Space Industry Bill [Lords] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Liz Saville RobertsMP Main Page: Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru - Dwyfor Meirionnydd)
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(2 years, 6 months ago)Commons Chamber
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). I, too, enjoyed a little glass of sherry in his office before Christmas, as we had assumed that he would be taking this Bill through the House. When the Hayes manual for the autonomous and electric vehicle becomes available, I am sure that he will have further cause to celebrate.
It is today two years exactly since Tim Peake did his spacewalk. Those who were Members then and active on space issues will remember that the day before that walk we had a Back-Bench debate in the Chamber to celebrate the UK space industry. I had the honour of opening that debate with a statement that I had been sent by William Shatner. I hope that in this debate we will have slightly fewer cheesy puns, but I tie no one down and make no promises. That debate highlighted the growth potential of the industry, which has increased massively in the past 10 to 15 years.
There is growing recognition that space is no longer, as I mentioned in that debate, something that the Americans and Russians do and nothing to do with anybody else. As the Minister said, nor is it about big, expensive expeditions to the moon or to Mars, much as they may go ahead. It is about the commercial potential of things such as space tourism, microgravity research and, eventually, hyperbolic flight over distance. The Reaction Engines air-breathing rocket engine has been mentioned. That company’s aspiration is the Skylon space plane that could see us flying to Japan or Australia in literally a few hours, simply by using that technique of going up to touch the edge of space and coming back down.
One of the main industries in which the UK already leads is satellites. We have two types of satellite. Geostationary satellites sit 36,000 km up from the equator, which means that it takes them exactly 24 hours to go around, so they stay above the same part of the Earth. These are the big guys, used for GPS, telecoms and television. We also have polar satellites, which orbit perpendicular to that orbit. They are much lower down—basically, 100 km to 200 km up—they are often smaller, and the Earth turns underneath them. They are looking at the Earth, so they give us information about weather and can monitor things such as trafficking. They can monitor fishing in marine protected areas by observing the transponders in fishing fleets. They are used for all sorts of things, including flooding, natural disasters, town planning and so on. That is where there is a huge growth going forward.
The UK has expertise in satellite production. Galileo, which has been mentioned, will eventually be a civil replacement for the military GPS, which is American. The first UK manufacturer of smaller satellites was Surrey Satellite Technology, which reduced a satellite from the size of a double-decker bus to that of a fridge. The satellite was eventually reduced to the size of a microwave, and now we are talking about something the size of a carton of milk. We have CubeSats and even micro-satellites, such as Unicorn. Glasgow, near where I live, has produced more satellites than any other city in Europe. We have Spire, Clyde Space and Alba Orbital. We are also lucky enough to have two universities in Glasgow and Strathclyde with major space research units, which obviously feed that development.
In these innovative industries, it is this combination of people who are adventurous and willing to try things and academics with their enabling abilities that brings about an ability to launch. At the moment, all launching is from overseas, most of it from Kazakhstan. Once a satellite has been made, it has to wait until there is a space—excuse the pun, I did not mean that one—where there is room for it to get into space. The problem is that that is keeping the cost high. I was told that if we get the launch of a satellite to below £50,000, the industry will literally burgeon. That is what we are looking to do with the smaller satellites. They are lower orbit, and they will eventually decay—they do not last forever. That is where the comment about space debris comes in. The smaller the satellite, the more that it will burn itself up when the time comes and its orbit starts to decay.
We have seen 71% growth in the industry since the UK Space Agency was set up in 2010. The turnover now is £14 billion and, as has been said, the aspiration is for it to be £40 billion by 2030, so essentially we want it to be three times bigger. Scotland punches above its weight. We have 18% of the UK space industry, but we need a launch site in the UK. When we debated this matter two years ago, we thought that moving to a launch site was imminent, but here we are, two years later, and, actually, we still do not have one. Unfortunately, that has created a bit of planning blight. There was a time back then when it was a competition. Part of what we did in that debate was to make the case that it should not be; that there should be a licensing system, because then it would not nail it down to only one site.
I agree with everything the hon. Lady says. As I said, we will have tourism, hyperbolic flights and satellites. Different spaceports might develop different specialisms, so we should not be trying to shut down this industry. Although there will be a first—I am incredibly delighted that the site in my constituency in Prestwick has moved from being a rank outsider to one of the leading contenders—we should not have any sense of “there can be only one”. Prestwick was the first passenger airport in Scotland. We could not imagine Scotland now with only one airport. We do not know where this industry will be in 2030—perhaps hyperbolic flights for long distance will be the norm. Therefore, we do not want to shut down any site.
Of course, as the only place that Elvis put his feet down, Prestwick is already famous. From the point of view of being the first—I mean the first—UK spaceport, it is known for already having a long runway. It is particularly known for its clear weather, which is why it is the back-up airport for the whole UK. It has better visibility and less low cloud even than Newquay, which is hundreds of miles further south.