by Danial Ibrahim
For decades, space exploration has caught the minds of people all around the globe, and the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of this thrilling sector. The UK’s space sector has prospered in recent years, with various businesses making substantial contributions to space technology and exploration.
This article outlines the 20 most prominent UK space companies transforming the space industry in 2023. These firms are relentlessly driving innovation and development in the UK’s space sector, ranging from cutting-edge satellite makers to ground station operators, launch vehicle developers and more.
We will examine each company’s distinctive contributions to the space sector, emphasizing their most significant initiatives and accomplishments. By the conclusion of this article, you will have a greater understanding of some of the key players in the UK space sector and the exciting innovations that are taking place.
The Significance of Space Exploration and Companies to the United Kingdom in History
The United Kingdom has made substantial contributions to the development of space exploration over many decades. From the beginning of human space travel to today, British corporations have been at the front of technological innovation and space advancement.
During the Cold War, when the United Kingdom was one of the few countries able to put satellites into orbit, space exploration had a special place in the country’s history. The United Kingdom played an essential part in developing telecommunication systems, and the government also benefited from a useful military surveillance tool.
Throughout the 20th century, British space giants worked tirelessly to advance technologies like rocket propulsion and satellite navigation. Modern space travel owes a great deal to these developments, and many of the technologies created then are still in use today.
In recent years, the UK’s space sector has flourished because of the efforts of pioneering businesses like Surrey Satellite Technology and Reaction Engines. The British government has also realized the significance of the space sector, as seen by its funding of research and development and the introduction of measures meant to foster the expansion of UK-based space businesses.
The United Kingdom’s participation in space exploration has had substantial cultural and scientific impacts as well as economic and technical advantages.
20 UK Space Companies
A wide variety of space enterprises are based in the United Kingdom, ranging from satellite makers to rocket propulsion experts, and this is essential to the growth of the UK’s space sector and the country’s reputation as an innovator in this field worldwide.
Airbus Defence and Space
Airbus Defence and Space is a division of the European aerospace giant Airbus offering innovative products and services to the military and space sectors. Satellites, space rovers, and space transportation systems are all products of the firm’s design and production departments.
The Rosetta project, launched in 2004, was the first to land on a comet, while the Gaia mission was the first to survey the stars of our Milky Way galaxy. Both were part of the substantial contributions from the business.
Airbus Defence and Space is also a close partner of the European Space Agency (ESA), having participated in a wide range of ESA-led missions and programs. The company designed the European Service Module (ESM) that helped power the launch of the Artemis I mission as well as developing and building of the JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) spacecraft.
Surrey Satellite Technology
Since 1985, Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) has been a top supplier of small satellite technology in the United Kingdom’s space sector. The corporation designs, builds, and operates small satellites for various industries and consumer-centric services.
SSTL is well-known worldwide and has established cooperative relationships with several nations, including China, Nigeria, and Thailand. Public and private organizations have found the company’s approach to satellite design and production to be both cutting-edge and cost-effective.
Launching TechDemoSat-1, the United Kingdom’s first national technology demonstration satellite, and the Carbonite-2 satellite, which they used to gather high-resolution photographs of Earth, are just two of the many important missions in which SSTL has played a major role.
Reaction Engine works on sustainable aircraft propulsion systems. The SABRE engine is the company’s crown jewel; it promises to revolutionize space travel by making it possible to fly quickly inside and beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
The Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) engine can cater to atmospheric and interplanetary flights due to its innovative mix of jet and rocket propulsion technologies. The engine has a maximum operating speed of Mach 5.4 and can propel a spacecraft into orbit in a single launch. The use of this technology might drastically simplify and lower the price of interplanetary travel.
The company is also involved in Project NEWBORN, to collaborate with Honeywell to create a newer generation of efficient hydrogen fuel cells. Reaction Engine’s heat exchanger technology will be pivotal in making the project successful.
Goonhilly Earth Station
Goonhilly Earth Station is one of the biggest and best-known satellite Earth stations in the whole globe. Since 1962, the company has played an important part in the growth of the United Kingdom’s space sector.
The services provided by Goonhilly Earth Station include both satellite communications and deep space tracking. When connecting with spacecraft, the company’s antennas can handle anything from low Earth orbit to far off space missions. Because of this, the firm is now an integral part of the international space market.
