Bleddyn E. Bowen details why the global space sector is much more than robots and astronauts, and argues that the Welsh economy and workforce could benefit greatly from developing its own space industry.

Wales as seen from the ISS © Commander Chris Hadfield via twitter

Wales as seen from the ISS © Commander Chris Hadfield via twitter

When pundits mention a red dragon in space, they refer to China and its remarkable rise as a space power.1 But there is another red dragon already playing a largely unnoticed role in humanity’s development of outer space. Y Ddraig Goch is active in space through high-technology manufacturing and design companies, as well as via space science in Welsh universities. In November 2015 I spoke at a mini-festival of Welsh science fiction in Aberystwyth (Diwrnod Yng Nghymru Fydd/A Day in Future Wales). I wanted to raise awareness of the current realities regarding outer space activities in Wales and the UK, and what Wales could achieve through future investment in the sector. The adventures of astronauts (including Tim Peake, the European Space Agency’s first British astronaut) and robots rightly garner the attention of mainstream news and space enthusiasts. However, such activities are not the sum of what the Space Age entails. Everyday activities in outer space, and how satellites are integrated into our terrestrial infrastructure surprised many in the audience; few people seemed to have considered the 1,300 satellites now in orbit around Earth which provide a wide range of useful data and services.

The Earth from the Moon | Photo © NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The Earth from the Moon © NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

This short article, based on my presentation, argues that companies and people in Wales can further tap into the global marketplace of the space sector, but only with a conscious effort to invest in education and infrastructure to support the sector. There is also confusion between UK Government and Welsh Government responsibilities in such activities. The Welsh Government, along with every other devolved authority and interested party, need to shape the political-economic regime in the UK so that small economies can capitalise on the niche areas of the global space economy. If devolved authorities could engage in strategic thinking across education, infrastructure, constitutional arrangements and financial sovereignty, then not all of the UK’s high technology and information services economies would need to be based in south-east England.

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