The UK can be a world-leader, out of this world

The government’s Space Industry Bill will be a catalyst for invention, innovation and enterprise.

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People around the world watched in awe on Tuesday afternoon as the Falcon Heavy soared into the skies, bound for Mars. But despite his enviable showmanship, and fine choice of backing track, Elon Musk is not the only star man in this sky.

The United Kingdom is also a front runner in this modern space race – we undertook our first launch in 1971, from Woomera in the Australian outback. The UK’s space industry has since grown to become a little known success story — and one worth £250bn to our economy.

We are a world leader in building satellites, particularly small satellites. And it is British scientists, engineers, programmers and entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of shaping the satellite applications and services, from which we all benefit. But to take full advantage of our abilities we also need to be able to launch them into space ourselves.

We have already secured 6.5 per cent of the global commercial space market. But we want to increase our share to 10 per cent by 2030 and to do that we need to make Britain the most attractive hub in Europe for commercial launch, a fast-growing part of the sector from which we are glaringly absent.

That's why we are supporting the creation of the first UK spaceports. These will enable the launch – for the first time from UK soil – of small satellites. This is a key part of an emerging launch market which is expected to be worth over £25bn globally over the next 20 years.

Our Space Industry Bill - which received cross party support in its passage through parliament – is central to this goal. If we move quickly there’s a window of opportunity to become a leader in commercial launch.

We have the right geography, the world-leading scientists, the skilled engineering base and the business-friendly regulatory environment to enable us to flourish in this fast-developing market.

The market in Europe has so far remained untapped. If we act now, the UK has a chance to gain a significant advantage, creating jobs and boosting the space industry supply chain. The ability to launch into space from the UK will unlock growth in our small satellite industry, and pave the way for new applications and services to be developed. And all this, as the Government joins forces with industry in 2018 to inspire the next generation of innovators – through the Year of Engineering.

The Space Industry Bill will allow us to grasp these opportunities, while also delivering a comprehensive regulatory framework to manage risk and protect public safety. This means the UK will be able to play a significant role in this new market after decades of dominance by the United States and Russia.

The global space race is under way, and with a new sovereign launch capability from UK soil coming closer day by day, we intend to be part of it.

Jo Johnson was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Transport and Minister for London on 9 January 2018.