The business was instrumental in ESA’s Huygens mission to Saturn’s moon, Titan, and was the first station to receive the spacecraft’s signal after it landed on the moon’s surface. Since the first quarter of 2022, Goonhilly Earth Station has partnered with GMV NSL and Inmarsat to utilize Satellite Based Augmentation Systems to assist the aviation and maritime sectors.
For more than 40 years, Inmarsat has been at the forefront of the United Kingdom’s space sector as a top supplier of mobile satellite communications services. Voice and data transmission, high-speed internet, and location-tracking through satellite are just some of the services offered by this company.
One of the biggest benefits of Inmarsat’s services is that it can serve clients in even the most inaccessible areas because it manages a worldwide network of satellites and ground stations. Maritime, aviation, government, and military sectors are among the many end users of the company’s services. Inmarsat has participated in several important space missions in addition to its commercial services.
During the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Inmarsat’s satellites provided communication and tracking services.
Avanti Communications Group
Avanti Communications Group serves clients in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and more with satellite communication services. Broadband internet, voice communication, and cellular satellite backhaul are major in the company’s offerings.
The most inaccessible areas of Earth are covered by Avanti’s satellite fleet, which is stationed in geostationary orbit. In addition to serving government and military clients, the organization works with private businesses.
Avanti has provided more than just communication services; the company has also been a key player in several important space missions. The company’s satellite technology offered data relay services for ESA’s Mars Express mission, the first to circle Mars and bring a lander to the surface.
Satellite Applications Catapult
Satellite Applications Catapult encourages innovation in the UK’s space sector. The organization collaborates with other companies, educational institutions, and government agencies to create state-of-the-art medical, agricultural, and environmental research satellite applications.
The firm offers various services, such as research and development, commercialization, and the creation of new technologies. The organization has created numerous noteworthy initiatives, such as a satellite-based system for monitoring and controlling the United Kingdom’s water supply and another for monitoring infectious diseases in Africa.
During the 2023 Avalon Airshow, the company announced a new space supply chain mapping tool in collaboration with the UK government and the SmartSat Cooperative Research Center. The project showcases the exciting trajectory of the firm in shaping the future of satellite applications.
AAC Clyde Space
AAC Clyde Space designs, manufactures, and operates systems for small satellites and spacecraft. The company is responsible for every aspect of the satellite industry, from developing and operating ground stations to analyzing and designing missions.
In addition to its numerous other applications, people may use AAC Clyde Space’s technology for Earth observation, remote sensing, and communication. Customers span from government through educational institutions to private businesses.
There are several important space missions to which AAC Clyde Space’s satellite technology has contributed. The business provided expertise in creating a satellite system for ESA’s PLATO project, which searches for Earth-like planets in other star systems.
The company’s subsidiary AAC Hyperion has also been shortlisted to develop a lightweight space situational awareness satellites to be placed in geostationary orbit (GEO).
QinetiQ serves several industries with technological solutions and services. The corporation invests heavily in research and development, yielding various innovative technologies with space applications.
Satellites, powerful sensors, and cutting-edge communication networks are all part of QinetiQ’s arsenal of space technology. The Rosetta mission, the first spacecraft to land on a comet, was one of several important space missions in which the company participated.
Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions
Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions is a world leader in designing and manufacturing advanced electronic and communication systems for the aerospace and military industries. It specializes in providing spacecraft subsystems, components, and assemblies.
People may use Cobham’s inventions for a wide variety of purposes, including but not limited to satellite communications, Earth monitoring, and even interstellar travel. Cobham has contributed to various major space programs, including NASA’s Mars rover missions, by providing communication and tracking systems.
The company has also been awarded a contract of over US $24 million from space tech giant Northrop Grumman to create GPS antennas for Precision Guidance Kits.
Oxford Space Systems
Oxford Space Systems develops and produces modular space constructions that may be rapidly deployed. Communication, Earth observation, and space exploration are just some of the many uses for the company’s products, which are developed with a special emphasis on sustainable lightweight materials.
The technology developed by Oxford Space Systems comprises various booms and antennas and solar arrays that can be quickly and easily deployed in space due to their small size and low weight. The company also created the AstroTube boom, a lightweight and small boom with several potential uses in space.
The company offers comprehensive technical services as well, including design, analysis, and testing.
Meggitt supplies high-performance components and subsystems to various industries, including aerospace and the military. The company produces sensors, electronics, thermal management systems among other products.
Meggitt has also created several products for satellite communication, Earth observation, and space transport systems. The company also contributed to the development of the Mars rovers for NASA.
