22. United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has been active in the space sector for more than 50 years and has a highly skilled and export-oriented industry. The UK Space Agency is an executive agency of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the main government body responsible for civil space policy in the United Kingdom. The Agency represents the United Kingdom at the international level and co-ordinates and funds national research projects.

In the last ten years, the UK space sector has seen strong government support and increased national and international contributions, with the Innovation and Growth Strategy launched in 2010. One important initiative was the establishment of the Satellite Applications Catapult Centre in 2013 in Harwell. The Space Industry Act of March 2018 paves the way for suborbital activities and small satellite launches from UK territory (United Kingdom Houses of Parliament, 2018[1]).

In 2017, the UK government allocated an estimated GBP 430 million (USD 554 million) to national and international space activities, including EUMETSAT, a 48% increase in real terms compared to 2008. Almost 70% of funding went to the European Space Agency (ESA), but allocations to national activities have grown in the last years. ESA voluntary contributions in 2017 were equally distributed across programmes for science; human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration; and telecommunications and earth observation.

Important national and international research centres and installations include the RAL Space Laboratory at Harwell, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications. Several UK universities play an active role in space-related R&D.

The UK space industry has commercial activities in almost all industry segments. Ancillary services are well represented, including financing, insurance and legal services. In the 2016-17 financial year, the industry generated some GBP 14.8 billion (USD 19 billion) in revenues, with downstream segments (operations, applications and ancillary services) accounting for almost 90% of the total (UK Space Agency, 2019[2]).

The UK space manufacturing industry has several domestic and international satellite producers, including small and very small satellites, which support an ecosystem of high-technology equipment and component suppliers (e.g. Airbus UK, Thales Alenia Space, Lockheed Martin and SSTL). A site in northern Scotland has been chosen as the location for the UK’s first vertical spaceport. Funding has also been made available for boosting horizontal spaceport development (e.g. in Cornwall, Glasgow, Snowdonia).

In the downstream value chain, direct-to-home broadcasting dominates in terms of revenues (e.g. Sky UK), followed by satellite communications and positioning, navigation and timing, with Inmarsat as a major provider of mobile communications. There are also a growing number of providers of value-added products and services for different industries (e.g. maritime, extractive, finance, insurance).

The United Kingdom is one of the leading countries in terms of its share in scientific publications in the OECD “Space literature” dataset (see guide to the profiles), a position that has remained stable since 2000. In space-related patent activities, United Kingdom’s share in applications has also remained stable and is comparable to that of Italy.

The penetration of satellite television increased between 2000 and 2010 but is now decreasing. Satellite broadband penetration is low and stable.

Over the 2000-16 period, space-related official development assistance projects have primarily focused on environmental management and education, training and research. Main recipient countries were China and Tanzania. The United Kingdom recently launched a developed aid programme that specifically relies on the use of satellite technologies. The International Partnership Programme (IPP) is managed by the UK Space Agency, with 2016-21 funding of GBP 152 million (USD 196 million). The primary objective is to use space expertise and knowledge to deliver socio-economic benefits to emerging and developing countries. The projects, in more than 30 countries, are implemented in partnership with local governments, aid organisations and private actors in the areas of land use and maritime monitoring, agriculture, disaster resilience, education and health. The projects qualify as official development assistance (ODA) (UK Space Agency, 2018[3]).

Figure 22.1. United Kingdom – Fast facts
Figure 22.1. United Kingdom – Fast facts
Figure 22.2. Space budgets trends and main programmes
Figure 22.2. Space budgets trends and main programmes

1. The institutional space budget includes allocations to ESA, EUMETSAT and national/multilateral programmes. Data for EUMETSAT are estimates based on previous years.

2. Also includes microgravity and exploration.

Source: OECD analysis based on institutional sources.

Figure 22.3. Scientific production in space literature, per country
Share of total space publications, 2000, 2008 and 2016
Figure 22.3. Scientific production in space literature, per country

Source: OECD analysis based on Scopus Custom Data, Elsevier, July 2018.

Figure 22.4. Top applications of space-related patents
IP5 patent families, by priority date and applicant’s location, using fractional counts, 2002-05 and 2012-15
Figure 22.4. Top applications of space-related patents

Note: Patent families are compiled using information on patent families within the Five IP offices (IP5). Figures are based on incomplete data from 2014.

Source: OECD STI Micro-data Lab: Intellectual Property Database, http://oe.cd/ipstats, March 2018.

Figure 22.5. Penetration of satellite telecommunication technologies in the United Kingdom
Satellite TV subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, 2000-16
Figure 22.5. Penetration of satellite telecommunication technologies in the United Kingdom

Source: OECD analysis based on OECD Broadband database, https://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/broadband-statistics/, and ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.

Figure 22.6. UK space-related official development assistance commitments
Share of total UK space-related commitments, 2000-16
Figure 22.6. UK space-related official development assistance commitments

Source: Analysis based on OECD DAC database (2018).


[2] UK Space Agency (2019), Summary Report: The Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2018, Report written by London Economics, UK Space Agency, London, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-space-industry-size-and-health-report-2018 (accessed on 23 May 2017).

[3] UK Space Agency (2018), International Partnership Programme: Project overview, UK Space Agency, London, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/international-partnership-programme-project-overview (accessed on 14 May 2019).

[1] United Kingdom Houses of Parliament (2018), “Space Industry Act 2018”, in Bills & legislation, website, London, https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/spaceindustrybill.html (accessed on 5 July 2018).

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