The UK has committed over £100mn (US$129.6mn) to support growth in the country’s space sector and enable companies to competitively bid for more national and international contracts.
The funding includes £99mn to create a National Satellite Testing Facility (NSTF) on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire, alongside a £4mn investment for a new national space propulsion facility to develop and test space engines at Wescott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire.
Financing will be supplied in part from the government’s industrial strategy fund.
“The UK space sector underpins industries worth more than £250bn to the UK economy, and through our industrial strategy we will unlock the sector’s potential to grow further,” said universities and science minister Jo Johnson during a visit to the campus in Oxfordshire.
“Located in a cluster known for research excellence, these new facilities will help UK companies be more competitive in the global market for space technology and support our ambition to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030.”
Due to open in early 2020, the new NSTF will be a facility for the assembly, integration and testing of space instruments and satellites. The country hopes to position itself for the estimated 3,500 to 10,000 satellites that it says are due to be launched by 2025.
It will also facilitate the build of bigger and more technologically advanced satellites and remove the need for UK companies to use test facilities located abroad. It will allow companies and academia to test and develop space propulsion engines, alongside a new facility for reaction engines where the Sabre air-breathing rocket engine will also be tested and built.
In February, a draft space lift bill to establish the legal and regulatory framework for the development of launch and sub-orbital flight markets was announced, along with the goal of a first commercial spaceflight from UK shores by 2020.
The UK is a leader in satellite technology and services, but currently has no launch services of its own and is therefore reliant on others such as the US, Japan and India. UK businesses often have to share vehicles as a result, which can lead to delays as well as restrictions on where the satellite travels.
CEO of the UK Space Agency, Graham Turnock, says: “Having access to a national satellite testing facility will help companies develop and encourage new business to come to the UK.”
Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) has been chosen as the delivery organisation for the investment and will be responsible for the definition, design, building, fit-out and operation of the facility.