Wednesday 18 November 2015 12:06 am

Engineers are urging the UK government to speed up in a space race worth up to £40bn

The value of the British space industry could rocket to £40bn in the next 15 years, creating 100,000 new jobs in the process, but the government risks holding the sector back with restrictive regulations and insufficient investment, a report out today has warned.

The UK's booming space sector is currently growing by around nine per cent year-on-year and commands a seven per cent share of the global space market, with firms like Inmarsat and Avanti leading the way.

However, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has said the UK could miss its goal of turning it into a £40bn-a-year industry by 2030.

Helen Meese from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Technology advances in the last few years mean that different players are able to enter the market and provide cheaper, off the shelf satellite technology.”

The report claims the UK must “capitalise on the recent surge in small satellite development” if it is to reach its targets by 2030.

According to the report, regulation needs to be relaxed on the fast growing small satellite sector and more skilled workers are required to avoid businesses moving overseas.

This rise in small satellite development is though not expected to remove demand for larger satellites.

Meese said: “While smaller satellites can provide a lot of data, they are not going to completely replace the larger ones.”

There are however concerns that sending more satellites into space will contribute to the growing problem of so-called “space junk”.

Satellite operator Inmarsat is concerned that if there is an increase in debris in space it will become more difficult to launch larger satellites.

An Inmarsat spokesperson told City A.M.: “Inmarsat focuses on larger satellites and though the rise in the smaller satellite industry is well known, we have to deal with the problem of space junk before that becomes viable.”

Dan Lewis, head of infrastructure at the Institute of Directors and author of Space: Britain’s New Infrastructure Frontier told City A.M.: “The UK, famed for its expertise in small satellite technology, cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities that beckon with this super-growth industry.

"Since 2011, the growth in global launches of microsatellites has been spectacular, doubling every year," Lewis added. 

IMechE is however calling for more to be done by the Research Councils to boost investment in small satellite research.

Outdated licence regimes and expensive third-party liability insurance, managed by the UK Space Agency, were pointed to by IMechE as needing to be remedied for the industry to reach its potential.

“In order to enable the sector to flourish, government also needs to look to increase the amount of money made available to SMEs through the Satellite Finance Network from £20m to £70m over the next five years,” Meese added.