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A new frontier: The potential of space tech to boost UK innovation

Posted on 21 September 2023

The space technology revolution is upon us, and as the global space industry continues to grow exponentially, it presents new opportunities for innovation and economic expansion, as well as legal challenges. 

Stellar potential 

In 2021, the space sector in the UK generated £17.5 billion in income. This impressive figure underscores the role that the space industry could play in growing the UK's economy.  

With advancements spanning satellite technology, superconductors for spacecraft control, asteroid mining, earth observation, and even space tourism, the capacity for growth is undeniable.  

Recognising the transformative possibilities of space technology, the UK Space Agency (an executive Government agency sponsored by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) has recently re-launched its start-up accelerator programme. The programme aims to nurture emerging space ventures, including space technology, offering a gateway for aspiring entrepreneurs to access funding and resources and on 7 September, the UK Government announced it would rejoin Europe's Copernicus programme, which uses satellites for space-based observations to further our understanding about the Earth, including climate change issues.   

The convergence of space technology and artificial intelligence could also hold immense promise for our future. As space endeavours become more ambitious and data-intensive, AI offers unprecedented capabilities to process, analyse, and extract valuable insights. From autonomous spacecraft navigation to predictive maintenance of satellite systems, AI's capabilities are already revolutionising mission efficiency and reliability.  

On 8 August 2023, the UK Space Agency announced the first companies set to receive a share of its £20 million funding package (the International Bilateral Fund) aimed at encouraging UK space experts to join forces with organisations around the world to create new cutting-edge space technologies. 

These efforts reflect the government's hope that the space industry will continue to grow as an environment ripe for innovation and economic advancement in the UK.  

Navigating the legal cosmos 

As the space industry continues its rapid ascent, it brings with it a host of legal challenges. On a global level; the rise of space tourism, concerns about space debris, and liability issues related to satellites colliding in space or crashing to Earth, are emerging as difficulties.   

If the UK is to compete, it must navigate a web of complex regulations, including UN space treaties. At the moment, the UK manages its obligations under these treaties through the UK Outer Space Act 1986 (OSA) and the Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA) and the space sector is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (which also grants licences for spaceflight activities). 

Ventures in space technology will rely on drafting and negotiating intricate commercial contracts; for example, in relation to procurement, launch services, hosted payload and data sharing. Further, in an era of emerging technologies, securing robust intellectual property protection is paramount. It is vital for innovators to have legal support in place from the early stages. 

If your business is embarking on a space tech odyssey, get in touch to find out how we can help.  

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