A host of U.S. companies signed partnerships with the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) in July, with several more waiting in the wings, as the British government doled out funding for launching commercial rockets from the island for the first time ever.
The U.K. manufactures more small satellites than anywhere else in the world, owning 6.5 percent of the $384 billion space economy. The U.K. currently produces about 44 percent of the world's small satellites, and has extensive facilities to operate those satellites once active.
The UKSA intends to grow its stake in the market to 10 percent by 2030, which will likely be worth more than $109 billion at the time, according to Bank of America estimates. To achieve that growth, UKSA is working to attract rocket companies that specialize in launching small satellites.
"Money is actually being allocated to specific places for the first time," Bleddyn Bowen, a space policy expert at the University of Leicester, told CNBC. “The government and the various parts of the space sector have been talking about this for 10 years.”
Lockheed Martin won the bulk of the UKSA funding, getting more than $30 million to develop an orbital launch site for small rockets in Melness, Scotland, in partnership with the economic development agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise.
A senior UKSA official with knowledge of the agreement told CNBC that Lockheed Martin offered to both develop a spaceport and "bring a kind of tried and tested system that was flight ready.”
Britain "doesn't have a really deep supply chain for launch vehicles," the official said, explaining how the U.K's upcoming investment would put the entire supply chain for launching satellites on home soil.
Patrick Wood, Lockheed Martin's UK space executive, said in a statement to CNBC that the company "is continuing detailed discussions with our commercial launch provider and will have an update soon. The launcher will be a flight-proven, dedicated small sat vehicle."
While Lockheed Martin did not specify which rocket company it would bring in, the criteria fits very few in the growing sub-industry of rockets tailored to launch for small satellites. Rocket Lab, which counts Lockheed Martin among its investors, reached orbit with its Electron rocket for the first time in January, making the company a strong possibility.
"While we do not have additional details to share at this time, we recognize that Rocket Lab’s Electron is a capable commercial launch platform," Wood said.