Launching a new narrative: How to solve UK space’s PR problem

Duhita Govindji

By Duhita Govindji

The UK space industry has yet to fully convey the significance of space to the economy and society. Space PR often focuses on high-profile launches, overlooking the broader potential of space technology and its applications. As a result, public understanding remains limited. A strategic PR campaign could hold the key to reshaping the narrative, creating deeper public appreciation.

The benefits of space are countless. From satellite navigation to climate monitoring, space-based assets contribute to economic growth, environmental protection, and global connectivity. The UK space sector is worth over £17.5 billion to the economy, with at least £370 billion of UK GDP supported by satellite services, highlighting its increasing significance in driving economic prosperity. Space is also an essential operational domain for national security, integral to daily life and military operations, and protecting against adversaries seeking to disrupt access to space-derived services.

While the UK is increasing investment in space, it lags behind many other nations, coming just behind Israel, South Korea and Czech Republic. To the public, space remains an abstract domain that few have ever visited. More can be done to improve public awareness of our reliance on space in daily activities, from GPS-enabled devices to a powerful ally in the fight against climate crisis.

Space has a PR problem

Given the media’s focus on high-profile rocket launches, it would be understandable for the public to view space as a billionaires’ playground rather than an important arena for the future of our planet. In addition, operations are viewed negatively by climate-conscious citizens due to their reliance on fossil fuels, exacerbated by the increasing number of commercial space flights which contribute to space junk.

By more effectively conveying the far-reaching, positive impact of space through targeted PR efforts, we can bridge the gap between public perception and the real benefits that space technologies bring to our lives. An informed society can better influence policy and advocate for vital space research, drive innovation, create jobs, and address global sustainability challenges, all while inspiring future generations in STEM.

Together with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) UK Space Command, we convened a roundtable discussion with academics, government stakeholders, representatives from the wider space industry, and communication experts. We explored strategies to reshape public opinion and the collaborative efforts needed to do so. Our discussions were enriched by the insights of guest speaker Trevor Beattie, a prominent figure in UK advertising and film production, who shared his remarkable experience of being a crew member on Virgin Galactic 04.

To describe space as my lifelong obsession would be an understatement. While my classmates dreamed of being George Best or John Lennon, I fancied myself as Steve Zodiac. We need to rebuild that connection – where humanity meets Space is a powerful thing.”

Drawing inspiration from Trevor's talk, we considered how we could harness this excitement to create a stronger PR campaign for Space in the UK.

Attendees acknowledged that public perceptions of space as abstract or frivolous, demand action at the national level to drive progress. From our discussions, four key themes emerged:

1. Make space personal

Why should we care about space? There isn’t one answer, and it depends on who you ask. While previous generations were captivated by space exploration, like the race to the moon, today’s generation is more focussed on environmental concerns. Recognising the diverse interests of different audiences and tailoring messages accordingly is crucial for increasing awareness and engagement. By making space personal, we can transform it from a distant concept into a tangible tool, impacting even the most unexpected aspects of our daily lives.

2. Break the echo chamber

The space industry often operates within its own bubble, creating an echo chamber that limits perspectives. What the sector needs is a greater diversity of voices and promoting two-way conversations, not only within the industry but also with the public and other sectors. This involves more than just having engineers visit classrooms to speak to students; it requires identifying a variety of voices, both from within and outside the industry, who can inspire others to engage and provide them with the necessary support and platforms for their stories to be heard.

3. Play on the UK’s strengths

The UK has paved the way when it comes to responsible space practices, such as tabling a UN resolution in 2021 on ‘reducing space threats through norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviours.’ This galvanised global discussions on the topic. While space is a global endeavour, there’s potential for the UK to lead in these practices. Presently, the space sector is undervalued as one of the UK’s soft power assets. However, the nation boasts strong foundations in higher education and early-stage R&D. Promoting these strengths will make the space sector more attractive to both new talent and policymakers, feeding into the government’s ambition for the UK to be an R&D superpower by 2030.

4. Create human connections

Participants reflected on reigniting the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ spirit of space exploration. Can we create a focal point that unites the UK public, much like the pride associated with wearing NASA T-shirts? The upcoming all-British mission involving four UK astronauts venturing into orbit presents a prime PR opportunity for the nation. Centring a PR campaign around this event, along with other tangible successes in the space sector, has the potential to resonate deeply with people, crafting a compelling narrative that creates a human connection, capturing their imagination and igniting their enthusiasm for space exploration.

Space should, and can, be for everyone. By placing the UK public at the forefront and fostering collaboration among academia, industry, and government, we can reignite passion, ambition, and investment to positively impact the economy and society. It’s only by aligning our efforts – and operating in the same orbits – that we can craft a shared narrative that resonates with everyone, ensuring the benefits of space reach every corner of society.

About the authors

Duhita Govindji
Duhita Govindji PA space and operating model expert

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