World Space Week has been an annual occurrence for over two decades and is observed by more than 95 countries. Since the United Nations General Assembly declared this week-long celebration, we’ve seen global interest in this sector skyrocket - pun intended.
Space Week is a great way to acknowledge the efforts of this burgeoning industry - from historic and more recent launches to the innovators behind the newest startups to the astronauts, engineers and manufacturing teams - which has grown exponentially in the last few years alone.
However, the emphasis we place on the space sector during this Week ought to be maintained throughout the year. Especially as unlocking space, particularly across Europe, is the key to much more than we may think.
The cost of space
As an industry that is worth over £16.4 billion each year in the UK and €53-62 billion in Europe, it’s no surprise that space is becoming a serious business. The revenue it yields is increasing year-on-year and innovation is endless, as demonstrated by the range of startups emerging.
Companies like Space DOTS, which offers miniaturised in-orbit active testing for advanced materials in any space environment, or those more focused on leveraging AI and satellites to harness data, such as Amini to close the digital divide in Africa or Fourpoint, a Polish company that uses geospatial data to reduce the environmental impact of mines, are but a few examples of how space entrepreneurs are utilising space in new and creative ways.
This creativity is spurred by increased funding in the sector and vice versa - the cost of space is cyclical in nature. Most recently, the UK Space Agency (UKSA) pledged up to £65 million in funding for innovation in the sector, thus making it extremely likely that we’ll continue to see the rise in private companies joining the market.
Scotland in particular is in prime position to be at the forefront of European spacetech - and it already is. Scotland's space sector is growing faster than anywhere else in the UK, aiming to grow in value to £4 billion by 2030, it’s building five vertical launch sites and Glasgow manufactures more satellites than anywhere else in Europe. Launch is the gateway to the sector’s potential, so it’s no surprise that Skyrora is headquartered in Scotland.
Different space players will have different needs - for some, getting from A to B is not sufficient. Operating in Scotland enables the creation of a “taxi”-like service that helps payloads reach their final point which might be A1 or A2. The combination of Government support, forward thinking from entrepreneurs, and geography means that Scotland is quickly becoming the space capital of Europe. It is through increased funding, which fosters innovation and competition, that the UK will not only cement itself as a science and technology superpower, but also help make Europe the home of spacetech.
Innovation requires talent and talent helps boost economic growth. The space industry employs over 231,000 people in Europe - so how do we ensure the industry continues to thrive?
The UKSA and European Space Agency (ESA) have great initiatives for startups, that provide them with the capital to get up and running, and consequently expand their teams to include more people. A lucrative space sector benefits economies and individuals. A well-respected industry that offers competitive salaries will continue to grow and retain its pool of talent - with each subsequent generation becoming more interested in all that space has to offer.
An avoidable skills shortage
While unemployment across Europe is thankfully falling, the cost of living crisis unfortunately still looms. If the mass Big Tech layoffs of earlier this year are anything to go by, markets are always changing and cash remains king.
While we cannot control the wider macroeconomic climate, we can control how we build a skilled workforce. Simply put: we need to recognise talent, cultivate it, and create opportunities for these people to prosper. Talent comes in many forms and fostering interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) can start at the early stages of education.
Historically, STEM has been a male-dominated field, yet we can change this, by showing girls that they have a place in space. Whether it’s as a founder or an engineer, spacetech has to be open to all. Universities and apprenticeship programs will help nurture people’s interest in space and provide them with the necessary skills to thrive in the sector.
The Space Race is on
As space becomes more attractive, and we tap into new uses for technology, - whether that’s clearing up space junk from defunct satellites, building new space-based infrastructure, or monitoring the health of the planet’s oceans and rivers from above - who comes out “on top” will be of international importance.
Space will be a gateway for entirely new industries and ways of doing things. From drug development to manufacturing, energy and engineering. To ensure that Europe is well placed to harness these new capabilities, it requires renewed emphasis on the industry and those that work in it now and in the future.
Space is year long
Innovation happens in every industry and space is no different. But if we can innovate in the space sector, it will have a step-change effect on almost everything else. The capacity of spacetech to change our lives is immeasurable, which is why we must facilitate startup growth and collaborate as an industry, which will in turn not only boost economies across Europe, but also the lives of everyone on this Pale Blue Dot.
Lead image: Photo by Graham Holtshausen