Wither a Welsh Space Policy?

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Wales_from_spaceI 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 industryA 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.

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Dr Jill Stuart is an academic based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an expert in the politics, ethics and law of outer space exploration and exploitation. She is a frequent presence in the global media (print, radio, television, documentary) and regularly gives lectures around the world. From 2013-2017 she was Editor in Chief of the Elsevier journal Space Policy where she remains on the Editorial Board. She is also on the Board of Advisors of METI International, conducting scientific research into messaging potential extraterrestrial intelligence. She is one of an elite number of people to be endorsed by the UK Home Office as an Exceptional Talent Migrant/ World Leader in her Field. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious Margaret Mead Award Lecture by the British Science Association in recognition of her cutting edge research. She is trained in both domestic and international mediation and has done consultancy work for the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. She has a sub-specialism in women, peace and security and gender based violence. She is a Trustee of Luton All Women’s Centre.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for posting this note on the Welch space sector. I think Coastal Wales would be a great site for a spaceport right here in the UK!. However SIGS 2015 has no mention of Wales as a possible site? That said, any new space activity is good for the local Welch economy, because it creates new jobs, fires up the imagination of school kids and builds on the already solid foundation of science in wales and in the UK.

    While the pursuit of a spaceport is a laudable long term goal, meanwhile, the UK should pursue several initiatives in the short to medium term. Pursuing space research and development has become an expensive proposition. It is now increasingly evident that no single state/agency has all the resources, capabilities and technologies to accomplish complex missions on their own. Even NASA is actively collaborating with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). It was reported recently that ISRO relied on NASA’s deep space and telemetry technology capabilities to accomplish its mission to Mars.The Canadian Space agency’s robotic arm for space station repair is another example of how a ‘middle power’ could play a critical role in the global space program.

    Besides the ESA, the UK should actively seek to collaborate with other emerging space agencies. Some of this may have already begun. In July 2015, ISRO launched five UK built satellites from a launch pad in Southern India. Because the UK no longer possesses the financial resources of NASA and other emerging space powers, it should instead focus its resources on building niche capabilities. I believe that the UK could be a major force in space research and innovation because it has many of the attributes of a space power – a solid higher education system, a research culture that fosters innovation, a foundation in space research and development and above all a penchant for cutting edge scientific research.

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