The UK & US Governments sign historical Space technology agreement

18th Jun 2020
Virgin Orbit

The Technology Safeguards Agreement has been banded around for a while, so news of it now having been signed comes as no surprise, and is a welcome sign of progress amongst most of the UK space industry as it is a significant sign of progress from the UK government.

The terms of the agreement are yet to be shared, and the detail contained within those could be good or bad for the country. Whilst it is a sign of progress, there exists the danger of opening the door to a supply chain that could dramatically dilute our space economy. So the wording of the agreement is crucial to protect the UK’s existing space industry and new activity into launch services.

This agreement is not just designed to allow US launch service providers to fly their own vehicles from UK soil, but also covers the whole supply chain.

We have speculated for some time, in the absence of any solid information, whether Lockheed Martin will be able to stick to their original plan of launching a Rocket Labs Electron vehicle from the UK. The signing of this agreement would certainly pave the way for that to happen now. It will also mean that Virgin Orbit can ship hardware from their California factory to Cornwall ready to fulfil their horizontal launch ambitions.

The agreement was signed by the UK’s Washington Ambassador, Dame Karen Pierce and US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security, Christopher Ford yesterday (Tuesday 16th June 2020).

There is still some way to go until the UK can actually launch commercial rockets as the legislation is still incomplete and the various planning permissions need to be approved for the proposed launch sites. But this significant step will at least allow Lockheed Martin to make some progress.

In fact, it is difficult to see how this can benefit anyone other than Lockheed Martin or Virgin Orbit. The agreement paves the way for US entities to take a “lions share” of the manufacturing and supply chain that was potentially going to plug the gap caused by Brexit.

There is one clear outcome from this. Virgin Orbit are likely to be the first to launch from UK.

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