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techUK launches multistage programme for gov to boost nation's standing in the space economy

Less regulation, more visas need to help sector that's already worth £17.5bn

techUK has likened the emergence of a New Space Economy to the early days of the Internet and given the government a laundry list of recommendations to help ensure the UK grabs its place nearer the Sun.

The UK space sector already employs nearly 50,000 people and creates over £17.5 billion in value, according to the Case for Space report published by the DSIT last year. The global space sector was worth up to $469 billion in 2021, the report noted, while global satellite services underpin at least 18 percent of UK GDP.

But while the UK has some undoubted strengths in the space race, it also has a history of dropping the ball when it comes to ensuring longer term success in emerging technology areas.

Trade association techUK flagged up a series of technologies that the UK must take a lead in “if it is to stand a chance of maximising the opportunities presented by the New Space Economy”.

These include AI which will affect every aspect of space, from on-board data processing to navigation. And of course, it’s hard to mention AI without also mentioning Quantum Technologies, which includes quantum sensors.

Sensing and data, robotics, and semiconductors all get a mention, as does not just 3D but 4D printing. Finally, there is the issue of Space Systems, which will go beyond satellites – a UK strength – to vehicles and commercially owned and operates space stations.

All these will in turn transform key industries and sectors, including satellites and telecoms, cyber security, defence and national security, and data centres.

On the latter, the report notes that Earth-bound datacentres consume around 2.5 percent of energy output.

Space datacentres could be in operation by 2026 according to the report, though that in turn replied on an NTT announcement from 2021.

See also: Italy looks to push HPC beyond the cloud and into space

Nevertheless, off-planet infrastructure could benefit from extremely low temperatures and easy access to solar power, making it easier to scale. It could also benefit from quantum tech. This could all lead to reduced operating costs according to techUK – though it notes “initial investment associated with launching data centre capabilities into space would be significant”.

Space-based data farms would also face resiliency problems such as extreme temperatures, radiation, micrometeorite impacts, and geomagnetic storms.

And of course, they create ethical risks, not least around space debris, as well as uncertainty around access to lunar resources.

Needless to say, this all somewhat speculative. But if the UK is to build on its success to date says techUK, it needs to act now.

techUK says the government needs to encourage more non-space companies to develop emerging space technologies, and it should streamline regulation around space products and services.

It should also build a “more varied and mature” space finance ecosystem, and champion space sustainability. At the same time, the UK should leverage international space partnerships to influence trade policies.

And while getting into space might be getting easier, the government needs to make it easier for international talent to get into the UK to join the nation’s space sector. Likewise, it must do more to foster domestic recruitment.

All of which sound will sound familiar to anyone who’s pondered why the UK isn’t doing better in whatever tech race we’re discussing.

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