FARNBOROUGH, England — The creation of a new spaceport in Scotland has the British military eyeing the ability to get national security payloads into space in as little as 72 hours.
The Malness spaceport is scheduled to have its first launch in 2023, with a Lockheed Martin-led team delivering six cubesats into orbit focused on a weather-monitoring project. But if Air Vice-Marshal Simon Rochelle, chief of staff for capability and force development with the Royal Air Force, has his way, military launches will start soon after.
What the first payload could be is unclear, but Rochelle told reporters at a Lockheed briefing that he wants to see the U.K.’s persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in space increase.
After the briefing, Rochelle told Defense News he believes the U.K. can use the Melness location to get operationally relevant assets into space, ideally within 72 hours of need.
“It may be beneficial to have as smallsat, a cube or something to be launched over a humanitarian disaster area, and you just happen to have one good to go and you can put it in the right place,” Rochelle said during the Farnborough Airshow.
“Then in a time of contested [activities], what you want to have is resilience. ... It just might need to be replacing a few as things happen and occur. It’s that ability. We think it’s important to be responsive.”
Obviously, having on-demand space launch would require having easy access to rockets to get the systems into space. While offering the option that the military could perhaps buy a launch vehicle and keep it on hand for emergencies, Rochelle also noted that the economics of the new spaceport require a constant stream of launches going up, meaning hitching a ride shouldn’t be difficult.
Could that involve the U.K. passing legal requirements for launches that allows a national security payload to replace a commercial one in an emergency?
“Not necessarily a law in place, but we might want to have an arrangement,” Rochelle said, while noting his office doesn’t manage the legal aspects of the port. “It’s an immature process at the moment, but we know we want [responsive launch] and we know we think it’s important, and we haven’t got beyond that point in real details.”
Rochelle also made it clear he thinks allies, including the U.S. and the other Five Eyes nations, should consider using the Malness location to get their systems into orbit.
“Yeah, why not? Why not? It’s about cost,” he said.
“We go and buy airplanes together, we can buy AWACS together, think of federated capability, think of how partners work symbiotically with each other," he added, referring to airborne early warning and control systems.
“The more we can — Five-Eyes and allies — respond effectively, or even offer deterrence, dissuasion, we may actually control that space domain rather than being threatened or outmaneuvered in the space domain," he said. “So all of those things are very, very keen to us.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.