Insights Fostering Innovation: How the UK Can Lead in Emerging Space Technologies

The United Kingdom has a rich history of scientific innovation and technological advancement in space-related industries and applications. With the global space economy projected to nearly double to £490 billion by 2030, the UK recognises the immense potential of becoming a major player in the global space industry.[1] To achieve this ambition, the UK must take proactive steps to encourage entrepreneurship in space and embrace the transformative technologies that are reshaping the future of space exploration and communication.

The current landscape

The UK’s space sector is already a substantial contributor to its economy, generating over £16.4 billion annually and employing more than 45,000 scientists, engineers, innovators, and service providers.[2] However, to establish itself as a superpower in emerging space technologies, the UK must adopt a comprehensive approach that encompasses civil and defense space industries, research institutions, and government agencies.

The National Space Strategy, the UK Government’s foundational space strategy document, underscores the importance of developing and leveraging transformative space technologies. It sends a clear message to all stakeholders in the space ecosystem that these technologies are vital to realising the UK’s ambitions in space.

The UK should invest in transformative space technologies

One of the key transformative technologies in space is next-generation satellite broadband services delivered through non-geostationary orbit (“NGSO”) satellite constellations. These NGSO enabled-services, the current market leader by constellation size being Starlink, have the potential to revolutionise wireless broadband connectivity in conflict zones, disaster response, emergency situations, remote locations, and areas with limited traditional mobile or fixed line broadband access services due to geographical, economic and technological constraints. NGSO networks can provide connectivity to remote areas, support continent-wide or global IoT services, and offer high-capacity links where fixed connectivity is limited.

In the modern world where access to real-time information is increasingly critical, the ability to provide reliable and resilient communication services is paramount. Recent events, such as the rapid deployment of Starlink in Ukraine to restore critical communication capabilities, have highlighted the power of next-generation satellite broadband services. In times of conflict and crisis, these services can ensure that vital information flows uninterrupted. They offer resilience and resistance to disabling attempts, making them ideal for critical applications in challenging circumstances. Russia and China are developing their own satellite constellations, likely under government control.

To compete effectively and ensure its security and resilience of its communication infrastructure, the UK must urgently increase investment in next-generation space technologies, including leveraging its competitive advantages to produce more advanced hardware and AI-enabled systems. More competition, lower unit costs, new launch technologies, miniaturisation and manufacturing advancements will increase the availability and economic viability of a wider range of space-based solutions in the UK. These technologies will not only enhance connectivity and secure communications in the UK, but also create commercialisation opportunities for the UK’s space industry.

UK government initiatives and targets

The UK government plays a pivotal role in fostering entrepreneurship in space. To encourage business investment in space-based programs, the UK government has initiated programs like the Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit (“CLEO”) scheme, offering grant funding of up to £160 million. CLEO aims to revolutionise satellite communications and solidify the UK’s leadership in the global satellite market.[3]

Additionally, the UK government has committed to delivering high-speed broadband solutions to remote locations, with initiatives like OneWeb’s NGSO satellite network in partnership with BT and Clarus, following successful trials in the Shetland Islands and Lundy Island.[4] These projects will not only expand broadband access but also stimulate innovation and economic growth in areas currently underserved by existing connectivity solutions.

Regulatory Framework and Spectrum Management

Regulatory certainty is vital for the success of space ventures. While satellite service providers may have the technical capacity to deliver services globally, each jurisdiction often raises complex and disparate regulatory requirements that in many cases did not contemplate satellite infrastructure and services such as those enabled by NGSO networks. It goes without saying that ensuring compliance with local regulations is essential to the success of any satellite communication service.

