have written agreements from Norway and Greenland on the same topic.
Did you know? £5.8bn (32%) of the UK space sector’s income in 2019/20, was derived from exports.5
With so much fresh, fast-paced activity taking place across the UK space sector, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest names are seizing the opportunities offered by our spaceflight sector.
Spaceport Cornwall, launch operator Virgin Orbit, and satellite ground station Goonhilly Earth Station have partnered to deliver the UK’s first orbital launch from Cornwall Airport Newquay in 2022.
Local and national government has together invested c£20 million in the site, including £7.35 million from the UK Space Agency to enable horizontal small satellite launch services from UK soil for the first time6. Spaceport Cornwall anticipates the project will deliver 150 direct jobs, and 240 indirect jobs by 2030.
Spaceport Cornwall is also investing in facilities to stimulate year-round space activity on site, including the Centre for Space Technologies intended to host Responsible Launch R&D that will change industry standards. Cornwall is home to a diverse and fast-growing space cluster covering launch, sat comms, mission control and tracking, downstream applications, and world leading academic research.
Lockheed Martin’s partnership with ABL Space Systems’ vertical RS1 rocket will  offer cost effective, high cadence launches to valuable low earth orbits from the Shetland Island’s SaxaVord Spaceport.
To expand the launch offering and growth opportunities throughout Scotland, the UK Space Agency awarded £23.5 million in two separate grants to Lockheed Martin to a) establish their launch operations at SaxaVord Spaceport, and b) for the research and development, build and flight demonstration of an orbital manoeuvring vehicle, delivered by Moog.
The Shetland Island’s location and vast open spaces are strengths for both security and safety. Geographically, it is located at the highest latitude point in the UK, one of the highest in Europe. The specialised supply chain of the Shetland oil and gas sector is also beneficial, providing a strong lead in an established, technically skilled workforce. SaxaVord Spaceport also has a global range of potential launch clients, including Astra Space Operations, HyImpulse, Venture Orbital Systems and C6.
Orbex is a leading UK-based rocket design and manufacturing company that is developing a small commercial orbital rocket called Prime. Prime will launch from Space Hub Sutherland, and features a lightweight 3-D printed engine and renewable bio-propane fuel that Orbex claim cuts emissions by up to 90%7. Following the opening of Orbex’s manufacturing facility in Forres in 2019, Orbex continues to further grow their presence in Scotland and in 2022 unveiled their new test launch platform, known as Orbex LP1, which will support the testing of Prime.
Space Hub Sutherland is backed by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise, whose stated ambition is to establish the ‘world’s greenest spaceport.’ It is also supported through £2.55 million of funding from the UK Space Agency8. The 10-acre launch site will enable access to valuable polar and sun-synchronous orbits from this sparsely populated peninsula on the north Scottish mainland.
With current planning permission for up to 12 launches a year, Space Hub Sutherland expect to generate over 60 high-quality jobs in Caithness and Sutherland, and a total of 250 jobs in the wider region, including manufacturing and supply chain opportunities9.
Prestwick Spaceport will offer horizontal launch capabilities to lucrative orbital inclinations suitable for small satellite delivery. With £80 million financial investment awarded for Space and Aerospace though the Ayrshire Growth Deal, proximity to over 100 registered space companies and seven world class Universities within a 55km radius, Prestwick is a gateway for UK space activity. Additionally, the area boasts a strong aerospace presence with BAE Systems, Collins Aerospace, GE, National Air Traffic Services and Spirit AeroSystems.
Spaceport Snowdonia has a long and distinguished track record in supporting experimental test flights in the UK. The site regularly provides air and ground services and facilities for the R&D, test and evaluation of novel aerospace systems and emerging flight technology, including stratospheric balloon launch with B2Space, and offshore launch with Black Arrow Space Technologies. To further progress the spaceport and attract new jobs and businesses to the area, the UK Space Agency awarded a portion of up to £1.3 million funding to develop business plans for small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight.
Spaceport 1 will commence construction of a suborbital spaceport in 2023, subject to planning permission. The spaceport’s unique location and facilities will offer all the services required for the provision of competitively priced suborbital launch. Spaceport 1 will provide support for all stages of launch projects, including technology development and demonstration of launch vehicles. Located at Scolpaig, North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, Spaceport 1 is suitably located for regular operations and is easily accessible by sea and air.
Spaceport Machrihanish’s vision is to complete the UK’s domestic spaceflight infrastructure by providing space access services outside of traditional orbital launch. Spaceport Machrihanish offers a wide range of spaceflight opportunities and complementary services to those provided by other UK spaceports, particularly spaceflight technology research and development and inspiring and training future generations of space specialists.
