UK Space Ambitions: 2019 in summary

The UK space industry is moving into a crucial stage

As we leave 2019 behind us, we have taken this opportunity to examine what has happened in the UK space industry recently and what may be ahead of us in 2020 and beyond.

2019 was the year that Space got some serious attention from the UK government in the early stages of the country’s potential departure from the EU. And whilst we all understand that the EU and the European Space Agency are not one in the same and on paper are not even linked in anyway whatsoever, there are clearly synergies between the two and it is evident from the UK government’s perspective that it appears to look at them both as the same entity or at least certainly closely aligned.

With Boris Johnson’s Conservative government securing a victory in the 2019 General Election, it has already expressed its commitment to Space in the Queen’s Speech during the opening of Parliament.

The “Vote Leave” campaign prior to the UK taking part in a referendum in which a majority voted to leave the EU, was partly driven by Dominic Cummings, who then became Boris Johnson’s Chief Advisor and who is accredited with being the architect of the “Get Brexit Done” campaign during the General Election.

If Cummings’ drive to take the UK out of Europe is anything to go by and assuming he remains a trusted advisor to the Prime Minister, then it is likely now that Space will get a similar level of momentum thrust upon it. Cummings is a well known supporter of advanced technologies and science. He has also spoken against the “bureaucracy” within the UK government and its inability to get things done because of it. All suggesting that any influence he may have will fuel a period of rapid progress.

Last year we witnessed many significant developments in the UK’s space ambitions. Two locations received funding for launch sites, with Cornwall securing funds for a horizontal launch sites in conjunction with Virgin Orbit and a location in Sutherland allocated funds for a vertical launch site in partnership with Orbex Space and Lockheed Martin.

UK Spaceports
UK Spaceports

The Sutherland spaceport site plans have progressed through their public consultation phase and are now being prepared for planning application, although there are still some unanswered environmental concerns, so this may cause some delay.

Orbex also unveiled the prototype of their Prime launch vehicle earlier in the year and published a series of images taken at their production/assembly facility in Forres in November.

Edinburgh-based launch company, Skyrora, made several announcements during the year following some successful tests of their 3D printed engine and a small rocket launch test. Although they were unsuccessful in getting planning permission for an engine testing site on the East Coast of Scotland, following local objections.

In April of 2019 it was announced that the 100th satellite built by Glasgow-based Spire Global had been launched into orbit from India.

We expect 2020 to bring about some quite significant milestones and it is likely that it will be the year when we will know exactly where and when the first UK rocket launch will take place.

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