North-west elevates UK mission to become leading space superpower

Planet Earth at night , city lights of Europe glowing in the dark

The north-west has become a strategic part of the UK multi-billion pound space sector, with the formal launch of a dedicated North West Space Cluster.

Led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), alongside a consortium of key regional, national and international partners, the North West Space Cluster will also bring multiple benefits to the region.

It will:

  • support businesses
  • create skills
  • generate jobs
  • attract investment.

Supporting the UK space strategy

At the launch event at the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) headquarters at Jodrell Bank, Science Minister George Freeman MP, outlined how the North West Space Cluster is a central component of the UK space ecosystem.

In support of the UK government’s national space strategy, he described how the space cluster is vital to the government’s mission to:

  • level up the UK
  • double its share of the global space market by 2030
  • strengthen its status as a leading international space power.

UK’s fastest growing industrial sector

The space industry has trebled in size since 2010, generating an annual income of £16.5 billion.

For the north-west specifically, the recently published size and health report (2019 to 2020) also highlighted an approximate 275% increase in income in one single year for space-related organisations.

Much of this growth lies within the areas that the north-west has internationally recognised strengths including:

  • advanced manufacturing
  • advanced engineering
  • digital technologies and applications.

There is huge potential for these and other sectors to engage more with the space industry, but until now, the north-west was not considered a strategic part of the UK’s space sector.

From strategy to superpower

The launch of the North West Space Cluster follows recent funding from the UK Space Agency to support the development of several regional space hubs across the UK.

Since then, STFC, through its Daresbury Laboratory, at Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region, has worked with the cluster partners to develop a strategy to maximise its regional and national impact.

This strategy sets out to use the North West Space Cluster as a mechanism to:

  • drive collaboration and competition, enabling the promotion of the region’s capabilities
  • export the north-west’s business and space strengths nationally and internationally
  • evolve the regional space economy to drive productivity and increased investment
  • embed the opportunities presented by space within local communities.

Substantial economic benefit

Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Director of Cluster Development at STFC, said:

The space industry is playing an increasingly valuable role in supporting UK regional innovation which brings economic benefits, such as high value jobs and skills development opportunities.

Our cluster strategy highlights an exceptional opportunity for the north-west region, using space as an attractor that leverages local strengths, such as digital, advanced materials and defence.

This will enhance their economic impact across the UK and competitiveness at a global scale.

STFC’s support for the North West Space Cluster builds on a heritage of developing successful industrial innovation clusters, which have generated an average growth of 20% per annum in terms of jobs.

These clusters include the HealthTech and Digital Clusters at Daresbury, and the Space, Energytec and Healthtec Clusters at Harwell.

Science meets industry

At STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, located at Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region, a range of programmes and facilities have supported businesses linked to the space sector for over a decade.

As a region, the north-west is home to an abundance of industrial strengths, including:

  • chemicals
  • textiles
  • nuclear energy
  • aerospace
  • artificial intelligence.

It also hosts an outstanding concentration of academic institutions, with 13 world class universities and research institutes.

These include the SKAO headquarters at Jodrell Bank and STFC’s Hartree Centre at Daresbury, the UK’s only supercomputing centre dedicated to supporting industry.

Catalyst for growth

Paul Vernon, Head of STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, said:

As a key player in the space industry in the UK, STFC has taken leadership in the development of space clusters.

The formal launch of the North West Space Cluster marks a catalyst for growth for the region, exploiting the unique and broad mix of facilities and talent across both STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory and its nationwide partners and networks.

The Cluster’s strategy connects our business communities with the world class science facilities we have here on our doorstep, and this will drive innovation, bringing multiple, tangible benefits to society.

I look forward to working with our collaborators in our efforts to support the government mission to establish the UK as a leading space superpower, whilst enabling our regional businesses to take advantage of the opportunities this will bring.

Accelerating the UK space landscape

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive at the UK Space Agency, said:

The UK Space Agency is committed to levelling up the UK space sector by catalysing investment, leveraging local strengths and attracting new talent to this exciting industry.

Through the local growth cluster fund, we are accelerating the growth of space activities across the country, and I’m delighted to see the official launch of the North West of England’s Space Cluster.

By capitalising on local expertise and improving connections across the UK space landscape with clusters, we can stimulate the investment, innovation and partnerships needed to cement the UK’s role as a science superpower and spacefaring nation.

A dynamic space community

Professor Philip Diamond, SKAO Director-General, said:

I am delighted that the North West Space Cluster is being launched at SKAO HQ, alongside our long-time partners STFC.

Science is based on collaboration, and this new cluster will create links between business and academic institutions, developing a broader space community in which we can share expertise and learn from one another in support of our respective missions.

As the major international hub for space science through radio astronomy with its headquarters in the North West of England, the SKAO exemplifies how this region can be a magnet for highly skilled professionals.

They bring with them knowledge and experience across a range of specialisms that enrich our organisations and the wider region. We are proud to be part of this exciting new endeavour.

Further information

A space consortium

The North West Space Cluster consortium of partners consists of key regional, national and international organisations:

  • Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Innovate UK
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • The Innovation Caucus
  • North West Aerospace Alliance
  • North West Business Leadership Team
  • Northern Space Consortium
  • Satellite Applications Catapult
  • Square Kilometre Array Observatory Head Quarters, Jodrell Bank
  • UK Space Agency.

Additional quotes from North West Space Cluster partners

Bob Morris, Chair, Northern Space Consortium, said:

We are excited to see the formal launch of the North West Space Cluster.  The Cluster will enable the space industry in our region to expand much more rapidly.

Not only will this benefit the north-west but, with all our skills and expertise, it will also help the UK to achieve its goal of realising 10% of the world space business.

We look forward to continuing to work with all the other stakeholders and STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in supporting the Cluster.

Also, we encourage all our members and anyone else in our region, whether already involved in the space industry or interested to learn more about the exciting opportunities in this rapidly expanding industry, to register their interest on the Cluster website.

Debbie Francis OBE, Chair of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said:

For areas like Lancashire to maximise the opportunities offered by the emerging space market, and to fully utilise the county’s strengths in sectors like aerospace, engineering, cybersecurity, chemicals, telecoms and energy, we need to collaborate.

The North West Space Cluster is a great example of this partnership approach in action, and we are looking forward to playing a key role in the wider region’s dynamic and fast-growing space economy.

Jo Lappin, Chief Executive, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

It is excellent that the North West Space Cluster is being launched at Jodrell Bank, today.

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership welcomes the launch of the space cluster strategy and recognises the important contribution that it can play in driving forward our innovation and skills development plans.

Cumbria can make a strong contribution through our advanced manufacturing base, our work in space battery development and robotics linked to our nuclear industry, and advanced communications at RAF Spadeadam.

Steven Heales, Head of Innovation and Science Commercialisation Policy, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said:

By bringing local, regional and national organisations together around a common vision, clusters can catalyse new collaborations, stimulate frontier research and address market challenges.

Working with regional and national partners, including the UK Space Agency I am delighted to see the launch of the North West of England’s Space Cluster.

This builds on Greater Manchester and the wider region’s key aligned markets in advanced materials and manufacturing, digital, and health innovation.

This initiative and those like it can help to further realise the benefit of space for citizens, by supporting economic growth and providing solutions to global challenges.

Top image:  Credit: DKosig, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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