21 February 2011
Stephen Mann and Paul Kerruish report on the Isle of Man’s efforts to reach for the stars
The UK plans to expand its share of the global space market from 6 per cent to 10 per cent by 2030, focusing on lucrative satellite technology. The UK Space Agency has been created under a coordinated space policy and the scope for an increase in the UK space sector is there.
So what about the Isle of Man? No blast-offs or orbiting chimps have been spotted around Douglas, so what’s the story on the Manx space industry?
Since 2001, the Isle of Man has built a portfolio of space-related businesses and initiatives, benefiting from the zero corporate tax rate alongside specific tax exemptions for the industry, plus efficient access to orbital slots and the island’s insurance, banking, legal and accountancy expertise.
The island’s government has stated that it “is pro-space and committed to helping the space industry flourish”. It works in collaboration with local space services company ManSat, which, among other things, specialises in orbital filings.
Current industry presence in the Isle of Man include SES Satellite Leasing, a company incorporated in the island as a procurement vehicle for SES, the world’s leading satellite operator, and a number of other major satellite companies engaged in broadcasting, global positioning and remote sensing. The International Space University’s (ISU) International Institute of Space Commerce is also on the island.
Other Manx businesses include space manufacturing companies such as CVI Technical Optics, which specialises in laser optics. CVI’s laser-induced detection and ranging system was used on the Phoenix Mars Lander and played a part in the historic detection of high-altitude snow over Mars.
In October 2010 the island hosted the summit for all 22 teams competing in the fourth Google Lunar X Prize, including Manx competitor Odyssey Moon. The competition offers a $30m (£18.7m) prize for the first private entity to put a spacecraft on the moon.
The Excalibur project for space tourism, using recommissioned parts of the Russian Almaz space project, is also headquartered in Douglas.
Boldly into the future
This activity has brought some ringing endorsements. The Economic Policy Centre, a leading think tank, recommends that the UK follows the Isle of Man’s example in how to run a space industry, and works with the island to maximise potential. Its report, Space - Britain’s New Frontier, was followed by a report by space market consultancy analyst Ascend, ranking the Isle of Man fifth in the list of nations most likely to return to the moon, behind the US, Russia, China and India.
Manx moon mission or not, space industry companies relocating to the island can secure benefits including financial incentives for new businesses creating jobs, paying no corporate tax and using the electronic Entry Processing Unit (EPU) as a single electronic point of entry for all imports into or via the UK. Within five years, companies should have the ability to process their entire EU import and export requirements through the EPU from their central Isle of Man business units.
The Isle of Man has established a legal space framework by adapting national laws to provide for the expansion of the satellite industry. Statutory Instrument 1990 no 596 applies the Outer Space Act 1986.
Furthermore, an efficient system for securing satellite orbital slots exists, via Ofcom and the International Telecommunications Union, allowing commercial operators to obtain whatever slot is required, whether a geostationary orbit above the equator for broadcasting purposes or something different. The Isle of Man works closely with the UK authorities to ensure all orbital filing applications comply with international law.
Sky’s the limit
Future possibilities include bespoke legislation to encourage the industry and drawing on successful ship and aircraft registry experience to create a new satellite registry.
Considering these benefits, which space activities might be next to visit the island? As Arthur C Clarke put it: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Entrepreneurs worldwide are already discussing - and in some cases developing - space tourism, colonies in space, robotic space exploration missions or searches for extra-terrestrial life, energy systems based on solar rays beamed from space to earth and many other projects.
The Isle of Man is ideal for start-ups of all kinds, including those manufacturing new products developed as spin-offs from space research. There are opportunities for the insurance industry and the potential for a growth in captives. The ISU concluded: “The future of space, like many other enterprises, depends on innovation, entrepreneurship, capital, public support and opportunity.”
So, for astropreneurs with a vision, the Isle of Man provides the ideal opportunity to reach for the stars.
Paul Kerruish is a partner and Stephen Mann is an associate at Gough Advocates