Commercial spaceflight sector receiving £10m UK government boost

Her Majesty’s government plans to make £10 million of commercial spaceflight funding available to projects that will launch people and satellites into space from the United Kingdom. It is also introducing new legislation to regulate commercial spaceflight by 2020.

In a recent announcement about the plans, universities and science minister Jo Johnson says:

“Spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation. It provides opportunities to expand into new markets, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting local economies across the country.”

United Kingdom seen from satelliteThe UK government is inviting businesses developing spaceports and technology for operating commercial spaceflights to apply for funding assistance.
Image is of United Kingdom seen from Sentinel-3A satellite – Credit: ESA

Commercial spaceflight market £25 billion

Johnson says the commercial spaceflight market is estimated to be worth around £25 billion over the next 20 years and the government’s ambition is for the UK to have 10 percent of the market by 2030.

Businesses developing spaceports and technology for operating commercial spaceflights are invited to submit proposals to access the funding.

In its call for proposals, the government says the aim is to make the UK the “first country in Europe where operators can launch, horizontally or vertically, small satellites into orbit or sub-orbital flights for science and tourism.”

Johnson says a dedicated Spaceflight Bill is also due to be published within the next few weeks.

Small satellite market growing

The global market for small satellites is developing rapidly. Clusters of hundreds of microsatellites are due to be launched over the next decade to provide telecommunications and enhanced imaging for a range of applications.

Plans at organizational, national and regional level are already forming to create the technology and low-cost services for putting these satellites into space.

For instance, 16 space agencies and universities from nine Asian countries – including Japan – recently formed an Asian microsatellite consortium.

Human spaceflight

Meanwhile, innovative companies are also working on affordable ways to put people into sub-orbital space – whether for the purposes of scientific research, tourism, or high-speed travel.

One example is Virgin Galactic (VG), who recently carried out their first successful glide test of the VSS Unity, their first spaceship to be built in-house.

Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation says the flight, which was completed at Mojave Air & Spaceport in California in the United States, brings VG “one step closer to their goal of making access to space frequent and safe.”

The government has set up a webpage for news, announcements, and guidance on commercial spaceflight in the UK.