With Theresa May recently firming up a controversial deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP to ensure she has a working majority in parliament, all eyes were on the Queen’s Speech this week. Here, Theresa May had the chance to lay out her agenda for government and people are interested to see which election pledges will make it from the campaign trail to legislation.
While many of the more controversial ideas (like removing the ban on foxhunting, for example) aren’t currently a priority, some ideas for stimulating the economy in anticipation of problems following Britain’s leaving the European Union were announced.
One of these measures is a ‘Space Bill’, intended to make the UK an attractive base for space industries. The bill would grant the government new powers to license different activities, from vertical rocket launches to the development and testing of ‘space planes’.
Unfortunately, it seems the government’s plans to make the UK Europe’s Cape Canaveral might not get off the launchpad.
Much of the UK’s existing space industries rely heavily on cooperation with their opposite numbers across Europe, sharing expertise and manufacturing capability with multiple different agencies in the EU. With Brexit threatening the free movement of both experts and materials, the space industry in the UK could shrink, rather than growing to account for 10% of the world’s space-based business.
Recent successes in European space science have been founded on cooperation, with the project to place the Philae lander on a comet involving scientists and engineers from across all of Europe.
With the threat of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU freezing British space industries out of business contracts, Brexit could set our science and engineering back years. Richard Peckman, chair of UKSpace, the trade association said ““Staff mobility and supply chain are a massive issue for us…We’ll be asking, is Britain still the place to work in this industry?” Does it make sense to do business here?”. This is putting deals worth hundreds of millions at risk, as UK businesses are reluctant to bid for projects they may not be able to fulfil.
While the final form that Brexit will take is yet to be seen, the many UK businesses working on space travel and research have to be hoping it will allow scientists to work wherever they can make the best strides forward, and with access to the materials they need.