Space technology

Space in the UK

Space is one of the most productive and highly skilled sectors of the UK economy with deep rooted strengths in space technology and a strong record in groundbreaking systems exploitation. The most commercially advanced sector is satellite communications accounting for around 80 per cent of the UK’s annual revenue from space. Overall the UK accounts for 6 per cent of the global marketplace, and leads the world in the development and production of microsatellites.

On this page you can read more about the UK space sector including contributions to satellite technology, exploration technologies and the institutions around the space industry supporting businesses and promoting collaboration.

In recent years the 260+ companies that make up the space sector in the UK have enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 10 per cent and in 2008/09 the sector had a total turnover of over £6.5 billion. Example of UK based businesses in the Space sector are Astrium (including SSTL, Paradigm and Infoterra), QinetiQ, SEA, Logica, Inmarsat, SciSys, Com Dev, AMPAC, Magellan, MDA, Clyde Space, Star Dundee.

Global leadership in satellite manufacture

The UK is renowned for its software design and systems integration capabilities which together with, essential academic and research links to generate new ideas, have been key factors in the rapid growth of the UK space industry. The sector is also characterised by a strong small and medium-sized enterprise base offering a wealth of experience developing innovative commercial models and adopting risk-sharing approaches to development. The European Space Agency (ESA) has recognised this with the establishment of a permanent presence at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire as part of the International Space Innovation Centre.

EADS Astrium – the world’s largest satellite company – currently builds one quarter of the world’s telecommunications satellites in the UK, with particular emphasis on the critical payload and mechanical systems.

The UK space sector

  • Workforce of 79,000 people
  • most highly skilled in the UK with 60% holding a university degree
  • six times more R&D-intensive than the economy as a whole
  • Investing 12 per cent of its added value in R&D

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited leading the way in satellite development

The biggest name in small satellites is Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. SSTL developed some of the prototypes used in the EU-wide Galileo satellite navigation programme and, in partnership with German manufacturer OHB System, has now secured the contract to produce the first fourteen full operational capability satellites. SSTL satellites also play a vital part in the global Disaster Monitoring Constellation, providing high quality images to help co-ordinate aid and recovery efforts in the event of a natural disaster.

Improving space exploration

Satellites are of course unmanned technology, so rely on advanced onboard software to control their orbit and operations, as well as maintaining communications with the ground. This is an area where the UK has particular strengths and a good example is SciSys, a company based in the South West of England.

Promoting Research, Business and Collaboration

UK Space Agency (UKSA) – The UKSA is an executive agency of the UK Government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). UKSA is dedicated to supporting and furthering the growth of the UK space sector. It also co-ordinates UK civil space activity and raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad.

Knowledge Transfer Networks or KTN is a single over-arching national network in a specific field of technology or business application which brings together people from businesses, universities, research, finance and technology organisations to stimulate innovation through knowledge transfer. The Space KTN is the Space Special Interest Group.

UKspace is the main trade association for UK space and satellite industry and is sponsored by jointly by A|D|S (the trade body for the aerospace, defence and security industries) and Intellect (the trade body of the information technology, telecommunications and electronics industry). It represents around 75% of UK space industry.

ASTOS – (The Association of Specialist Technical Organisations for Space) is a UK trade association for small and medium sized companies operating in the space sector

UK Space Directory is a comprehensive list of UK companies involved within the Space industry. It provides access to UK space capabilities in one place.