Despite the commercial aviation industry in particular being severely hit by COVID-19 pandemic combined with the anticipated potential long-term damage to national economies, it is good to see that the fast-growing UK space sector is continuing to develop in order to ensure that we are well positioned for the future.
Industry partnerships are of increasing importance and this week, four UK-based companies announced the formation of Athena with the intention of their combining a range of complementary skills and expertise in order to further enhance UK space industry capability and development with the aim of enhancing sector growth and delivering increased prosperity and security.
Athena is a new national team formed by Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK that will by working together in partnership, provide further strong opportunity for UK industry to support the UK’s post COVID-19 economic recovery. Importantly, Athena is intended to provide additional stimulus to the now increasingly important better recognised UK space sector.
The four companies involved in Athena are already recognised as being best in class in their respective fields and some are considered as world leaders providing as they do, a wide variety of technology and services across defence, aerospace, space, communications and information technology fields to a range of governments, businesses and other organisations and companies.
Some have a long and successful history of involvement in the UK space sector and Athena partner Lockheed Martin has, for instance, been actively engaged in this area for well over 25 years. Worth noting too that in 2018 the UK Space Agency provided grant-funding for a Lockheed Martin-led team to execute several ambitious projects including the UK’s first commercial satellite launch from a launch facility in Scotland. This work continues to progress separately and does not form part of Athena.
Through working together not only can Athena offer real opportunities for growth in the UK space sector but also provide options for government to deliver on existing programmes. Last year the National Space Council was formed in the UK as part of a package of measures designed to reinforce the industry ahead of Brexit and at the same time the first steps were taken toward forming a UK National Space Programme, both of which will be ways to maximise the impact of government expenditure on space particularly in respect of satellite launches for both commercial and security needs.
Athena has not specifically been created to compete for any one new business programme or type but rather, to create a new organization that can deliver major projects for customers in the areas of expertise of the companies involved. Which future projects Athena chooses to bid on remain to be determined at this stage. Set up as a ‘national team’ this is exactly the sort of innovative creation by industry that should be welcomed and supported.
Over time Athena is likely to add additional members, specifically those for emerging projects, as it develops. There will, I understand, also be opportunities for the UK supply chain. One of the main objectives of Athena is to diversify the UK space sector by offering a further option for major projects and bringing with it a varied supply chain.
Investment in Athena by customers for specific projects will broaden and deepen the UK space sector for the long-term and importantly create new and exciting opportunities for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’s) that until now have not been able to easily access what is after all, a small number of prime companies bidding for such work.
The UK has already set ambitious targets to secure 10% of the global space market by 2030, a market that is estimated to be worth around £400 billion by then and potentially creating a £40 billion UK sector in the same timeframe. Worth noting too that the value of the global space market is forecast by some analysts as being likely to be worth over $1 trillion by 2040.
Space is undoubtedly a great sector for the UK Government to target as being one of its champions in the post Brexit, post COVID-19 arena. We have already come a long way, we have skills, determination, knowledge and ambition and the possibilities for the future are enormous. But, given that we actually lost market share in 2019, it is the realisation that we need to do a lot more if we are to compete on a global scale that partnerships such as Athena have in part been designed to address.
The intention behind the forming of the Athena partnership is to seize development opportunities that new space technologies will offer and to further economic growth and diversification across the British space sector. The combined capabilities and technologies that the four partner companies bring to Athena is intended to further enhance UK ability to deliver the UK’s ‘Prosperity and Security in Space’ strategy with the specific aim of increasing the value of space to wider industrial activities to around £500 billion including exports and in attracting around £3 billion of additional inward investment.
Athena has been designed to work on a number of opportunities that leverage space-based technologies, their ground-based systems and end-to-end services as they arise, both in the UK and internationally in the export market.
The UK space sector has as I have said been growing in strength and pace over the past ten years and few would doubt that there remains significant potential for further strong growth to be achieved. As the industry develops in importance worldwide this is particularly so in regard of facilitating new technologies such as driverless transport, enhanced navigation, secure communications for defence and for industry via what is often termed as the Internet of Things (IoT) and, more broadly, as part of 5G and other hybrid networks.
While continuing to operate as separate companies, the Athena partnership will see Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK, all of whom are already large UK based employers with highly skilled people, develop shared capabilities to in order to meet future demand for space-enabled solutions for business and government customers. As mentioned above, the aim is also to boost the UK economy, in partnership with the UK Government’s growing focus on the space sector and its priorities around ‘levelling up’ economic benefits across the country.
Ambitious programmes like the proposed UK Global Navigation Satellite System, as mentioned by PM Boris Johnson in his inaugural speech, could be a great stimulus for a sector that the UK government should be doing all it can to support
The bottom line for Athena is the unleashing untapped potential in the UK space sector, through future export business that will deliver further growth and job creation at the four companies’ sites across the country and that importantly, will further enhanced availability of skills in the UK workforce. I wish it well.
CHW (London – 21st May 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785