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On 26 April 1962, the United Kingdom made history by becoming only the third country in the world to successfully launch and operate a satellite, Ariel 1, in conjunction with NASA. In doing this, the United Kingdom placed itself at the front of the “space race” with the ability to stand alongside and compete with the two superpowers of the day.

As the technological revolutions of the last thirty years have shown, outer space can be as valuable as solid ground for the Earth’s nations but until last week the United Kingdom has been falling behind, compared to countries such as China, India and Japan which have developed well-funded and successful space programs over this period.

No longer.

2017 looks to be different for the United Kingdom’s prospects in orbit. The UK government has announced a new scheme intended to incentivise businesses and enterprises in the commercial spaceflight market with the ultimate aim of securing a greater worldwide market share for the UK.

Modern society has an absolute reliance on satellites to power our technology and economies. There are a lot of commercial benefits to be found in this industry. For instance, the government estimates that the commercial spaceflight market will be worth around £25 billion over the next 20 years.

Funding under the scheme will be made available for qualifying enterprises in the form of grants worth up to £10 million. In addition, a new Spaceflight Bill, which will ‘facilitate and regulate commercial spaceflight’ has recently been published. The government intends for the first flights to launch from UK spaceports by 2020.

Interest in the space sector has grown amongst the UK public in recent years through the success of programs such as Rosetta, which was the first spacecraft to successfully orbit a comet and the six months spent in orbit by the British astronaut Major Tim Peake.

The draft Spaceflight Bill sheds some light on the specifics of the scheme. Many enterprises can qualify for grants under the scheme. In particular, the Bill allows for, and will regulate, both space and sub-orbital activities. No distinction appears to be drawn as to whether activities should be manned or unmanned.

For example, the Government has even advertised the scheme by promoting the ability for scientists to travel up to a zero-gravity environment to conduct experiments.

In addition, they have stated that there is no hard limit or cap on the number of proposals that may be funded by the government or participated in by an applicant.

Funding will be given to the most feasible proposals first.

What is therefore meant by “most feasible”? The government notes that the organisations likely to succeed initially will be those joint enterprises able to operate their space or sub-orbital vehicle as well as a spaceport from which to launch it. The Spaceflight Bill provides useful assistance concerning this second criterion as it provides the government with the special powers by which it can obtain or use necessary land for the construction of a spaceport, in a similar manner to the construction of an airport.

Of course, given how fast evolving the space industry has historically been, let alone the modern technologies that rely on it, it is unsurprising that debate is still on-going concerning the scheme. One outstanding and important requirement is the need to “future-proof” spaceflight ventures, especially given the harshness of the environment in which they operate, to make sure that they generate the greatest value for the economy. It is likely we will see more details emerge over the next few months.

This scheme should be viewed as an interesting and potentially very important stimulus for those businesses which seek future growth within an economy which increasingly plays itself out in orbit.

And the implication for Space Net Ventures? With so much backing from the UK government for the upstream segment of the space industry, the downstream segment of satellite applications and the investee companies which SPNV will look to invest in will undoubtedly benefit from this thriving ecosystem and the tremendous growth opportunities which it heralds.

The sky is the limit.

From the team at Space Net Ventures,


SPNV Ltd, trading as Space Net Ventures, has launched an (S)EIS fund, Space Net Ventures (S)EIS fund targeting early stage investments in Satellite Applications and the Internet 0f Things. Relationships have been developed with the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell, CERN, the University of Exeter, the University of Sheffield, Coventry University, Cranfield University and the Science and Technology Facilities Council and many others, thereby giving access to a high-quality pipeline of investment opportunities. With a great investment team and an eminent Investment Committee, Space Net Ventures presents a unique combination of skills (in science and technology, IP commercialization and early stage investment, finance, business and legal matters), experience (over three decades of VC investing and EIS advice) and connections to the wider economy.

(To the extent this article might constitute a financial promotion it is approved for the purposes of section 21 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 by SPNV limited whose registered office is at 29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3EG and whose FCA registration number is 610217. Investments in the Space Net Ventures (S)EIS Fund must only be made on the basis of the Information Memorandum published by SPNV Limited and, in particular, to the key risk factors described on pages 36 to 38.)

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