The firm has also announced a partnership with Airbus in January this year, to help design an energy buffer to facilitate electric propulsion to maximize the load balancing capabilities, weight management and mechanical efficiency.
Telespazio VEGA UK
Telespazio VEGA UK serves the space and military sectors with technical, consulting, and operational services.
The company’s innovations are used in various satellite-based endeavors, such as global positioning system (GPS) services, navigation systems, and Earth observation. Telespazio VEGA UK has provided ground systems and operational support for several significant space programs, including ESA’s ExoMars mission.
The European Space Agency also awarded the company a two-year contract in late 2022 for the Earthnet Data Assessment Project (EDAP+).
Thales Alenia Space UK
Thales Alenia Space UK provides innovative services to the global space and defense industries. The company has made advancements in space technology a top focus, providing various services and products in this field. Their company portfolio includes satellite payloads, spacecraft subsystems, and more.
Thales Alenia Space UK has provided navigation payloads for the Galileo satellite navigation system operated by the European Space Agency.
The talented team at Thales Alenia Space also helped in designing, testing and assembling Remote Interface Units (RIUs) for the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO).
The Space Science and Technology Department of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL Space) develops, tests, and operates sensors and projects deployed in space. The company has gone a long way since its inception in 1957, and it now ranks among the top providers of space technology and services worldwide.
RAL Space has created unique satellite payloads, ground support systems, and space instruments for various industries. Several space projects have used the company’s sensors, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars mission. RAL Space has assisted over 210 space missions, including designing Ptolemy Instruments for the Rosetta mission and more.
Orbex Space makes rockets to put small satellites into orbit. Since its inception in 2015, the business has created several ground-breaking technologies with the potential to completely transform the space launch sector.
The company has secured contracts with several customers to help launch payloads into space. Orbex’s launch vehicle, Prime, aims to be the first eco-friendly rocket in the world.
The rocket’s fuel is bio-propane, a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions by 90% compared to conventional rocket fuels. The company has also partnered with the UK Space Agency to secure funding for its launch vehicle technology.
Skyrora specializes in developing and manufacturing launch vehicles for small satellites. The company successfully launched Skylark Micro from a test site in Iceland in 2020.
Skyrora has also developed an environmentally friendly hybrid rocket engine that can run on solid and liquid rocket fuel. The firm has also secured funding for its launch vehicle technology from the European Space Agency.
The company has successfully tested several rocket components, including fuel tanks, engines and other items for its launch vehicles. Skyrora opened a new rocket engine production facility in July 2022, the largest in the UK.
Founded in 2015, Sen specializes in designing, developing and operating small satellites for remote sensing applications and Earth observation. This firm primarily focuses on developing innovative space technologies for environmental monitoring.
Sen’s satellites are designed to provide real-time data on different environmental factors such as vegetation health, air quality, soil moisture and more. This is done using advanced imaging technology to assist in resource planning, disaster response and tackling climate change.
Sen launched a satellite to stream HD videos of Earth on January 13th, 2022, from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It has now completed one full year in orbit.
Earth-i specializes in geospatial intelligence and Earth observation. The company uses satellite imagery to provide high-resolution images and data that people can use for a wide range of applications, including urban planning, infrastructure development, environmental monitoring, and security and defense.
Earth-i was founded in 2010 with headquarters in Guildford, England. The company operates a satellite constellation, including the DMC3/TripleSat, a group of three satellites that provide very high-resolution imagery of the Earth’s surface.
One of the key features of Earth-i’s technology is its ability to capture and analyze high-resolution images in near real-time. This enables the company to provide up-to-date information that can be used to monitor environmental changes, such as deforestation, urbanization, and natural disasters.
Founded in 2015, Open Cosmos provides a wide range of space-related solutions such as launch services, satellite design and more. The company’s primary goal is to make space more accessible and affordable.
In 2018, Open Cosmos launched “bee,” a satellite that enabled customers to perform payload tests in orbit. They also secured a large contract with ESA to create a small satellite mission platform.
The company has partnered with other important organizations such as Surrey Satellite Technology and Airbus Defence and Space, among others. Open Cosmos also offers data analysis, ground segment support and mission planning services. Their innovative approach to creating space solutions has positioned them as a key player in this evolving space.
The United Kingdom has a thriving space industry, with various enterprises developing novel space-related technology and products. UK space companies like the ones mentioned in this article have played an important role in the growth of the United Kingdom’s space industry and its rise to prominence as a world leader in space technology.