6 minute read

The Space Bridge: The UK and Australia gravitating to trade (COVER FEATURE)

By Jo Hawley Deputy Director Aerospace, Space and Automotive, UK Department for International Trade and Henry Sayers Senior Space Trade & Investment Adviser, UK Department for International Trade

There is no time like the present to be working with the UK space sector. We are on the cusp of becoming the first country to launch a rocket into orbit from European soil, expected to launch before the end of 2022. Our thriving industry is growing constantly, now with 1,200 companies and 47,000 direct employees and counting. The UK space sector is commercially resilient, with exports in 2019/20 worth £5.3bn and 90 investment deals worth £6bn over the last decade. Innovation is a driving force in the UK, with an estimated £836 million spent on space related R&D in 2019/20, equivalent to 5% of total industry income.

Simply put, business is booming. That is personified at the National Propulsion Test Facility in Westcott, Buckinghamshire. With the UK’s notable space heritage and Westcott’s role in the development of the BLACK ARROW rocket in the 1960s and 1970s, we have a history interwoven with Australia from the launch days at Woomera.

In the UK we have an array of accomplishments under our belts. In 1957, we built the Lovell Telescope, the then largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world. We launched our first satellite in 1962, and in the same year received the first transatlantic TV signal at Goonhilly Earth Station. We were one of the founders of the European Space Agency in 1975. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd has pioneered the small satellite from 1985 to the present day with the UK now being the second largest small satellite producer globally.

In recent years we have exceeded our share of the global space industry beyond 5%. We created the Space Industry Act 2018 which regulates activities carried out in the UK, including launch (space and sub-orbital) and return, the procurement of a UK launch, and the operation of a satellite in orbit. Two British astronauts, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake have gone into space.

We announced our National Space Strategy in 2021 with the vision to build one of most innovative and attractive space economies in the world. To achieve this, we want to collaborate with international partners. So now really is the time to get involved.

We want to work more with Australia. Seeing past the (friendly) rivalry that occasionally flares after a game of cricket or rugby(!), we are great allies in every sense. With hundreds of years of Commonwealth history binding us historically and culturally, we have continued to share common goals and priorities in the modern day, including in our Five Eyes and AUKUS alliances. Within the space sector, we recognise and admire Australia for its rapid growth, strong academic and R&D foundations, unique geography, and wealth of technical expertise. We welcomed the establishment in 2018 of the Australian Space Agency, building on the national legacy in the space sector dating back decades and asserting Australia’s readiness and capability for international collaboration against global challenges.

We share the same values and ambitions for science and technology in space. So it’s easy to see why Australia was our first choice as a partner for the world’s first “Space Bridge”. To improve our ability to collaborate and to stimulate growth in the size and job creation potential of the sector, we undertook the Space Bridge Framework Arrangement, signed in 2021, to deliver on a number of priority areas of mutual benefit.

Our Space Bridge is underpinned by our Free Trade Agreement (FTA), signed in December 2021. The FTA was a significant milestone for the UK as it was the first new trade deal we negotiated from scratch since leaving the European Union. This carefully tailored FTA provides key benefits across the board by levelling the playing field, eliminating tariffs and improving accessibility to each other’s markets. The FTA is expected to increase trade by 53% in the coming years.

Where has the Space Bridge gotten us since we signed the Framework Arrangement in February 2021? The Space Bridge has and will continue to remove barriers to trade and investment, generate academic research opportunities, create better advice to businesses, and create innovative bilateral collaborations.

Innovation is a driving force in the UK, with an estimated £836 million spent on space related R&D in 2019/20, equivalent to 5% of total industry income.

On the first anniversary of the signing in of the Space Bridge, we reflected on a year of successfully implementing our ambitions against the challenging backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those successes included Australian businesses expanding into the UK and vice versa. We announced a $500,000 fund for collaborative UK-Australian research projects which was awarded across five projects in the areas of Earth Observation, Agriculture, Space Communications, and Quantum Technologies for Space. We have bolstered collaboration through the UK’s recent £1m commitment for Earth Observation in climate data for agriculture, to help farmers deal with climate change. We improved sector awareness by hosting virtual roadshow webinars to put the spotlight on regional strengths and ambitions. We have supported the sponsorship of PhDs and internships. Companies have competitively undertaken Deloitte's Gravity Challenge to provide solutions to global challenges. Earlier this year we also hosted our first inward delegation of Australian space companies to the Farnborough International Airshow for B2B opportunities and to participate in a Space Bridge Roundtable. We’ve also participated in skills workshops, working to address the skills shortage in the sector for the UK and Australia in the immediate and long term.

In the pipeline we have several more opportunities on the horizon. The UK is planning to take a trade delegation to Australia for the Avalon Airshow in March 2023 to meet with businesses and form commercial partnerships.

Work has been undertaken this year by the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult to map the industrial ecosystem in a “UK Space Capabilities Catalogue”. The Catapult are now collaborating with colleagues in Australia from SmartSat CRC and Austrade, and across industry and academia, to help mirror this product for the Australian market. This tool can help us to recognise our technological and capability strengths so that we can create a more dynamic and strategic environment for collaboration on our mutual priorities.

So how can you get involved? Please do reach out to us directly on space@trade.gov.uk. We value your opinion and input and would welcome any ideas you have for helping to shape the successful future of our Space Bridge ambitions. We look forward to hearing from you.