It seems like everyone is trying to get a slice of the space pie these days. Everybody knows the competitive nature between the USA and Russia in the 1950s space race, but many forget that there was a third country that took part in the quest to conquer space. While the USA and Russia were constantly trying to outperform each other, Britain struggled to keep up. Now, half a century later, the UK hopes for a leading role in the Space Market have been renewed with great vigor. The question on everyone’s mind is: what changed to make us want to reach for the stars one more time?
Layer 1: Foundations for British Success in Space
Britain has left a lasting mark on the race for space map. While not as flashy and outspoken as other countries, the UK has had a rich and rewarding history in space engineering, albeit a slightly rocky past. Britain officially became the third space-faring nation after successfully launching the Ariel-1 satellite in 1962. The satellite was constructed on both British and American soil, as both NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and SERC worked together.
British engineering legend Francis Thomas Bacon developed the first hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell that was implemented into the Apollo mission. The fuel cell was much more efficient than heat engines. Other great contributions include manufacturing the Black Arrow, a British satellite carrier dating back to the 1960s. While the first launch attempts ended in failure, the fourth and final launch succeeded in placing the Prospero satellite into orbit. The Black Arrow program was discontinued in 1971.
Perhaps among the greatest British Space accomplishments is that of astronaut Helen Sherman. Helen became the first British person to reach space in 1991 and became the first woman to visit the Soviet space station Mir.
There have been a lot of great blunders and failures along the way. For every great achievement, there is another Beagle-2 Mars landing mission that failed to deploy. However, the British government has learned its lesson and is pushing forward for increased spending in the Space Industry sector.
Layer 2: Current Development in the UK Space Industry
The UK space industry is currently experiencing a renaissance revival thanks in part to first-class university programs, modern technology, and strong governmental financial support. Shortly after Brexit, the UK government announced its plans to financially back British companies that could expand Britain’s space market share. This includes expanding satellite manufacturing and building spaceports to launch those satellites into orbits. The goal is to put more focus on the in-land production of aeronautical facilities and the manufacturing of modern technologies using British talent.
The UK government has expressed its desire to become the first European country with fully operational commercial spaceports. The spaceports will be built on British soil using as many British resources as possible. It’s expected that the United Kingdom will begin issuing licenses for spaceflights and the manufacturing of spaceflight components by the end of 2021. This has sparked an interest not only from the general public but from British private investors as well. The UK Space Market has been seeing a steady increase in annual growth since 2000 – roughly 8.8% per year. This steady growth has made the industry quite lucrative, with roughly £11.8 billion revenues per year. A large portion of finances is undertaken by the British government, but an estimated 30% is to be provided by private British investors. While this sign of unhindered growth is certainly exciting, the British government still has a way to go to rival space market giants such as the USA or Russia.
Layer 3: Crucial Decorations for British Space Success
All sources point towards a bright future for British-led aeronautical entrepreneurship. To ride this momentum forward, the UK plans on establishing several launch sites on British soil. The goal is to become the space hub capable of supporting every step of space exploration in Europe.
To be able to achieve the goal, large space companies such as Skyrora and Orbex are implementing significant upgrades to their rocket designs. The Orbex Prime, the first rocket developed by Orbex, is scheduled for launch in late 2022. The Prime rocket will serve as transport for the Astrocast satellites to orbit. Scotland-based Skyrora is planning on launching its three-stage Skyrora XL rocket in late 2022. So many large projects established one after the other show a significant commitment to Britain’s success in the space race.
Aside from launching satellites and rockets into space, Britain is focusing its efforts on removing space debris from Earth’s orbit. The amount of space garbage increases with every subsequent launch; while it might seem small at first, the volume of space debris will only grow larger in the future. Britain could thus become one of the leading forces keeping space free of man-made garbage.
The UK also has a number of successful satellite launches, the most recent one being on March 23, 2021. The Elsa-d project focuses on removing man-made debris from the Earth’s orbit. Only time will tell how successful Elsa-d’s mission will be, but the spirit with which the mission was undertaken is a step in the right direction to solidify Britain as an eco-friendly space giant. As of this moment, Scotland is the leading force behind Europe’s satellite manufacture.
In tune with this eco-friendly approach to space exploration, both Skyrora and Orbex are focusing on developing eco-fuel to reduce the carbon imprint left after each launch. While the future may belong to space exploration, we need to take care of our environment here on Earth. The UK’s initiatives on developing renewable sources of energy have already started a dialogue towards a brighter future.