Business Technology

Tech company bosses should be looking to expand upwards and beyond

3 min read

16 July 2018

UK businesses are being encouraged to look in all directions to take advantage of globalisation and boost sales - West to the US, South to Australia, East to Asia and North to Scandinavia. But we shouldn't forget to look upwards.

Perhaps, if you are a tech firm, you should also be straining your neck and looking upwards – towards space.

The UK Space Agency has just awarded multi-million-pound grants to US aerospace group Lockheed Martin to build a spaceport in the Scottish Highlands.

Grants worth £23.5 million will be spent on Lockheed Martin establishing so-called “vertical launch operations” in Sutherland and to develop an innovative new system in Reading for deploying small satellites.

A further £5.5 million will go to UK firm Orbex to build an innovative new orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, to launch from Sutherland and deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit, using a single renewable fuel.

Highlands & Islands Enterprise has also been awarded £2.5 million to develop the spaceport, which is hoped to begin operation in the early 2020s. But it is not just Scotland daring to go boldly where no-one has gone before.

Separately, Virgin Orbit has sealed a deal to launch rockets from a spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021. Cornwall will be a so-called horizontal launch site which means that planes carrying rockets take off from normal runways rather than NASA and soon to be Sutherland style vertical launch pads.

The government is allocating £2 million to develop horizontal sites in Cornwall, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia. It believes spaceports can add £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next 10 years.

“As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy,” said business secretary Greg Clark.

The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites.” 

Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, added: “The UK’s space sector is thriving, and satellite benefits our lives every day, from banking to transport, and agriculture to entertainment.

“Our Space Industry Act will allow the UK to tap into and develop new commercial space opportunities, with the potential for hundreds of new regional jobs and billions of revenue for British business across the country.

“Today’s announcement is not only exciting for Sutherland, but with industry expertise up and down the country it will drive growth and further regional opportunities in England, Scotland and Wales.”

The government’s modern Industrial Strategy identified spaceports as a key economic opportunity and a priority for the UK’s space strategy.

According to a recent report from the Space Growth Partnership – which includes bodies such as the UK Space Agency and the Department for International Trade year-on-year growth in the space sector is five times greater than the wider economy since 1999.

It is focusing on developing earth information services including navigation, analytics and security, in-space robotics and low-cost access to space.