Silicon Valley vs Silicon UK?

When it comes to fostering tech start-ups, the United States wins hands down. When we think of the Microsofts, Googles and Apples of the world, they are synonymous with Silicon Valley. When it comes to the UK, which location makes you think ‘tech’?

From the space tech point of view, there are some centres of innovation particularly at Harwell. Stevenage, Guildford and Glasgow, are amongst other various other locations in the UK where space tech companies are located. However, the UK does not have a ‘Silicon Valley’. There is no central location from which space, and other technology companies, can set up that will automatically attract investment, because the investors know where to go.

That’s not to say that investment is not being made in the UK space industry. In July 2017 it was announced that the government will plough £99 million into the Harwell Science Campus to expand its facility and develop a National Satellite Testing Facility. Could Harwell become the Space Tech Centre of the UK? A further £4 million will go to develop a new rocket construction and testing facility – Westcott in Buckinghamshire. Under David Cameron’s government, Tech City was established in London, which aims to accelerate the growth of digital businesses across the UK. However, whether this will take off, remains to be seen – and would established companies be prepared to re-locate to London where real estate is sky high and at a premium?

This is an important question. Does there have to be a centralised hub where tech ‘lives’?   Let’s take a look at Europe. Luxembourg is blazing a trail in terms of its development of the space resources industry. It might seem bizarre that this tiny country has put itself at the very centre of the asteroid mining business. Although this is a nascent industry, if the concept of asteroid mining becomes a reality, the truth is that Luxembourg is onto a very lucrative path.

The country already boasts the highest GDP per capita, and is very forward thinking in terms of the fact that it is careful to diversify its industries. The focus on asteroid mining is true evidence of this. In early 2016, the government of Luxembourg announced that it was basically fast-tracking the development of the asteroid mining business by developing a regulatory framework and financial incentives, co-investment in R&D and eventual capital investment for companies that would seek to base themselves within its borders. This would encourage the re-direction of some space companies from Silicon Valley to Luxembourg so that increasing amounts of R&D activity would take place there. In November, Luxembourg passed a law that any private companies based in the country, would be able to keep any resources that they obtained from space, making the prospect of basing themselves there even more attractive.

It’s early days for Luxembourg, but the government has truly thrown itself into the whole space resource thing. The U.S. government did the same for Silicon Valley – and perhaps this is what is required in the UK.

Whether it is a matter of centralising the tech companies and talent in the UK or creating an environment where innovation is consistently encouraged and attractive to investors, the UK government must really get behind the UK as a leader in technology as the U.S. and Luxembourg governments have done. If London (or another area of the UK) can be identified and promoted as an incubator for start-up companies, where entrepreneurs can really be given a fighting chance of making their dreams a reality, perhaps one day it could rival Silicon Valley. They say ‘build it and they will come’. There is certainly a huge amount of talent out there, but the right environment to grow is what is really needed.

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Where did all the Propulsion Engineers go?

This is an extremely exciting time to be part of the space and satellite industry. The NewSpace movement and the injection of entrepreneurship and privately financed missions are literally shaking things up. There’s so much going on; from reusable rockets, interplanetary missions, asteroid prospecting and a small satellite renaissance is underway. These initiatives are all slated for the near to medium term. It’s an amazing time to be involved in space. For new and existing projects, they all have one thing in common. Any launch vehicle or spacecraft going into space will need propulsion. The trouble is, that the people who specialise in this most important aspect of spacecraft engineering, are few and far between.

Due to the nature of the job, being a Propulsion Engineer or a Space Engineer in another field is not really a straightforward thing. Location of space companies tend to be centred in certain areas, both in the UK and abroad, and this leaves Engineers in a difficult position. Do you commute? Do you live out of a suitcase during the week and go home at weekends? Do you re-locate and uproot the family unit? So, it’s very understandable that, when a permanent Propulsion Engineer job comes along, it is snapped up quickly, safe in the knowledge that you have a long-term future with a company and making the effort to move the children to a new area , new school and spouse to a new job, was all worth it. Once settled in a permanent job, there is also the important matter of job security – and many prefer this to a more mobile mentality.

The other scenario tends to take you to a high paid contract job, which may be abroad. Though shorter term, the extra money makes up for the inconvenience of a short-term move for the family, if that is what is agreed.

With the developments being brought in by NewSpace, there is set to be a great deal of demand from aerospace companies for Propulsion Engineers to work on a range of projects. Companies will be looking for candidates that display specific skills and talents, but we are facing a shortage of these vital people.

Nebula Space takes a different approach to recruitment. As Engineers and space industry experienced ourselves, we have been in your position and we know the kind of difficult decisions that have to be made when looking for a new role. We understand that you might have a family and other commitments and that you want to find a contract or permanent position. That is why our primary aim is to get to know you and to build trust – not just between us, but between yourself and the companies that we find talent for. If you are a one of those rare Propulsion Engineers that are looking for a new challenge, get in touch with Nebula Space. We will help you at every step of the process and match you with your ideal role.