The UK space industry – aiming for the stars

In amongst the reports of retail failures, job losses and tightening economic belts, there’s one sector that’s bucking the trend and actually doing rather well – the UK’s space industry.

Yes, we do have one. In fact, UK space companies have grown by an average of 10% a year since 2007, making it one of the quiet success stories in the British economy. The turnover is now estimated at over £7.5billion a year, and employment within the industry is also rising by around 15% a year. It seems we are producing a lot more rocket scientists these days!

The best performing areas are in the downstream areas such as satellite broadband and broadcasting. But even upstream, satellite manufacturing is recording healthy performance levels, with an average of 3% growth year on year.

So what’s driving this space-age space race on Britain’s shores? The growing demand for mobile technology and satellite broadband connectivity means that the space industry is now intrinsically linked into the telecommunications sector. That in turn is driving the wheels of small businesses across the country and providing a comprehensive coverage system that’s vital to economic growth.

London-based satellite communications operator Inmarsat has seen demand for its services increase, pushing its earnings up 18.4% in just one quarter.

“Satellites go where terrestrial services don’t,” explained Inmarsat’s CEO Andrew Sukawaty.

“What we’re doing now with satellites is providing broadband, or Internet access or email coverage in remote environments. And because we’re extending this service to an under-served market, we’re now in a position to expand, even in the middle of a recession.”

The potential for growth is enormous. With continuing demand from business and non-business users alike for mobile technology, a commitment from the government to have ‘the best broadband network in Europe by 2015’ and a desire to see the UK at the forefront of space technology, active investment in the industry could create up to 100,000 new jobs and boost revenue to £40billion a year. Potentially, it could be one of our biggest growth sectors, with international implications. We may not be sending men to the moon, but satellite technology is astronomically important to the UK’s economy and to the success of small businesses across the country.

Ka Sat – the satellite for rural broadband across the UK

One of the most exciting developments was the launch of Ka Sat satellite back in December 2010. This nifty little bit of kit, operated by European satellite heavyweight Eutelsat is Europe’s first dedicated broadband satellite and is providing Internet connectivity to rural areas lacking in terrestrial connectivity.

So far it’s proved to be highly successful with take up far exceeding expectations. Ka Sat is the essential piece of the jigsaw that allows the revolutionary 2nd generation Tooway satellite broadband network to work. Ka Sat and Tooway are already at work filling Europe’s not-spots and providing a super-fast broadband service to homes and businesses that are digitally disadvantaged by the fixed line network.

So it seems that the British space industry is reaching for the stars, despite troubled times here on terra firma. If the sector continues to grow and develop at predicted levels, it could quickly become one of the most important industries in the economy, and something that UK PLC can be rightfully proud of.