The sky’s the limit for the UK satellite sector


A milestone for British technology and for the European space sector will be marked on Wednesday in French Guiana when Ariane’s flight no. VA223 launches from the spaceport located there.

The Ariane 5 space vehicle will be carrying DirecTV’s latest and largest satellite for the satellite television group, one of the US’s largest. The 1.62 tonne craft manufactured by Airbus, although put together in France will be carrying a payload consisting of a brain that manages the satellite’s operations and which was built and designed in Stevenage and Portsmouth.

The UK’s space sector – and specifically satellites – is riding high currently. The British-built probe, Lisa Pathfinder will lift off in September to perform tests on technology that may in the future provide evidence for gravitational waves, which are ripples in time and space.

In the meantime, Stevenage Airbus technicians are assembling the finishing touches to the next Mars Rover prototype before beginning the final vehicle’s assembly next year. Head of Airbus’s UK space and defence operations, Colin Paynter said: “The road map we are on is good, the government has over the past five years increased investment in research and technology, driven by the decision to make satellite technology a key focus. That has paid great benefits.”  

The British space sector has experienced an annual 7% growth since 2010 reaching revenues of £11.3 billion last year. A small amount of the revenue is accounted for by the manufacturing of satellites, with the “downstream” market accounting for over 85%.

This market is comprised largely of satellite service providers who sell capacity to telecommunications operators; broadcasting companies like Sky or financial service providers who offer insurance for high risk rocket launches. However, many people in the industry think that without the local satellite manufacturing services, this downstream sector money could easily have gone to other countries.


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