Does the UK have a Space Skills shortage? Part 1

15th Mar 2024
Does the UK have a Space Skills shortage? Part 1

The United Kingdom has, in some way or another, been working on space-related projects since at least the 1950s – a time when it had an active space programme and was launching satellites from Australia using its own rockets. This was at a time when many countries around the world were also reaching for the stars. At the time, everyone had a skills shortage – the skillsets themselves were being defined.

During those early days, many countries, including the UK, were developing their own home grown talent and the UK was one of those leading the way.

Fast forward several decades since it abandoned its space programme, the country now has a huge skills gap that needs to be filled in order to fulfil its new space ambitions and meet its goals to become a leading space-faring nation again.

The country didn’t entirely walk away from its involvement in the global space industry, as it did go on to become one of the world’s most prolific manufacturers of satellites. However, the shortfall is likely to be around the skills required for it to become a launch destination.

Those skills do exist in the country, of course, as there are a number of private companies already quite far down the road with their own launch plans. But many have reached overseas to secure the necessary skills.

As we reported back in June 2022, Edinburgh-based rocket manufacturer, Skyrora, placed Lee Rosen, a former SpaceX VP and Colonel in the US Air Force, into the role of Chief Operating Officer. The company also utilises expertise from Ukraine, which has a strong history of developing rocket engineers and other specialist skills related to space launch.

Another rocket manufacturer with a presence in Scotland – Orbital Express Launch Ltd. (Orbex) – has recruited heavily from mainland Europe including Denmark and Germany where it has manufacturing facilities.

Then elsewhere in Scotland, the proposed Saxa Vord launch facility in the Shetland Isles, recruited Yvette Hopkins, who was already working with Scottish businesses, but whose experience was gleaned from her time spent in US military intelligence.

The potential skills shortage isn’t so obvious at this stage as the UK forge ahead with their space ambitions, slowing down only slightly during the Covid19 pandemic. But, as we get closer to launch from UK soil, and set out on a path of growth, it will then become more evident that more expertise is required or at the very least in very high demand, but possibly without the personnel to fill those roles.

There is hope, however, as Universities start rolling out space specific degrees and we start to see graduates emerge with the talent required to make the UK a launch destination to be proud of. But even then, would we be raising the rocket scientists of Palo Alto? We will be looking into the skills issue in some detail, so keep a browser window open.

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