Join us and become part of a leading spacefaring nation at the forefront of the space revolution. Whether you want to invest in our businesses, open an office and/or manufacturing facilities or launch from one of our seven potential spaceport sites, we have government and industry services that can help you with every step of the process.
There are several government agencies that are on hand to provide more information about LaunchUK and our spaceflight ecosystems, regulations, treaties and licencing.
See below which department is right for you and your spaceflight goals:
The UK has a selection of strong networking groups for you to meet the right partners and collaborators for your business.
Join the networks below to increase your UK footprint, making your mark in the sector.
UKspace is the trade association of the UK space industry that works to influence government and agencies, knowledge sharing and networking, and assistance with finance and technical support, to help its members grow their business.
ADS is the trade organisation for companies in UK aerospace, defence, security, and space sectors, made up of over 1,000 UK-registered businesses. Activities are focused on influencing policy, supporting manufacturing and supply chains, and encouraging innovation and investment, business support, and promotion of the industries it represents.
techUK is a group of over 900 companies that represent companies and technologies that are defining today, for our world tomorrow. They help members develop markets, reduce business costs and risks, and provide networking, and opportunities.
SPAN (Space Academic Network) comprises over 100 UK universities and research groups, providing focus in the fields of Earth Observation, Space Engineering (including Communications and Navigation), Space Science, and Exploration. The community works with industry and government to coordinate UK strategic policy across all the space sciences.
Regional hubs, known as space clusters, will support new and growing companies, building on local expertise and catalysing investment into the UK’s spaceflight and wider space sector.
There is a selection of diverse space clusters, business hubs, and test facilities throughout the UK, home to hundreds of thriving and innovative companies. Explore some of these below to help navigate which is the best location for your business.
Space Park Leicester is a collaborative community of industry, academics and students working together to drive growth in space and space-enabled sectors. Building upon their heritage and space-science excellence, they undertake world-leading research, impactful innovation and offer a wide-range of skills and educational development opportunities, they cover innovative upstream engineering through to the downstream capture, analysis, and application of space data.
Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire hosts 105 space organisations including the UK Space Agency, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Space, the Satellite Applications Catapult, the Science & Technology Facilities Council and the European Space Agency’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications. UK government has committed £99 million for a National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell to provide facilities for the assembly, integration and testing of space payloads and satellites. This facility will enable UK industry to develop next generation launch technologies, satellites, and testing capabilities to construct satellites and deliver payloads into orbit.
Westcott Venture Park based in Buckinghamshire is home to 88 organisations, leading in the areas of space and rocketry, technology, and engineering. Its aim is to be recognised by innovators worldwide as a UK centre of excellence for global technology, with a focus on space and security for sustainable growth. Westcott has seen substantial growth, and in 2021 unveiled a new gold standard national rocket test facility. Based in the Vale Enterprise Zone, the new National Space Propulsion Test Facility, which received £4 million in funding from the UK Space Agency, is the only facility of its kind in the UK. It is also one of only three in the world and will create around 60 jobs10.
In February 2022, the UK Space Agency awarded over £600,000 to supporting activities in ten space clusters across the nation, which will create jobs and growth. The support will go towards funding development activities such as recruiting space cluster managers, to strengthen local space sector leadership groups and developing new business opportunities.
The funding comes as the Government unveiled its flagship Levelling Up White Paper, setting out a plan to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.
Read the full announcement here, and see some recipients of the funding below:
Northern Ireland will use grant funds to undertake a series of cluster development activities that build on the recommendations from the NI Space Market Insight Report. Activities include the formation of a NI Space Leadership Council, undertaking stakeholder engagement to further mature the cluster and define a business case for sustainable cluster development.
Scotland will use grant funds to appoint a cluster development manager to build and deliver on recommendations from the Scottish Space Strategy. Other activities will include identifying opportunities in the downstream sectors, scaling of regional STEM activities and undertake a series of stakeholder engagement activities to promote the cluster.
Cornwall space cluster will use grant funds to hold a series of workshops and events to showcase local business capabilities to academic and industry partners across the UK to stimulate new opportunities for research and innovation. The CDC will also use funds to create a new cluster website, undertake research for a local skills strategy and refine the local space proposition for the region.
Space Hub Sutherland will use grant funds to undertake cluster development activity around the proposed site of a spaceport and launch facilities at Sutherland.
Wales was funded to appoint a Space Wales Development Manager. The individual appointed will lead the implementation of the Wales space sector strategy as embodied in the document “Wales –a sustainable space nation” and development of the Space Wales network and cluster.
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