The UK Space Industry

The space industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK. It is valued globally at more than £400 billion and in the UK alone it generates more than £16 billion and supports 42,000 jobs around all the regions of the UK.  Not only is the sector important to our economy, but it’s also crucial to our everyday lives, since it provides technologies such as global positioning systems (GPS), telecommunications, weather forecasting and satellite data and imagery for various other Earth observation purposes.

Overview of the UK Space Industry

The London Economics report has defined the space industry as all organisations that are engaged in any space-related activity to some degree for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Commercial organizations earn revenue from the manufacture, launch and operation of satellites and spacecraft, and from utilisation of the signals and data supplied by satellites and spacecraft to develop value-added applications. Non-commercial organisations on the other hand (e.g. universities, research institutes) secure funding in order to be able to contribute space-specific research and expertise throughout the industry supply chain, often in partnership with commercial organisations.

Range of the UK Space Industry Activities

In the context of the space industry, broadly speaking upstream activities refer to the design, manufacture, and launch of satellites, while downstream activities refer to the use of data and services provided by satellites to create value-added products and services.

In the UK space industry, upstream activities include satellite manufacturing, launch services, and ground segment operations. This involves designing and building satellites, testing and integrating their components, and launching them into space. Companies such as Airbus Defence and Space, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), and Thales Alenia Space UK are examples of companies involved in upstream activities in the UK space industry.

On the other hand, downstream activities in the UK space industry include the use of satellite data for applications such as Earth observation, navigation, and telecommunications. This involves collecting, processing, and analysing data from satellites to generate information that can be used to create value-added products and services. Companies such as Inmarsat, OneWeb, and Earth-i are involved in downstream activities in the UK space industry.

Furthermore, downstream activities can be further divided into two main categories: commercial and institutional. Commercial downstream activities involve the creation of products and services for sale in the market, such as weather forecasting, precision agriculture, and disaster response. Institutional downstream activities involve the use of satellite data for government and public services, such as national security, environmental monitoring, and disaster management.

The industry is dominated by ‘downstream’ activities, with an income of £12.4 billion generated by space applications such as direct to home broadcasting. In 2016-17, revenues from upstream activities grew by 7.8%, generating an income of £2.4 billion from launch vehicles, satellites, payloads, and scientific instruments.

Geography of the UK Space Industry

The UK space industry is distributed across various locations across the country, with a concentration of activity in certain areas. Some of the key locations for UK space organizations include:

  1. Harwell Campus: Located in Oxfordshire, Harwell Campus is home to the UK Space Agency, the Satellite Applications Catapult, and a number of space-related businesses and research institutions.
  2. The West of Scotland: The Scottish government has identified the West of Scotland as a key location for the development of multiple spaceports and associated infrastructure, with sites identified in Sutherland, Shetland, and the Western Isles.
  3. Cornwall: The Cornwall Airport Newquay is the UK’s very first airport to hold a Spaceport license for a horizontal launch. Even though the first attempt by Virgin Orbit was unsuccessful, the mission had been billed as a major milestone for UK space marking the birth of a home-grown launch industry.
  4. Guildford: Located in Surrey, Guildford is a hub for the UK’s satellite manufacturing industry, with companies such as Airbus Defence and Space and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) based in the area.
  5. Leicester: Leicester is home to the National Space Centre, a museum and educational facility that promotes space science and technology, as well as the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester, which conducts research in a range of space-related fields.

Other locations in the UK that are home to space-related organizations and activities include Bristol, Harrogate, Edinburgh, and London. Overall, the UK space industry is distributed across the country, with a number of key locations playing important roles in the industry’s development and growth.

If you would like to learn a lot more about the recent market trends of the UK space industry and hear from industry professionals, Space Suppliers Summit Glasgow 2024 is your go-to event. The summit is upstream focused which means it’s centred around the early stages of the space industry such as research, development, and planning.

This your chance to be a part of a dynamic UK space conference programme featuring industry leaders, innovative technologies, and exciting opportunities for collaboration and growth. Register your interest here:


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