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Technological innovation has always been a major driver of economic and social change throughout modern history since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
In recent news, impressive developments in artificial intelligence (AI) have captured the public’s attention. For example, according to Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, human-level AI with “artificial general intelligence” (AGI) could be here soon.
With the aim of keeping the economy competitive in today’s increasingly competitive international global order, the British government is focused on technology. Their stated aim is to consolidate Britain’s position as a “global science and technology superpower” by 2030.
The British government has announced its intention to set up an “expert taskforce” to ensure Britain is competitive in the global development of AI. It will also ensure that AI development is secure, acting as a “global standard bearer for AI security”.
However, the space sector is also on the agenda. A report produced by PwC in collaboration with the UK Space Agency “highlights the breadth and depth of space investment opportunities”, according to Craig Brown, Director of Investments at the UK Space Agency.
The global importance of the space sector continues to grow, with a total global value of over $469 billion, mostly constituted by the commercial market. By 2030, the global space ecosystem is expected to grow by up to 11 percent annually. However, faster growth rates are projected for “Earth observation, satellite communications and connectivity,” according to the report’s executive summary.
The approximately 5,000 active satellites drive the international economic contribution of space. However, a dramatic increase is expected, with “an estimated 100,000 satellites” potentially operating by 2030. Furthermore, the global economy is becoming more and more dependent only on satellites and space systems.
Taking into account “government, non-commercial (universities and research institutes) and commercial organisations”, it is estimated that the space industry supports £370 billion (~18%) of British GDP per year. Therefore, the space sector is an important element of the British economy. However, the British economy is also important in the global space sector.
The report by PwC and the UK Space Agency highlights how the UK has been a leading destination for space investment. Since 2015, private capital investment in the space sector has exceeded $47 billion globally, with an average annual growth of 21 percent. The UK has received 17 per cent of this investment, second only to the US.
In particular, the headquarters of the “leading space fund” Seraphim Capital is located in the UK. their mission is “Identification, support and development of early stage spacetech companies throughout their life cycle from inception to exit”. TeaypeOne VC, an American space and deep tech fund, also has offices in the UK. TypeOne VC boldly envisions “a future civilization that is not only self-sufficient but also interplanetary”. Furthermore, the UK economy is attractive to Venture Capital firms.
UK national space strategy and space security
Back in 2021, the British government published a “National Space Strategy” policy paper. The paper explained the objective of building “one of the most innovative and attractive space economies in the world”.
In 2022, the Ministry of Defense published its “Defence Space Strategy”, which set out the UK’s intention to invest £1.4 billion in “defense space technologies” over a 10-year period.
Innovation in space technology is highly valued by the government for “future prosperity and quality of life” in the UK, alongside innovation in domains such as “AI, quantum computing, engineering biology, and nuclear technology”, and “an increasingly important area of competition between states”.
The importance of science and technology in these areas was highlighted in the 2021 Integrated Review (IR2021), a paper which highlights the government’s ambitions for Britain’s role in the world.
However, as the space sector becomes more integrated into the economy and our daily lives, space security becomes a greater concern.
For example, the Integrated Review Refresh 2023 (an update to the IR2021 paper) mentions a “direct ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test” by Russia in November 2021. According to the National Space Strategy, anti-satellite missiles are one of these. The way Britain’s “potential” adversaries are “developing capabilities that would put our people, equipment and information networks at risk”.
In an effort to promote responsible space activity within the international system, the British government has committed to not testing a “Direct Ascent Anti-Satellite (DA-ASAT) missile” in October 2022. Space debris can be created due to the use of anti-satellites. Missiles, which threaten the functioning of space systems. In the words of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the UK Space Agency, the testing of anti-satellite missiles “can be considered decisively irresponsible”.