Wither a Welsh Space Policy?
I was asked by a media agency to comment on the Wales Space Policy (the published article is behind a paywall but you can find it in my ‘media engagement list). Here are my thoughts:
I’ve just returned from the UK Space Conference in Liverpool, where the theme was ‘Space-enabled Futures.’ And the topic that re-surfaced on panel after panel was the IGS: the UK Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2015. The IGS has laid out ambitious plans for the UK space industry across regions, with a target of having a 10% share of the global space market by 2030. Although it is difficult to accurately predict and quantify (in my opinion), that global market has been estimated at £400 billion per year.
The UK recognises that it has an edge in space technology already, through its outstanding space-related research at UK universities, and also particularly in the small satellite industry (which is expected to boom in forthcoming years as smaller, cheaper satellites become increasingly popular).
With jobs to be created, money to be earned, and leadership prestige to be gained, why not pursue an ever greater share of this increasingly-lucrative pie (the global space market)? The UK is pursuing–wisely in my opinion–this high tech sector with gusto.
As such, it seems to make perfect sense to me that Wales would look into how it is best placed to carve out its own space-related developments within the wider UK context. Wales already has a decent space infrastructure in place: through research and education programmes at Welsh universities (who are coordinated through the Wales Academic Space Partnership), and in pre-existing space-related services industry. A site in Snowdonia is also on the shortlist of five potential sites for a future UK Space Port.
For the latter, of pursuing actual future launches into space, Wales has geographical benefits: a relatively rural location, close to the sea, which would improve the safety credentials of a launch-location, given that launches are inherently dangerous.
Even if it’s accepted that Wales should be pursuing greater space activities for economic reasons, do they need a Strategy to pursue this? I think it makes sense to lay out a collective Welsh strategy in order to coordinate interested parties and have a clear strategy and momentum. Also, future space activities may require regulatory changes and the development of new licensing procedures (particularly in the case of the space port), and the Welsh government will need to be thinking through a cohesive approach to getting this legal infrastructure in place. A strategy, which has been contributed to by various technical, political, academic and business sectors, would surely set things up for these next steps to be taken.