IMAGINE, if you will, an industry of the future which can quite literally determine the fate of the world. Imagine that this industry is already here in the UK, trebling in size since 2010, creating many thousands of high-skilled jobs.

Imagine too that the UK had gained an early advantage, establishing itself as the best in Europe and a global leader for this emerging industry. Wouldn’t you expect the UK Government to double down on this opportunity and do everything possible to ensure its success?

That industry is the space industry and we – across the UK but in Scotland in particular – have proved to be particularly good at it. More satellites are manufactured in Glasgow than anywhere else in the world outside California. Scotland now hosts more than 130 space organisations, including the headquarters of 83 UK space firms.

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Supporting more than 40,000 jobs across the UK, the space sector brought in some £15 billion in 2016-17. And this should just be the start. We are developing a space industry ecosystem, and the more it develops, the more it should trigger further exponential growth. The ambition is to capture a £40bn share of the global space market by 2030.

However, we have a problem. The rules governing the activities of space companies in the UK are patchy, incoherent and muddled, and the situation now threatens to choke off the fast pace of growth that our space economy should be experiencing.

Take one example: Skyrora is a satellite technology company in my constituency in Midlothian. It specialises in launching satellites and has created a fuel that cuts carbon emissions by almost half. The company is working to become the first company to launch a satellite into orbit from British soil. In doing so, the UK would have its own sovereign launch capability and rank amongst only a handful of countries able to get satellites safely into space.

Skyrora applied for a licence to test one of its rockets, a crucial step on its journey. It waited and waited. No response was forthcoming. Skyrora therefore packed up its launch kit and went to Iceland, where it was welcomed with open arms, and tested its rocket safely and successfully. It’s now been 23 months since Skyrora applied to the UK regulator – the length of time it takes for Mars to travel around the sun – and the company is still awaiting approval.

The National:

I recently led a debate in the House of Commons to discuss space policy. Parliamentarians of all stripes expressed their frustration, with one Conservative MP stating that we have “lost our way” as he described a regulatory environment for space companies that is “unfathomably complex and impossible to navigate”. Many space companies – on whom we depend on to create jobs, invest in new technologies and give us a competitive edge – are deeply frustrated. The danger is that they will give up on us and set up elsewhere.

You might ask why parliamentarians are debating space at all, in the midst of a public health emergency and when people cannot feed their families, but space shapes all our lives. The sector provides the satellite technology and infrastructure which keeps our troops safe across the world and facilitates each and every financial transaction we make. It is precisely the sort of high-skilled growth industry that will drive our economy to recover.

There is also a broader context and newfound responsibility to all this – the green role that could be carved out by the space industry. Space is central to tackling environmental and social justice issues around the globe. Forget the outdated image of a space race, with astronauts boldly going where no one has gone before. Space technology gives us the chance to make life better here on Earth.

Data from satellites plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change and finding solutions for major issues that scar our planet. Some 35 of the 45 essential climate variables defined by the UN are measured from space. Similarly, of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the UN with an aim of ending poverty by 2030, satellite data plays a critical role in 13.

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Data from Earth observation satellites has been used to combat wildfire spread in the Amazon, to monitor glacier melt and air pollutants, to aid disaster relief operations, to measure ozone damage, to measure damage from natural disasters, such as the Fuego volcano, to track and predict malaria outbreaks and to tackle illegal deforestation and pirate fishing vessels.

The extraordinary role of space in safeguarding our planet’s viability and shaping our future economy is not in doubt. However, confidence in the UK Government’s ability to create an environment in which space companies can develop and prosper most certainly is. The space sector isn’t asking for special treatment or requesting Covid support – companies just want a properly regulated market in which they can operate.

It has been three years since the Space Industry Act, which enabled commercial spaceflight activities. The UK Government must now give clarity on its long-term strategic goals, urgently sort out the regulations and show some ambition in harnessing the potential of space to boost our post-Covid recovery and tackle climate change. We are at the edge of a vast universe of possibilities for the space sector – we now need some vision, energy and direction so that it can realise its potential.

Owen Thompson is the SNP MP for Midlothian