The UK Government Foreign Space Aid: far outweighs domestic support

16th Jul 2020
Virgin Orbit

At a time when the UK will likely need to plug a financial gap left by its departure from the EU, we were surprised at recently reporting the country’s willingness to ‘hand over’ its space ambitions to large US corporations.

But we were even more surprised when we carried out a bit of a forensic analysis of the UK’s “support and investment” activities in the Space sector – particularly the disparity between investment ‘at home’ and that which went overseas.

Let’s take a look at the UK’s most recent commitment to companies operating mostly overseas and whose overseas operations will gain the greatest benefit from the British government’s support.

The government’s recent ‘investment’ of £400m into bankrupt satellite company, OneWeb, came as quite a surprise to many. Particularly as the company operations are mostly in USA.

Almost exactly one year ago, OneWeb sent out a press release in which they vowed to strengthen their commitment to UK and create 150 new jobs in their London operational centre. The UK Space Agency had already made a recent ‘investment’ into OneWeb of £18m. (https://www.oneweb.world/media-center/oneweb-deepens-its-commitment-to-the-uk-which-will-create-more-than-150-new-jobs-in-its-london-headquarters) which at £120,000 per ‘job created’ seemed a ‘fairly reasonable’ exchange. But, if the 150 jobs is still the maximum benefit to the country, then £2.66m per ‘job created’ seems a steep a price to pay.

The government also increased its contribution to the European Space Agency to an eye watering £380m – an increase of over 20% from the previous year.

The other much smaller, but still significant, amounts shown in our table above were handed over for launch services, including to British Billionaire, Richard Branson to enable his horizontal launch of rockets from Newquay Airport in Cornwall. The company, Virgin Orbit, also secured £12m from the local council.

This willingness by the UK government to support the overseas operations and most likely overseas job creation of mostly foreign entities, is an unusual approach to fuelling a homegrown industry.

We have listed almost £1bn that is being spent to support overseas space development. Which far outweighs our domestic expenditure, surely raising the question of whether the UK has any ambition for the country at all.

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