As NASA’s robotic Mars 2020 Perseverance rover begins its mission on Mars, the UK government has announced a new accelerator programme to help innovators gain a foothold in the lucrative space market.

The scheme gets under way in March, and aims to find entrepreneurs to strengthen the UK’s space industry infrastructure, according to an announcement from the government.

Targeted sectors include: robotics; manufacturing; engineering; computer and data science; and autonomous vehicles.

Businesses of any size can take part if they are already in the space sector, or are looking to use space technology, or are open to expansion into what is currently a boom market.

Space technology is one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, trebling in size since 2010. It now employs close to 42,000 people, generating income of nearly £15 billion a year.

According to government figures, SMEs in this sector are growing by 30 percent a year, and the government’s strategy is to gain 10 percent of space market share by 2030.

The UK has particular strengths in space science, data, small satellites, and robotics.

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at The UK Space Agency, said:

“The space sector is ripe with opportunity, and as the UK recovers from the Covid pandemic this new support programme will bring in diverse ideas and talent to realise that growth opportunity.

“A practical approach to how to develop a business, combined with access to experts who can guide success are hallmarks of the programme. This is coupled with an holistic focus on supporting truly sustainable businesses to ensure that the space sector can provide new long-term secure employment right around the country.

“Key to this approach is bringing innovators together in existing and new clusters of space-related activity, thereby gathering critical mass which will also benefit adjacent parts of the economy. The relationship with universities is also key and provides a pathway for students into the sector and for vibrant knowledge exchange for business.”

Despite Brexit, the UK remains one of the biggest contributors to the European Space Agency (ESA), whose own ExoMars programme continues with the 2022 launch of the Rosalind Franklin rover.

The robotic research vehicle will join Perseverance in probing the Martian surface for signs of microbial life, helping to gather data for future human exploration or habitation.