Last month, the government endorsed ambitious plans for the UK’s space industry. Business Secretary Greg Clark said at the time: “Space is not only about pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, it is a rapidly growing sector of our economy which plays a key role in our modern Industrial Strategy, promotes global Britain and ensures our national security.”
But what are some of the leading UK space companies? Here, in alphabetical order, are fifteen UK companies which are building new tech, forging new paths, and engaging with the wider universe.
4Links is a spacecraft communications company, founded in 2000 by personnel who helped set international standards. The company designs, manufactures and supplies SpaceWire test equipment and IP products. 4Links has long working relationships with ESA, NASA, JAXA and with many commercial companies.
4Links is based in the Science and Innovation Centre on Bletchley Park, the World War II code-breaking centre.
Based in Guildford, Earth-i provides a stream of space imagery for any location on Earth, including forests, ports, mines, refineries, construction sites, farms, roads or car parks.
Earth-i’s vision is that a consistent flow of Earth Observation data will drive powerful new insights into what’s happening on Planet Earth, at any location and in near real-time.
In 2020, the company will deploy its own constellation of small, agile Earth Observation satellites.
3. Effective Space
London-based Effective Space is all about ‘last mile logistics’. The company deploys and operates a fleet of small SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft that can deliver, position, maintain, monitor and guarantee space assets.
Effective Space’s first signed contract will see two SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft being launched in 2020 to extend the life of two communications satellites in orbit.
4. Geomatic Ventures
Geomatic Ventures Ltd (GVL) is a spin-off company from the University of Nottingham. GVL provides satellite-radar derived ground motion surveys for environmental safety and security.
The company has a unique system that can identify and monitor very precise surface ground movements as an early warning system. Several interactive maps of countries can be viewed on the GVL website.
5. Goonhilly Earth Station
Located on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, Goonhilly Earth Station is making ground-breaking advances in Deep Space communications and pioneering private Deep Space missions.
The station is launching its own commercial mission to the Moon with partners SSTL and ESA. In 2020, the partnership plans to launch Lunar Pathfinder 1 with a payload of lunar cubesats. Goonhilly will provide the communications link and mission operations facility.
6. The Interplanetary Podcast
More of a space-appreciation venture, The Interplanetary Podcast is based in London and hosted by Matthew Russell and Jamie Franklin Chat.
Matthew and Jamie enthuse about astronautics, space, and space exploration. Each week, they bring listeners the latest news in the space sector, provide mission run-downs, and conduct interviews with the world’s leading space experts.
Based in Didcot, OceanMind began in 2014 as ‘Project Eyes on the Seas’, a collaboration between the Satellite Applications Catapult and Pew Charitable Trusts. The project initially aimed to develop technology fusing satellite data and artificial intelligence to detect illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, but it soon developed into a suite of services to help governments and the seafood supply chain to understand the compliance of fishing activities.
OceanMind relaunched in 2018 as a not-for-profit organisation that uses advanced technology to protect the world’s fisheries. OceanMind provides insights and intelligence into fishing compliance, supporting government authorities and seafood buyers to enable responsible sourcing and effective enforcement.
8. Open Cosmos
Based in Harwell, Oxfordshire, Open Cosmos was founded in 2015.
The company aims to democratise access to space by providing simple and affordable space missions to companies across a wide range of industries. It does so by removing three main space access barriers: time-consuming paperwork, expensive technology, and overall costs.
Open Cosmos can support companies to define their mission, develop the payload, organise the launch, assemble and test the satellite, and launch and operate their satellite in space.
9. Oxford Space Systems
Oxford Space Systems develops new deployable antennas and structures which are lighter, less complex and lower cost.
A well-established player, Oxford Space Systems has contracts and collaborations underway with satellite builders in Europe as well as emerging players in the microsat & nanosat markets in the US, Europe and Asia.
The company also set two industry records with the successful deployment of the OSS AstroTube boom: from concept to orbit in under 30 months, and with the world’s longest retractable cubesat boom.
10. Power Market
PowerMarket is a spin-out of Oxford University and the European Space Agency. The company uses satellite data and its IP deep-learning technology to map and monitor solar energy assets for smart city and smart grid initiatives.
The AI combines satellite data with other factors such as weather information and local government policies to provide a complete picture of the emissions and financial benefits the technology could bring. PowerMarket supplies this “solar intelligence” to utility companies, government agencies and even individuals.
11. Reaction Engines
Formed in 1989, Reaction Engines is working on the technologies needed for a new class of hypersonic propulsion system – the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE™).
SABRE class engines will enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere and allow space launch vehicles to be built that will radically improve the affordability and responsiveness of access to space.
Seradata Ltd (Space Equipment Research & Analysis), was created in 2013 via a management buyout of the SpaceTrak product from Reed Business Information Ltd.
Based in Northampton, Seradata’s SpaceTrak3 provides the space industry’s leading launch and satellite database. SpaceTrak3’s analysts provide comprehensive, consistent, independent and authoritative information covering every (orbital) launch and satellite since Sputnik in 1957.
Skyrora is based in Edinburgh and London. Its vision is to meet the growing demand for small satellite launches by combining proven technology from historic launch programmes with modern-day innovation in order to create cost-effective, responsive access to space.
Skyrora recently returned Black Arrow to the UK from where it landed in the Australian Outback. Black Arrow was Britain’s first ever rocket to successfully place a satellite in orbit. Its new home is in Penicuik, Midlothian.
14. Spaceport Cornwall
Cornwall and Virgin Orbit have committed to a partnership seeking to deliver a horizontal launch Spaceport at Cornwall Airport, Newquay by 2021. The aim is for Spaceport Cornwall to create a satellite technology cluster of national importance.
Spaceport Cornwall is set to have one of the UK’s longest runways at 2,744m; a rocket and propulsion test facility; hangar and fuel handling facilities; a Mission Control; and a Space Gateway Innovation Centre.
15. Trade in Space
Glasgow-based Trade In Space is part of the global fintech sector, creating financial services products using data collected by satellites.
Specifically, Trade In Space is tailored for the worldwide agricultural industry. It aims to use satellite data to make peer-to-peer trade fairer and easier for farmers, financiers and wholesalers from Glasgow to Guatemala.
CEO Robin Sampson recently won the Times RBS BlueSky Thinking Award in September (pictured).
Although technically a Japanese-headquartered company, Astroscale opened a UK branch in Oxfordshire in 2017.
Astroscale is an orbital debris removal company, founded by Mitsunobu “Nobu” Okada in 2013. The company of ‘space sweepers’ offers End-of Life services and Active Debris Removal in order to reduce the amount of manmade debris in space.
Astroscale estimates that there are 34,000 large pieces (10cm+) of debris currently being tracked from orbit, along with 900,000 pieces sized 1-10cm and 130 million pieces less than 1cm. Of the more than 5,000 satellites currently orbiting, only 1950 are operational.
Astroscale – including the UK team – is out to pick up litter in space.