Insight | 2020: a critical year for UK space


2020: a critical year for UK space


The fifth UK Space Conference, held in South Wales last month, was widely regarded as being by far the best yet, reflecting the increased energy and investment in space from the UK government, business and academia. There was a strong turnout with 2,100 delegates, compared to 1,200 at the last one held two years ago in Manchester. There was also a much stronger international element, with participation from a dozen international space agencies, including the European Space Agency, various European nations, Australia, Japan, India, and China.

During the opening plenary session, four UK Government Ministers participated including Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Universities & Science, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Minister for Defence Procurement. Their speeches were upbeat, positioning the space sector as critical for national prosperity, highlighting the ever increasing societal dependence on space, in particular with systems like GPS and its key role in our digital world, and the need to protect assets in space as this domain becomes contested and congested.

There was a strong sense that 2020 represents a critical juncture and, with the right investment decisions and strong government-industry collaboration, the UK has a window of opportunity to turbo-boost national capability and the space sector’s growth towards the ambition of 10 per cent of the global space market, equating to a £40bn UK industry per annum by 2030.

Key trading partners

Inmarsat is one of the top space companies in the UK and is of particular interest to government given the significant exports we generate with key trading partners such as the USA, Europe, Canada, Australia and many Asian nations.

In terms of co-ordination across the sector, UKspace is the recognised industry association representing over 90 per cent of space companies operating in the UK. Inmarsat has been an active member of UKspace for over 20 years. Most importantly, UKspace leads engagement into the UK government at senior levels on behalf of the sector.

We are playing a major role as the UK space sector goes for growth over the next few years. Our CEO Rupert Pearce has a seat on the UK Space Sector Council which regularly meets with Ministers. Inmarsat has strong relationships with many other UK space companies through our industrial supply chain and works with a number of UK universities on R&D into advanced satellite systems. Inmarsat is also a member of the Harwell Space Cluster.

In addition, we have decided to take an even greater leadership role at the current critical time in the UK space sector. As part of this, I have recently been elected to the role of UKspace Vice Chair. This means I will become UKspace Chair during 2020, the leading industry representative for the whole sector for two years, alongside my role at Inmarsat.

Pace of innovation

Returning to the UK Space Conference, discussions were wide-ranging throughout the three days. Key themes highlighted in panel events and bilateral discussions included:

  • The pace of innovation in the sector;
  • The importance of smart procurement; and
  • An emerging consensus that sovereign capabilities are integral to the nation’s future economic success and security. For example the UK MOD Skynet defence satellite communications system, plans for a new UK launch capability for Low Earth Orbit satellites (with launch sites in Scotland, Cornwall and Wales on the cards), and a proposed UK Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) are all vital future projects.

Inmarsat had strong participation in the conference with three speakers on a range of events presenting on innovation in satellite communications and new maritime services. We included a virtual reality display on the Inmarsat stand allowing many conference delegates to ‘hold’ an Inmarsat satellite in the palm of their hands, view them in orbit and see how they provide truly global coverage.

I chaired an event called ‘Pitch to the Primes’ which was a kind of ‘Dragons Den’ for eight space sector start-up companies to pitch innovative new ideas, products and services to a panel of industry leaders including other representatives from Thales Alenia Space, BAE Systems, Airbus and Reaction Engines. All the pitches were very good, the winner being a new company called Data Duopoly which has developed a new queue-beating application based on GPS location-based services.

In summary, all indications are that the space sector has a very bright future ahead and Inmarsat looks forward to continuing to play a leading role in the coming years.


About the author

Nick Shave is a member of the leadership team within Inmarsat’s Global Government business unit, supporting the missions of all 5-Eyes nations, most NATO countries, and many other government customers around the world with market-leading satellite services. He is responsible for the Inmarsat Global Government business unit strategy, engagement with senior Government customers, and delivery of government strategic programmes outside the USA.

In July 2019, Nick was appointed Vice Chair of UKspace (the trade association representing the UK space industry). In this role he engages across government, industry and academia at senior levels to promote the UK space sector. This includes driving forward the Space Growth Partnership which is working towards securing 10% of the global space sector market for the UK by 2030. Nick is also Industry Chair of the UK National Cyber Security Centre Space Information Exchange (SPIE).