News from the Farnborough International Airshow | New Space Minister Pledges Continued Pro-investment Policies

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LONDON — Britain’s new space minister, acknowledging that he had “big boots to fill” in replacing predecessor David Willetts, on July 16 said neither he nor the government had any intention of changing the pro-investment space policies put into place in recent years.

The policy’s most recent concrete effect has been to lure Lockheed Martin to a British space-technology campus to open a 10-person space technology center.

Greg Clark used his first 24 hours after being named minister to reassure British and non-British companies that the government’s broad reshuffle of ministers, and specifically Willetts’ departure, portends no letting up of what has been increasing space investment by the government.

In a roundtable discussion at his offices here with industry and journalists, Clark said British Prime Minister David Cameron has instructed him basically “to continue the good work of David Willetts.” 

“I have big boots to fill but we believe in long-term continuity of policy,” Clark said. “We don’t want to stop and start. There is a tremendous momentum behind the [space] sector now. I will do what I can to propel it.”

Clark on July 15 attended a dinner hosted by the U.S. Space Foundation and on July 16 visited the Space Pavillon at the biennial Farnborough Air Show.

“There seemed to be quite a buzz around the place,” he said of the Farnborough Space Zone visit.

The signal event in Willetts’ stewardship of the British Ministry for Universities and Science was a late 2012 decision by the government to increase British government space spending by 25 percent, effective in 2013, with a promise that the level would be maintained for five years.

David Parker, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, on July 15 said the government has kept that promise, which was made after British industry made the case that every additional British pound invested by government would be multiplied by economic growth in the commercial space sector.

While it is too early to judge the results of a budget policy implemented only in 2013, Parker said a recent assessment shows Britain’s space sector continuing to grow — by 7.2 percent per year in 2012 and 2013. The estimated value of the sector in 2013 is 11.3 billion British pounds, or $18.6 billion using late-2013 exchange rates.

“If the rest of the economy was growing as quickly as the space sector,” Britain would be much better off, Clark said.

Britain’s increase in its European Space Agency spending caused the 20-nation ESA to relocate its telecommunications directorate to Harwell, in Oxfordshire, which has become a magnet for companies to set up their own subsidiaries or divisions in an attempt to capture the new revenue opportunities.

Most ESA spending operates under the geographic-return principle, which mandates that a member nation’s investment is returned to that nation in the form of contracts for its national industry.

The latest non-British company to make new investment in Britain’s space sector is Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Maryland, which is opening a space technology office at the Harwell campus.

Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, was among the half-dozen industry officials at Clark’s July 16 roundtable.

“What we’ve appreciated is your vision in setting up a national strategy that allows us to put plans forward,” Ambrose told Clark, saying the space technology office, initially to have a 10-person workforce, was “a start.”

Lockheed Martin already employs some 3,300 people in Britain and has worked with British enterprises on space programs in the past. Ambrose mentioned Britain’s Rutherford National Laboratory as a contributor of “some of the key technology for our SUVI — Solar Ultraviolet Imaging sensor — to be on our next-generation GOES-R weather satellite.”

 

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