Since its establishment in the 7 February cabinet reshuffle, the Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) has pledged to promote innovation, generate new employment opportunities, and stimulate economic expansion. That’s all very promising, but I wonder if they’ll actually make use of the possibilities for innovation that are staring them in the face.
The UK’s scientific and technological communities took some major hits in 2023, including the aborted launch of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl and the shutdown of tech incubator Tech Nation.
Despite this, the government has remained committed to expanding the United Kingdom’s position as a global science superpower, and in recent months the Chancellor has advocated for the United Kingdom to become “the world’s next Silicon Valley” through its technology and science programmes.
Timeliness of the new department’s announcement suggests the plan for the UK to be a global science superpower remains, continuing to promote innovation in the face of adversity, with the space industry poised to be one of the main beneficiaries.
Streamlining Tools for Creativity
Before, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) was responsible for coordinating technological aspects of space and manufacturing under the guidance of the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) (DCMS). Space, an industry with enormous potential, will benefit from the centralization of science, innovation, and technology initiatives that DSIT will facilitate.
The year 2022 was a watershed year for the United Kingdom’s space ecosystem as preparations were made for a satellite launch from British soil. Regardless of the launch’s outcome, the industry is set to experience explosive growth in 2023, with numerous companies planning their own launches, new startups being formed, and a plethora of new jobs being created.
To better address the country’s current challenges and create practical solutions to boost the economy as intended by the government, streamlining innovation resources like funding and support can play a key role in developing small to medium size space companies alongside new start-ups.
The space industry in particular benefits greatly from regional growth, with places like Cornwall serving as the vanguard of the United Kingdom’s space efforts thanks to the Cornwall Space Cluster, which is home to flourishing space and manufacturing companies and is backed by a number of local educational institutions. For the national economy to recover, the new department must prioritise regional growth.
The appointment of Michelle Donelan as Secretary of State for DSIT suggests that the government’s demonstrated support for innovation will be a key driver in economic and growth plans, particularly those that are propelled by a focus on future technologies like quantum, AI, semiconductors, and telecoms.
Sunak asserts that “creating new and better-paid jobs” is a primary goal of the new department as part of the strategy for economic growth, a field in which the space industry may play a pioneering role given the enabling environment.
According to ADS’s report “UK Space Outlook 2022,” the space industry directly employs 47,000 people in the UK, many of whom have advanced degrees or certifications. Boosting the industry and fulfilling the DSIT’s new goals will be possible through the government’s investment in schools and training programmes that emphasise the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
For this reason, the government should streamline its support for the space industry, which is experiencing rapid growth in areas like In-Orbit Services and Manufacturing, Earth Observation, and launches.
It’s not just the government that can benefit from space technology; businesses of all stripes, from FinTech to mining, can keep an eye on their assets and resources thanks to satellite navigation systems and other space-based tools. These advantages have considerable room for expansion and would be substantially improved with funding from the Department of Science.
The new science minister should prioritise investments in space and manufacturing companies, the development of UK spaceports, and the funding of end-to-end launch programmes in order to promote technology and innovation that can restore the United Kingdom’s status as a global superpower.
So far, things look good for the Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology; it is now up to them to seize the many opportunities for innovation that have presented themselves.