The annual North East Space Conference returned to Durham last month and businesses from across the region and the UK gathered to be updated on North East England’s space and satellite applications sector as well as discuss global trends, and identify areas of opportunity and growth.
The conference builds on the 2021 National Space Strategy to further drive innovation and promote North East England as an attractive space cluster for investors.
Our region already benefits from strong R&D capability, an extensive energy supply chain, advanced manufacturing and automotive sectors, and a growing skills pipeline.
However, to further mature the sector and ensure it meets its full potential, work is underway to provide specialist accommodation and business support activities.
Up, up, up and away…
The North East has seen strong growth in this sector over recent years, with the latest figures covering 2020-21 showing the sector generated £129m in revenue with company numbers growing by nearly a quarter to 71 businesses, with 48 of these headquartered in the region. There are plans in place to build on this progress to unlock new opportunities as well as ensure the regional ecosystem continues to support investors.
One example is NETPark, a unique science park based in County Durham and home to over 40 companies, will be expanding over the next few years, with £61m investment providing new offices, lab space and production facilities for investors to benefit from. This funding will support high value growth sectors, such as space, to drive innovation and productivity.
Further collaboration between industry and academia will take place. Companies such as Lockheed Martin, Jacobs, and Raytheon NORSS all support the local space community and are helping drive innovation and resilience in the regional space sector. Jacobs, a US technical professional services firm with a base in the North East, have been running STEM activities in the region as well as across the UK for numerous years, with ambitions to build the future of engineering. In October last year, Lockheed Martin held their first space camp in Newcastle, where students from across the region came together to learn more about careers in STEM. Programmes and bootcamps like these are vital to ensure the continued growth of the sector, as is ensuring the next generation are equipped with the right skills.
Take me to your leader
During the regional conference, reference was made to the great work being done by the North East Space Leadership Group. This brings together industry, education, government and other partners to review sector needs and challenges and identify future strategy.
The group has identified three key focus areas – profile, skills and market opportunities. They are actively working to promote awareness of the strong regional space community and raise the profile of the sector here. North East England has the strategy, space, skills, culture and community that’s ripe for investment. That must be our message, loud and clear, for national and international investors. Promoting all that we have to offer is fundamental for the sector to flourish and grow
Next, by increasing support through programmes and initiatives for new talent and skills, the group aims to futureproof the employee pipeline. A multi-pronged approach will continue to develop and retain skilled people alongside the existing sector workforce.
Plus, with new market opportunities, focus will remain on our key strengths – earth observation, space sustainability and resilient communications. With five top universities
demonstrating expertise in these areas, dedicated businesses and a collaborative community, the North East is primed to exploit these specialisms.
We have Lift Off!
Work on our three focus areas will be further driven by recent funding awarded by the UK Space Agency for a Regional Cluster Development Manager. They will work with North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, based at NETPark in Durham, which is supported by UK Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult. The centre provides a dedicated programme for businesses and investors to access including industry and technical events, world class academic expertise and business development tools and support.
The new investment will ensure the cluster can continue to connect industry, government and education to address skills gaps, increase pipelines and raise the aspiration levels of people in the region.
The Full 360
The potential of the space sector is now measured in the trillions of dollars. Taking a look at space trends which are exciting investors, it’s clear space hardware, earth observation and life sciences are gaining traction. Non-space companies are now using space data and products to spin out companies to reach new markets. With the cost of launches dropping, the increase in cube satellites, and companies using automotive parts, launching satellites is cheaper and more frequent than ever.
It’s also clear that there are huge market opportunities in space-based solar energy and the potential for it to support Net Zero ambitions. With global consumption expected to increase by 50%, there is a need for clean, sustainable energy. Offering flexibility, sustainability, low cost, and export potential, space-based solar energy is big news attracting big investment.
The North East Space cluster has benefitted from a number of key announcements in the last few months. This includes £300,000 awarded by the UK Space Agency for cluster development, as well as almost £40,000 awarded to Newcastle University for two space scoping projects. Lockheed Martin also announced a further £150,000 investment in Northumbria University in a project that will accelerate the delivery of space-based solar power.
Italian defence giant Leonardo have also been prominent in the UK press as of late. In February 2023, the multinational defence and security firm, announced the opening of a new site in Newcastle. The company will recruit 200 new employees, mainly in high-value science, engineering and data roles. Since then, Leonardo and LVenture Group have announced a second Business Innovation Factory, to increase market opportunities into new businesses, and supporting startups to grow and scale.
Overall, the North East Space cluster is becoming a prominent industry player. It’s working to its strengths – as a community overcoming barriers, increasing productivity and exploiting new opportunities. Investors looking for their next base need look no further than the North East of England, where they can benefit from a connected, supportive, forward-thinking ecosystem.