Spectrum management is a critical regulatory component. The allocation of spectrum for satellite and mobile networks is evolving, and issues like interference must be addressed. The proliferation of NGSO constellations in particular presents both spectrum management challenges and opportunities, becoming particularly crucial as NGSO constellations increase in size, increasing the potential risk of interference and competition.[5]

As part of the Space Spectrum Strategy,[6] Ofcom introduced a new NGSO licensing framework[7] in the UK with the aim of promoting connectivity for UK consumers and businesses, particularly those in remote geographic locations, as well as to vehicles, ships[8] and aeroplanes operating in areas where terrestrial services cannot reach. The framework allows for NGSO satellite operators to obtain a license to operate in the UK and to access designated radio frequency bands for NGSOs. An integral part of the licensing framework is the requirement on licensees to have coordination agreements in place to enable satellite systems to coexist and access spectrum in a manner that does not cause harmful interference to other satellite systems, with high penalties and sanctions involved for non-compliance including risk of having the license revoked.

Satellite gateways that connect the satellite network to the internet, private networks and cloud services typically use 27.5 – 30 GHz (“28 GHz band”) spectrum for the uplink (Earth-to-space) transmission. In the UK, these frequencies are accessed via a combination of Ofcom’s assigned satellite authorisations and commercial arrangements with 28 GHz spectrum access license holders. Ofcom recently launched a consultation to expand spectrum access for satellite gateways in the 28 GHz band. Ofcom intends to make 448MHz of unassigned spectrum in the 28GHz band available to NGSO earth station gateways and geostationary satellite gateways in order to meet growing demand to support a range of wireless services.

Further transparency and certainty regarding licensing insurance and liability obligations arising from spaceflight activities would help address long-running industry concerns to make the UK a more attractive launch jurisdiction and move towards achieving the UK’s space ambitions. The UK Government has indicated that it will keep the Space Industry Act under review and may seek amendments if the opportunity arises.

Space ecosystem cooperation and research

In addition to initiatives led by the UK government, cooperation by key players within the space ecosystem is paramount to the UK’s success in fostering space entrepreneurship. Recent collaborations involving satellite-based mobile tower backhaul and NTN-based signals show promise.[9] For these technologies to realise their full market potential, cooperation between telecommunications network operators with device and hardware manufacturers is crucial. The adaptation of devices for NTN-based signals requires industry buy-in and leadership. Take for example VIAVI’s NTN testing platform for 5G and 6G communications TM500, which can emulate a high volume of devices, new mobility patterns, signal propagation delays, and other conditions unique to NTN while TeraVM emulates the core network. This test scenario is ideal for early functional tests such as 3GPP protocol testing and can be applied to both regenerative and transparent architectures. The platforms allow operators to validate the conformance, performance and reliability of gNodeBs and entire networks under the unique service link conditions of NTN networks.[10]

Research and development funding must also be made a priority. Developing smarter satellites with better hardware and leveraging AI to expedite data delivery can strengthen the UK’s communications infrastructure and position it as a leader in space technology.

The UK’s journey to becoming a superpower in space technologies requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. UK government initiatives, regulatory clarity, spectrum management, and cooperation between players within the space industry ecosystem are essential components of this ambitious endeavor.

The recent launch of the CLEO scheme and the revitalisation of the National Space Council demonstrate the UK government’s commitment to space innovation. Collaboration with industry, research institutions, and international partners will be key to achieving the UK’s vision of a thriving space economy and leadership in transformative space technologies.

As the global space economy continues to expand, the UK has a unique opportunity to not only participate in this growth but also shape the future of space exploration and communication. By fostering entrepreneurship in space and embracing the latest technologies, the UK can position itself as a global leader in the rapidly evolving space industry.


[1] Space Exploration Technology Roadmap –

[2] National Space Strategy –

[3] Boost for broadband and 5G coverage revolution to rollout as government explores plan to open £160 million satellites fund –

[4] BT and OneWeb to deliver high-speed satellite connectivity to remote areas –,

[5] SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are leaking disruptive radio signals –

[6] Spectrum Statement –

[7] Non-geostationary satellite systems –

[8] Enabling NGSO maritime services and introducing new conditions on coexistence –

[9] BT Group and OneWeb successfully trial 4G LTE backhaul over LEO network –

[10] VIAVI introduces NTN and HAPs Network Testing for 5G and 6G Satellite Communication –