The UK government recently passed the Space Industry Bill, covering the basics like spaceflight licensing, insurance requirements and safety commitments. It didn’t make much of a splash when it was announced, but it’s a huge move for the UK as it laid the regulatory groundwork that will be needed to create an operational spaceport, potentially by 2020. Some £10 million has been earmarked to build the spaceports and complementary projects, and the UK is also set to create the world’s first fully commercial astronaut training ground, with construction expected to start later this year.
A new UK spaceport would actually make it the first such port in Europe, since the European Space Agency’s (ESA) is located in the not-very-European-location of French Guiana in South America.
The UK is already in a good position. Government figures suggest that a quarter of all telecoms satellites are “substantially built” in the UK. It hopes now to expand that to make the UK a “one-stop shop” for the private space industry. A big component of this will be, as the bill said, the opportunities afforded by “using satellite data and machine learning technology to support the rollout of charging points for electric vehicles,” for example.
This is creating a rich new environment for startups, entrepreneurs and, crucially, investors. The cost of building and launching a satellite has fallen from more than $100 million to less than $1 million in recent years. This makes it a new reality for startups and makes the spacetech sector increasingly attractive to venture capital investors.
Thus, today, Seraphim Capital today is launching “Space Camp Accelerator”. This is the UK’s first dedicated accelerator programme for startups in the spacetech industry. Space Camp’s aim will be to “help the best spacetech startups secure funding, achieve scale, and foster close working relationships with industry leaders.” It’s being backed by both the UK and European space agencies, as well as by corporate partners including Rolls Royce, alongside Seraphim Space Fund partners including Airbus, Surrey Satellite Technology, SES, and Telespazio.
Six startups will be selected to join the programme, with a focus on identifying the best data- and satellite-led businesses that are either addressing the biggest challenges facing corporates in the space industry or creating value for industries on earth, from transportation to agriculture to urban planning. The nine-week programme will run twice annually, with the first cohort beginning on 8 May 2018 and the second following in September.
Seraphim Capital manages the £70 million Seraphim Space Fund, which invests exclusively in spacetech.
In a statement, Mark Boggett, CEO at Seraphim Capital, said: “Space is a $350 billion industry that underpins many elements of our everyday lives. $2.5 billion was invested in spacetech startups by VCs globally in 2017, but those startups still need greater access to industry-specific advice and support. We’re turning the accelerator concept on its head: investability is a prerequisite for the startups we invite to be part of Space Camp Accelerator, not the endgame of their involvement as it might be for other programmes.”
Dentons, the global law firm, will host the programme at its offices in London, and will provide the cohort with facilities around the world as appropriate.
James Bruegger, co-founder of Space Camp and partner in the Seraphim Space Fund said: “Space is a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the fastest growing areas of tech investment. The sector’s profile has never been higher, thanks in no small part to Elon Musk reaching for Mars. However, what really impacts those of us here on the ground is the largely hidden way in which data from satellites is really driving the lifeblood of the digital economy. Apps like Uber, Deliveroo, and City Mapper – that many of us rely on in our everyday lives – are all ultimately powered by such data.”
The potential is pretty cool. The next Elon Musk might well build the next billion-dollar space-tech startup right in London. The UK is already widely recognised for having one of the most vibrant space-tech ecosystems. The future looks bright for UK spacetech.