Around 40% of the small satellites in orbit around the earth and gathering information from space were built in the UK. The space technology industry is now worth around £15 billion a year to the British economy. By 2030, the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy, a partnership between industry, UK Space Agency, Satellite Applications Catapult, Innovate UK, Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and academia, believes the global market will have reached a value of £400 billion. It’s big business and UK start-ups working on the latest technology in the world of space exploration, data gather and processing are keen to get their fair share of the wealth.
The biggest problem facing the space technology industry is being able to capture and analyse the vast reams of data the cameras, scanners and sensors on satellites are now gathering. We are approaching the maximum capacity of what current computer processing capabilities are able to handle and UK start-ups are working on the solution with venture capital keen to fund the most promising. Seraphim Capital is one venture capital fund with a firm focus on ‘cosmic technology’ and recently ran a one month ‘space camp’ accelerator programme for six promising companies in the space (pun intended).
Intel co-founder Gordon Moore said that the processing power of microchips doubles every two years, a statement that has become known as ‘Moore’s Law’. However, for some time now that has ceased to hold true. It’s become much more difficult to improve processing power and much improvement is needed to process the huge volumes of data satellites now provide. Seraphin Capital’s investment strategy is focused on funding companies working to solve that, with exclusive emphasis within the context of ‘cosmic technology’. The first fund is backed by £70 million with investors including the UK Space Agency. A further £195 global fund is currently being raised.
One of the six companies taken into its accelerator, Manchester-based Reconfigure.io, has already secured investment of £700,000, with another £1.5 million hopefully on the way. The funds are to help finance the development of its solution, which enables computers more data in much less time than is currently possible.
Mark Boggett, chief executive of the Seraphim fund is on the look-out for exciting start-ups for future funding rounds both in the UK and via the new global structure:
“We want to fund the next Google Earth. We think there are many of them. Every investor recognises that the quicker you can get into space, the better.”
As the cost of building and launching satellites drops towards a few million pounds from the earlier bottleneck of billions, investment opportunities are opening up for funds such as Seraphim. The result will hopefully be some of the latest technology in the world of space exploration and space-based data gathering will come out of the UK over future years. Until now a satellite has never been launched from the UK but we will soon have two of our own commercial ‘spaceports’, in Scotland and Cornwall.
The UK is very much ramping up its efforts and funding for space exploration and space-based data gathering. As well as the £50 million UK Spaceflight Programme fund, private enterprise is very much involved. Peter Hargreaves, the billionaire co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown, the UK’s biggest online investment platform, recently announced a £24 million investment in the Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall. The site is working towards becoming the first private operator in the European Space Agency’s deep space communications network.
The UK’s economy will hope current efforts mean the present £15 billion value of the space industry will in future years be viewed as just one small first step before the giant leap.