Space - the challenges facing the industry’s new frontier

5 min read

Recent headlines around the space industry have set many minds alight – and global space capability is only set to grow further, with technology advancing every day. But what opportunities and challenges are on the horizon for the space defence sector in the coming years?

Beyond the headline splashes caused by Elon Musk and Richard Branson and the expansion of space travel companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, the work going on to develop the UK’s own space offering is surging ahead too - particularly within the defence sector. 

February 2022 saw the launch of the Defence Space Strategy (DSS), announcing an investment of £1.4 billion into the space industry, to stimulate innovation and growth across the sector. On a global level, investment from private companies topped $10 billion in 2021, with £4.33 billion invested in UK space companies between 2013 and 2020. The Government has outlined a range of priorities including growing capability by continually increasing the talent pipeline, achieving this sustainably, as well as supporting the levelling up agenda through engagement with SMEs in outlying regions of the UK.

So as the space race advances, what are the challenges facing the sector?

Financial fuel for the industry

Many UK Space experts are derived from SMEs, so a challenge for the industry will be how smaller firms can access the funding and facilities needed to supercharge growth and share knowledge as capability expands. This kind of knowledge is vital for building clean rooms to protect satellites and spacecraft, managing information via data farms and creating the wider infrastructure needed to support general space activity. 

Larger consultancies can help lead the way by expanding their networks and engaging with SMEs with sector expertise to create a collaborative relationship and unite the sector, while new entrants can also build partnerships to maximise on the numerous opportunities within the industry. The symbiosis of the relationships between larger companies and expert SMEs has the potential to take the UK space industry to an even more competitive level.  

Transferable skills

With skills shortages impacting sectors across the built environment, raising awareness of the opportunities available, especially among people at the start of their careers, has never been more pivotal. With public interest in Space such a height, now is a chance to open up conversations with universities and begin the processes of a developing that pipeline of talent. Not only building up excitement but being transparent on what a typical career path might look like, will help engage the potential workforce who can grow their careers in line with a dynamic and evolving sector.

There is room for those looking to alter their career trajectory too, with many areas of the built environment prizing a variety of transferable skills. For example, those working in nuclear would be a natural fit, with experience of thriving in the highly regulated industry that space will eventually become. With the climate emergency becoming more pressing by the day, a focus on sustainability is also paramount to responsible growth of the space industry. So those with existing experience of wider sustainability work will be excellently placed to have a proactive impact on the sector, through their knowledge of the latest solutions as well as any potential pitfalls.

Levelling Up, Up and Away

The growth of the defence space sector has created unforeseen opportunities to support the levelling up agenda. The UK occupies a unique position within the northern hemisphere, which is optimal for launching satellites into the right trajectory for orbit. It’s prudent for space ports to be built in remote locations, such as Spaceport Machrihanish in Campbeltown, Scotland, or Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay Airport, to maximise on these opportunities. So investing in facilities in these areas, which typically have lower GVAs than the national average, can play a significant role in levelling up and making these areas a desirable place in which to live and work.

The UK’s Space Agency has created its own levelling up programme to reduce barriers to entry for start-ups and SMEs in remote areas, while supporting improving surrounding infrastructure. With 48% of space roles based in London and the South East in 2020, it’s a good time for consultancies to pivot and consider how they can play their own part in the levelling up agenda through the spaceports.

The space sector is likely to rocket to new heights in the coming years, with untold advances for many aspects of society - the built environment more than most. The businesses most likely to succeed in this relatively unexplored territory are those who invest in a strong talent pipeline of both new and existing sector entrants, work closely with local communities to support levelling up, and build extensively on their relationships with SMEs to maximise the art of the possible.

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