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Wales: A Sustainable Space Nation?

Owain Davies
Owain Davies

With the recent Paris Air Show, where Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Economy, and 7 Welsh-based companies and Universities secured over £1 Million worth of new business, it is time to review the progress of the Welsh Space Strategy.

The Welsh Government funds the Aerospace Forum Wales, comprised of some of the biggest aerospace companies operating in Wales, universities, and SMEs. The new business secured at the Paris Air Show went to several organisations involved in the forum, highlighting a continued approach to seeking external funding from the private sector for aerospace projects in Wales.

The Welsh Government has also continued to fund projects like B2Space and Small Spark Systems and has involved the Development Bank of Wales funding, including a £600,000 package for Space Forge, provided alongside Bristol Private Equity Club and Innovate UK.

When discussing the Welsh Government’s partnerships with Space Forge; however, we cannot look further than the elephant in the room which was the failed satellite launch in January. The in-space manufacturing company was slated to launch the first Welsh satellite from a Welsh spaceport in 2022, returning a satellite to a Welsh university or supply chain for research in 2023, and then launching a refurbished satellite in 2024. This, unfortunately, was not meant to be. Ignoring the fact that the launch happening in Cornwall and not Snowdonia, an anomaly with the rocket prevented a successful space entry for the satellite.  

So, what about launch facilities in Wales? The Snowdonia Aerospace Centre (SAC) has seen less funding than their Scottish and Cornish counterparts, as well as a scrapped bypass, with Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, citing climate concerns as the reason.  

The SAC, however, has adapted to the reduced funding by focusing on research and development while remaining a spaceport with the goal of launches. The SAC also secured funding for a dark sky observatory, which is still in the planning phase. It shows the ability of the SAC to diversify its revenue stream to fund the operations there. 

The planned Port Talbot Spaceport has seen less progress. Since the Welsh Space Strategy was published, there has been no meaningful progress on construction.

So, the development of space launch sites and facilities has not progressed, but the Aberystwyth University scheme Living Wales has highlighted how the space industry in Wales can help other sectors. In particular, Living Wales has worked towards the Welsh Government’s goal of becoming a sustainable space nation. The satellite imaging platform is utilised to improve a myriad of environmental factors including biodiversity, carbon stores/sinks, and promoting clean/safe environments.  

The Welsh Government’s sustainable space plan, therefore, has seen mixed results. Existing and proposed launch facilities have seen no significant advancements, and Wales’s flagship launch from Cornwall ended in failure. The Welsh Government has, however, shown a continued interest in supporting Welsh aerospace businesses and universities to develop elements of the space supply chain.

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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