The UK Space Sector Through The Eyes of The Next-Generation
By Thomas Chiu
Founder and Director, HiveSpace UK
With Testimonies from Mirko Viviano, Matvey Boguslavskiy and Mohammed Deera
I wanted to explore the views of UK Space Sector from different individuals within HiveSpace's sphere of influence, so I reached out to my network and here we are. Below, I summarise my meetings with various members of the space sector, from students and entrepreneurs to full-time engineers in the sector. A huge gratitude goes towards Mirko, Matvey and Mohammed for taking the time to meet and discuss this topic with me!
As the space sector continues to grow rapidly, and new companies continue to hit the market everyday with innovative ideas and technologies, and a huge obstacle to overcome is long-term longevity of the sector.
The period in which we are in is a pivotal one. With the sector in its infancy there is an opportunity here, to build something which does things right for our future. Space is one of the few industries which directly influences every individual on the planet, it has the potential to dramatically improve quality of life, grant access to an unimaginable supply of material resources and prolong the existence of the human race. As an industry whose success is proportional to planet-wide efforts for international diplomacy, it also is a testament to humanities curiosity, intelligence and capacity to work together to achieve great things.
With such value, we all have a responsibility to set ourselves up for success.
We must infuse the values necessary into the next-generation for the longevity of our space environment. This means continuously researching and analyzing existing practices for constant improvement. Just because it works today, doesn’t mean it works tomorrow. This also means driving businesses and governments towards moving away from checking boxes and filling roles, to investing in the workforce and their long-term future. This can be in the form of continued education towards multi-disciplined employees, increasing salaries and recruiting for a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Matvey Boguslavskiy is a 4th year Design Engineering Student, entrepreneur and the chair of Imperial College Space Society. In his first year, Matvey grew the society from 60 to 145 students, and has been the committee member for 3 years, and chair of the society for 2 consecutive years. The society's space activities have been taken to new heights with his leadership. Matvey's thoughts on the UK Space Sector and it's skills gaps were that the sector has low financial motivation for most people wishing to enter the sector, but that the UK has a huge amount of potential.
"There may not be a skills gap, but a lack of motivation to join the sector"
There is a degree of austerity around the UK's approaches to investing in economic growth, particularly in the space sector, and, as a result, we are left with a lack of awareness in the general public and this is feeding through into the pool of talent the sector wishes to employ. Unfortunately, the sector doesn't appear attractive enough in salary or heritage to drive interest in student communities. The reason why a large proportion go to finance is that they know they will be making money and the industry will continue to make them money, because it has done for so many people. The mean space sector salary is £49,000 in the UK and in the South of England, the average earning is £10,000 more than the rest of the UK (Space Skills Alliance, 2021). The UK median salary is £31,461 (gov.uk, 2020). In comparison, the US average pay in the sector is $109,000 (£87,800), almost double what is earned on average in the UK (RocketCrew, 2023).
So what affects the salaries of the people in the sector and how can this be improved? Well, if demand is high, and talent is rare, then the salaries can be expected to increase. Currently, we are well aware of the high demand for talent within the sector, and with the number of companies growing rapidly in the UK, quality candidates will be hard to come by. However, we are unfortunately left with the other factors; education level, experience and skills. The salaries will not increase unless the supply is of good quality. This means a huge emphasis needs to be put on our educators to upskill and for industry to provide quality internships and graduate roles which are attractive.
Matvey also wants to see VC investment into the sector from overseas such as the US or UAE. This means, improving the UK Space Sector image as perceived overseas, and attending events to promote space and external investment opportunities abroad. By doing this, we can truly lean into the commercial aspects of our sector.
“The UK probably has enough talent to create value in the space sector, but maybe not enough allocated capital. If we can convince some foreign and domestic investors to enable British industry to create value, it will catalyse change. This builds confidence in an industry that is underinvested in.”
"Once you have these things, as a young person entering the space sector, perhaps you are worth more than what you are getting paid. Even still, despite the investments being made into the sector, the cost-of-living crisis and infancy of the sector in the UK, could elude towards a potential increase in salaries in the near-future."
The UK has a huge amount of potential in comparison to European counterparts such as Germany or France, to become valuable in the space sector. As a commercial sector, the UK is the most attractive destination for private investment in space, second only to the US (PwC, UKSA, 2023). Compared to Europe, the UK isn't as heavily institutionalised, but it's space industry is dominated by 14 companies making up 81% of the total sector income, with the remaining 1,500 or so accounting for the rest. However, with this approach, the UK does still have a foot in research and exploration, notably with the European Space Agency, with the UK just investing £1.84bn into the ESA budget to fund new missions which the UK will take a leadership role on such as Rosalind-Franklin, Vigil and Aeolus-2. The hope is that this will increase the UK's heritage for space as well as provide benefits to the wider UK space economy (gov.uk, 2022)
Matvey wants to see a nationwide understanding of space technology and its applications brought back to the general population. His response to the ubiquitous question of
"We have so many problems here on Earth, why should we invest in space?"
"Space simply gives heavy constraints, which means when we design for space, we have to have good design. Since the harsh space environment drives the greatest technological challenges, when we put those designs on Earth, those technologies and solutions reap huge benefits for mankind, solar cells and water filtration being a great example of this."
I also met with Mirko Viviano MIET , the Founder of Louno Space, an education company with the ambition to bring the space industry to children. Mirko wants to see greater community engagement from the larger industry players to the general public. He also believes that increased funding to the UK, Europe and other space-developing countries could help to diversify and provide further scope for international collaboration. His company want to infuse stewardship of important values in space-curious children, with adaptability, curiosity, leadership and sustainability.
Within this, these students must be educated on the importance of sustainable mindsets and key driving factors within the space sector. It is important that this future workforce is unified in its goals and has an understanding of the long-term objectives for space.
I met with Mohammed Deera, an igniter at the Satellite Applications Catapult and the Vice-lead of the UKSEDS - UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Satellite Design Competition. Mohammed studied a Bachelor’s degree in Material Science and then continued onto a Master’s in Aerospace engineering at Queen Mary University of London. I asked him for his thoughts on what infrastructure is needed in the UK to support the sector.
Mohammed stressed the importance of national testing facilities, namely high propulsion testing facilities, removing the need to outsource to other countries. Given that private companies have their own testing facilities, such as Skyrora, the only parties which were interested in the use of such a facility were Universities and Research Institutions.
Mohammed’s commitment as a leader in the UKSEDS Satellite Design Competition highlights his understanding of the importance of engagement with the space-enthused student demographic. In his role and with his oversight of students entering the industry, he wants to see more students entering in from adjacent engineering disciplines. As a student he would’ve liked to have seen a roadmap of potential outcomes and opportunities for a student once they enter industry.
In terms of the UK Space Agency, we had a conversation about the importance of legacy and being vocal as an industry to the general public. Mo, expressed that start-ups in the space sector have huge potential to vocalise and market the space sector to the general public to bring people into the industry.
"Something like HiveSpace would create a consortium which would have a greater impact than the UKSA in terms of outreach and engagement. Industry doesn't create the legacy, the people do."