Bristol on launchpad as new space hub after government urges firms to harness power of high-flying sector

November 20, 2020

Bristol has been chosen as one of seven new UK space hubs to harness innovation in the industry and boost its advanced engineering, tech and science sectors.

Initial funding for the hub will come from the UK Space Agency to bring together experts and business leaders to identify and showcase existing strengths while also drawing up a strategy to maximise the space potential of the city and wider West of England region. 

A consortium led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) has been formed which also includes the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS) – both on the Bristol & Bath Science Park – along with the universities of Bristol and Bath.

The NCC, which is backed by engineering giants such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce, is a world leader in research into the use of new stronger and lighter materials for aircraft and engines while the CFMS is enabling high-value manufacturers to accelerate design and manufacturing productivity.

The universities are engaged in cutting-edge research for the space sector including engineering, astronomy, planetary science, and life and health sciences.

Three industrial champions for the West of England space hub have already been named – European group Thales Alenia Space, which has a base at Stoke Gifford, and Canadian group CGI, which has bases at Aztec West and Brislington, having last year acquired UK IT group SCISYS, and Bath-based LENA Space, a small firm looking at developing low-cost space propulsion.

The hub will also engage with a wide variety of space stakeholders across multiple sectors and, in particular, explore how small and medium-sized and aerospace companies that have been adversely impacted by Covid-19 can benefit from space opportunities. 

WECA said its ambition was for the hub to unlock economic, social and environmental benefits linked to the UK space industry.

In the last decade, the industry has been transformed into one of the UK’s fastest-growing sectors, employing nearly 42,000 people and generating an income of nearly £15bn a year.

The region will also play an instrumental role, according to WECA, in achieving the national ambition of securing 10% of the global space market by 2030 by leveraging its existing industrial strengths, highly skilled and creative workforce and world-leading research assets and expertise.

The West of England was well positioned to play a leading role in this, it said, due to its existing strengths in sectors that could support the space industry, including manufacturing, space operations, space applications and ancillary services, as well as being home to a wide variety of non-space users that rely on satellite services.

West of England Mayor Tim Bowles said: “It’s fantastic news that once again the government has recognised our ambition for the West of England and we have secured funding for the region’s space technology businesses. This initial funding, working in partnership with the UK Space Agency, will launch our work to develop new opportunities and create jobs in this exciting sector.

“There is real potential to build on our strengths and assets in the region and unlock the potential of the West of England as a ‘place for space’ and secure our long-term economic recovery.”

He said space and satellite technologies made an invaluable contribution to climate change and sustainability, communications and connectivity, and a range of end-user sectors from healthcare to broadcasting.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “The UK’s space sector has shown incredible resilience to the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to play a key role in our recovery – from creating high-quality jobs to finding unique ways to support our NHS.

“This funding will arm local leaders up and down the UK with the tools they need to put their local areas at the front of the commercial space race, while refuelling the tank of the UK economy and helping Britain realise it’s ambitions as a global space superpower.”

Pictured: an astronaut inspects the outside of the International Space Station (ISS) © Thales Alenia Space

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