14. United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has actively participated in space activities for more than 60 years and is one of the major contributors to the European Space Agency. It is home to the headquarters of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the European Space Agency Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications. Major commercial satellite operators are based in the United Kingdom, making it one of the countries with the highest number of registered satellites.

In 2022, the UK institutional space budget amounted to USD 867.9 million (GBP 704 million), comprising national activities, contributions to European Union programmes, the European Space Agency and Eumetsat. The budget has notably increased since 2015, with a 6.2% yearly growth in real terms (Figure 14.1). Contributions to the European Space Agency accounted for some 85% of the total in 2022. UK institutional space priorities include discovery (science and exploration); earth observation, innovation (high risk/high reward investments) and sustainability (to improve object tracking in orbit; and reduce and remove debris). A key national priority is space transportation with the support of several spaceports on UK soil – a first (failed) orbital launch attempt was made from Spaceport Cornwall in 2023. Overall, the UK institutional space budget accounted for some 0.022% of the gross domestic product in 2022.

According to the United Kingdom’s survey on the size and health of the space industry, the UK space economy employed some 48 800 direct employees in 2020 and generated USD 21.6 billion (GBP 17.5 billion) in revenues, mainly from the exploitation of satellite data and signals. The provision of direct-to-home television accounted for almost half of total revenues (46%), followed by space manufacturing (12%). Employment is concentrated in the northern and southern parts of the country.

The United Kingdom was among the top ten patent applicants in space-related technologies worldwide in the 2016-20 period, accounting for 2.6% of applications, as shown in Figure 14.2. A majority of applications (87%) were filed by private firms.

Based on data in the OECD Development Assistance Committee Creditor Reporting System database, the United Kingdom was among the OECD top donors in space-related official development assistance over the 2002-21 period, with a total of 84 million constant USD committed (Figure 14.3). Commitments mainly focused on the use of space technologies for environmental protection (e.g. for research and biodiversity purposes) and multisector activities (notably disaster risk reduction, rural development and food security policy).

The United Kingdom has been actively promoting space-based solutions in development assistance in its International Partnerships Programme, which was launched in 2016 as a five-year programme and completed its latest phase of work in 2022.

In terms of scientific output and excellence (Table 14.2), OECD indicators for scientific production, international co-authorships and citations in space-related scientific journal categories (aerospace engineering; astronomy; atmospheric science; and space and planetary science), show that authors at UK-affiliated institutions performed above OECD average in 2021, for all indicators and across all three journal categories, especially in atmospheric science where some 14% of UK-affiliated publications were among the world’s 10% top-cited, compared to the 9.8% OECD average.


know.space (2023), Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2022 Summary Report, commissioned by the UK Space Agency, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1148037/know.space-Size_Health2022-SummaryReport.pdf.

OECD, STI Micro-data Lab: Intellectual Property Database, http://oe.cd/ipstats, June 2023.

OECD (2023), “Creditor Reporting System (CRS)", OECD.stat (database), https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=CRS1 (accessed on 24 April 2023).

Scopus Custom Data, Elsevier, Version 1.2023.

Union of Concerned Scientists (2023), UCS Satellite Database, 1 January 2023 version, data extracted 27 July 2023, https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/satellite-database.

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