That is why the key undertakings of the UK space strategy that focus on innovation, expanding capabilities and improving commercial and defence capabilities in the UK and beyond are so important. With the UK space strategy now unveiled, our industry should focus on ensuring that we have the right industrial assets in place to execute for our global customers, partners and supply chains. This will require strong government support and a pipeline of quality initiatives to preserve our industry’s capabilities.
Given the changing dynamics of the space industry, there is a real urgency to move from strategic capability to executing the necessary measures that will underpin long-term business success. This is true to all areas of the space industry, perhaps none more so than satellite communications and global mobility services. On the other hand, the market is experiencing a threat of disruption by the arrival of two new-entrant challengers with enormous resources and ambitions. Elon Musk’s Starlink is planning to invest more than the combined capital investment of the rest of the industry to realise his ambitions for global connectivity with the launch of multiple satellites to offer broadband connectivity to hard-to-reach communities. And Amazon has talked about spending more than $10 billion on its massive constellation of satellites.
On the one hand, the ability to deliver global capabilities at scale is hampered by the fragmented nature of the satellite market, with more than 50 active commercial providers competing to provide a range of services from pay-tv connectivity to defence-related communications. The new entrants are not only emerging from Silicon Valley; they also include nation-states’ expansion in space. Foremost among them is China, which will this week display its latest satellite capabilities when the biennial China International Aviation and Aerospace show opens in the southern city of Zhuhai at the end of this month. China has expressed high ambitions in satellite communications, including the launch of a 13,000-satellite global “mega-constellation”. Their official policy appears to parallel that which the country had in terrestrial mobile communications 15 years ago, which led to the rise of Huawei and China’s 5G leadership.
The UK has an enviable track record in such technologies, but the marketplace for satellite launches, operations and services is undergoing rapid structural change. Companies such as Inmarsat reflect UK capabilities in space, providing unique global mobility services for commercial users in maritime, aviation and enterprise communications, as well as critical government customers. Demand for advanced satellite communications in these segments is expected to grow significantly over the coming years. The National Space Strategy should enable companies like Inmarsat to grow at an even faster rate, building on the sort of technology leadership represented by ORCHESTRA, our recently-announced communications network.
And that is why space technology, and particularly satellite communications, can play a vital role in providing truly global coverage, reaching parts of the country and the world that might not be served by 5G wireless or fibre infrastructures. New entrant and existing satellite operators expect demand for communications to increase as the global economy recovers from 18 months of pandemic disruption. Whether it is demand for business and household broadband due to remote working or the return of maritime trade and commercial air travel, resilient and ubiquitous connectivity will be more important than ever. As anyone with an unreliable connection will testify, it is no longer acceptable to lose data or the ability to communicate.
In tandem with structural change, we must preserve and nurture the well-established UK capabilities in space-sector engineering and specialist skills. To do so at scale will probably necessitate partnerships and combinations that both safeguard UK space capabilities and create strong new players in the fragmented and more competitive marketplace. Yet, to guarantee that connectivity requires significant capital, much of it upfront with a long-term payback over the lifetime of a satellite. Separate from the pandemic disruption, the economics of the space industry requires scale, deep resources and a broad-based customer reach to ensure survival in an industry where satellite capacity is expected to increase by more than tenfold in coming years. The UK’s new space strategy recognises this challenge. Government recognition of sector issues is welcome but will not, in itself, solve all of the structural challenges that the industry faces. True, new policies and commitments to prioritise the sector are necessary and overdue. However, the industry’s players must be ready to take the self-help measures and consider ambitious moves that will equip them to address the fragmentation and new competitive trends in space. Government support and allowance of partnerships, consolidations and new structures is critical to enable local players to compete at scale in the long-term.
News Highlights Space
- Headline: Opinion article | Putting the UK’s New Space Strategy into Action
- Check all news and articles from the Space news information updates.