U.K. wants a piece of space industry

U.K. Space Agency logo

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KAI RYSSDAL: NASA has a new rival, albeit a significantly smaller one. The British government unveiled its own space agency this week. Now, the U.K. is not exactly world-renowned for its work at the final frontier. But space is a high-growth industry and Britain wants its share.

From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.


Stephen Beard: Britain is slipping the surly bonds of earth and reaching for the stars.

Crowd of people: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Ripple of applause

That countdown didn't launch a rocket, just the logo of the new British Space Agency. NASA it is not, with a yearly budget of $400 million, about 2 percent of NASA's. But science minister Lord Grayson has high hopes. He thinks the agency will boost Britain's economic recovery.

Lord Grayson: We have to identify those sectors where the U.K. is a real world leader, and where we have real competitive advantage. Space is one of those areas.

This will be news to many Brits. The U.K. has only one astronaut, and he works on European missions. Britain stopped making rockets in the 1970s. But, quietly, it has built a significant business manufacturing satellites and other space equipment.

David Wade is a satellite insurer with Lloyds of London.

David Wade: The turnover for the U.K. space sector is around about $10 billion, which is about 5 percent of the global turnover for space activities. It employs about 68,000 people at the moment.

The British government says that with the help of the new space agency, Britain will grab 10 percent of this global market over the next two decades. This could mean an 100,000 more jobs.

Pie in the sky, says science writer Barry Fox. He says with an election expected in five weeks, the new agency is a gimmick.

Barry Fox: Politicians see the talk of space as conjuring up views of giant rockets and men in spacesuits, and they think this will be a good vote winner.

NASA countdown: 10, 9... Ignition sequence start.

NASA can relax, Fox says. Its new tiny British rival is unlikely to get much of a lift-off. It will be severely hobbled by the lack of government funds. The only British product taking off into the stratosphere is the budget deficit.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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