We have lift off...

Last week I visited the headquarters of Inmarsat in London for the launch of the Space Innovation and Growth Team, a joint industry and government initiative which will “define a 20-year vision and strategy for the future growth of the space industry.” The Technology Strategy Board will play a key role in the IGT, contributing to the Working Groups and to the Steering Board.

Inmarsat has been around for 30 years and is very much the pioneer of global mobile satellite communications and at the forefront of 3G wireless telephony.  The location of their headquarters building, at Old Street roundabout, belies the very impressive ‘Houston control centre’ style London Satellite Control Operations Centre inside.

It is perhaps typical, however, of one of the UK’s problems in the whole field of space – it is a hidden gem and our capability and leadership role in the global communication business is not widely known across the UK public. Clearly one of the key objectives for the Space IGT is to raise understanding of the contribution which UK Space makes to our economy and the industrial landscape. This is essential if we are to attract the further investment and support into the sector that it deserves.

It is appropriate that we should see the launch of the Space IGT in the week following the publication of Digital Britain. Delivery of the Digital Britain objectives has some strong dependencies on the UK Space business. I remember well from a previous role the difficulty industry faced in finding the appropriate sponsor within Government to move the Space agenda forward. It is nearly 3 years since the issue of the Case4Space report brought together and highlighted the economic case for investment in space activities here in the UK. This was followed up last year by the publication of the UK Civil Space Strategy 2008-2012. Space technologies underpin many of today’s commercial sectors and yet we take much of the UK contribution for granted. The UK is home to many of the leading global satellite and communication companies – not only Inmarsat but companies such as EADS Astrium at Portsmouth and Stevenage; Surrey Satellites, Avanti and Logica.

We have come a long way quite quickly since Logica helped send the world’s first text message. Indeed the explosion in social media across the world owes much to the technological advances of UK space businesses. Lord Drayson launched the Space IGT with his own communication through Twitter - “Space IGT will deliver a To Do list for Govt to ensure we maximise the UK's strong position in space. It's a growth area. V. Imp”.

The Space IGT’s stated key objectives are:

  • identifying and benchmarking the full UK space capability; identifying the future market opportunities; and proposing a policy for growth and a technology roadmap to support this
  • aligning the UK's civil, defence and security policies in science, manufacturing, and 'downstream' applications businesses
  • creating a 'space aware' culture and its importance to everyday life to maximise the potential for jobs and wealth creation in the UK, resulting in Space being factored and considered in business and HMG policy.

Led by Andy Green, CEO of Logica, the IGT has essentially six months to prepare its findings and recommendations to define the 20 year vision and strategy for the future growth of the British space industry. It will include technological, innovation and awareness and perception issues.

It is an exciting time for the space industry in the UK, with other developments including the establishment of the ESA Centre at Harwell and the selection of Major Tim Peake as the UK’s first official astronaut.

The Technology Strategy Board’s interests in UK space are very much focused around the agenda of innovation for business benefit. These opportunities for UK business benefit arise through diverse activities ranging from entertainment, general communications, defence and security through to e-health, intelligent transport, and weather and environmental monitoring. The Technology Strategy Board already manages the innovation activities of the UK BNSC/ESA.

As part of the Space IGT we will fully engage all the Knowledge Transfer Networks to support studies and ensure full consultation with business. We will identify market opportunities through our challenge-based Innovation Platforms and identify possible funding mechanisms, such as SBRI, for business opportunities.

The Space IGT’s commitment to publish early findings by end of 2009 with a full report by early 2010 represents a significant challenge, but it is a real opportunity to identify the actions that will at last give the UK leadership in this important business and technology area for the future.


Last updated on Thursday 06 August 2009 at 09:42

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