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Stellar opportunities for CleanTech businesses

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United Kingdom

Changes in space law look set to create opportunities for businesses delivering clean technologies. The UK Government is consulting on its proposals now, making it an ideal time for firms with green expertise to look at how they can shape and capitalise on an environmentally conscious space sector.

Green Technologies ready for take off

We've seen CleanTech gaining significant traction recently, with Tesla's sales soaring in the UK Electric Vehicle market, Breakthrough Energy Ventures (Bill Gates' CleanTech venture fund) raising another $1 billion in January after using its first billion to invest in 45 green tech start-ups, and the launch of the European Climate Pact by the EU Commission inviting people, communities, and organisations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe.

Coinciding with Presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) passing to the UK, we're also seeing UK-based efforts to deliver action on climate change. In January, the UK  announced that it will support thirty South African female entrepreneurs grow their green tech businesses, in collaboration with the UK-South Africa Tech Hub and Future Females Business School. Earlier this week, we saw Jaguar announcing its plan to move to electric-only vehicles by 2025 with an aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2039.

Whilst the range of sectors becoming more environmentally conscious is wide, from eco-friendly fashion to green app development, it may surprise some to learn that space is also going green.

Green Space

On 10th February 2021, the UK Government launched its consultation inviting views on its draft environment objectives and guidance for the spaceflight regulator under the Space Industry Act 2018. The consultation is already open, and closes at 11:45pm on 24th March 2021.

The Act is a keystone for the UK's nascent commercial spaceflight programme, and the Government's wider aim to double the UK's share of the global space economy by 2030. Importantly, in addition to the economic benefits, it also underpins the wider efforts to monitor and understand our environment and to tackle climate change. 

The Secretary of State for Transport is required to establish environmental objectives for the spaceflight regulator—likely the Civil Aviation Authority—to take into account when exercising its duties. These objectives will be taken into account as part of the assessment of environmental effects ("AEE"), when applicants apply for a spaceport or operator licence.

Opportunities for Tech Companies

Given the significant investment into the UK space sector and the focus on promoting sustainable growth, there is a clear opportunity here for green tech companies. Firstly, to engage with the Government's consultation and shape the regulatory objectives, and then to bring their wealth of expertise to service spaceports and operators.

The environmental objectives currently proposed are to minimise carbon and other emissions from spaceflight activities, to protect people, wildlife, and the environment from impacts of spaceflight—particularly with reference to air quality and noise. This may involve the adoption of cleaner fuels, and looking at the environmental contributions of ancillary services (carrier aircraft, transit, on-site energy resources, and vehicle movements) as part of the AEE.

CleanTech businesses already have a lot to offer, particularly when it comes to evaluating and reducing the environmental impact of ancillary services, which will be necessary for spaceports and operators to obtain licences to conduct spaceflight activities. From heavy electric vehicles, to alternative power generation for IT and communications infrastructure; and from CHP networks to monitoring carbon footprint and carbon capture technologies(1.) the possibilities are varied.

Getting on board

This green transformation represents a clear opportunity for technology companies to take small steps into the sector, delivering a giant leap for the UK space industry. 

The consultation is available at the following link: Commercial spaceflight: environmental objectives for the spaceflight regulator - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

1. For those with ambitions in carbon capture, it's worth noting that Elon Musk and XPrize have just launched a $100 million prize for scalable carbon capture solutions.

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