North-west elevates UK mission to become leading space superpower

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Jodrell Bank in Manchester

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.

Read the full strategy (PDF, 4.5MB).

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.

Find out more about the North West Space Cluster and receive updates.


Source: UK Research and Innovation.

Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to: https://www.ukri.org/

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