LONDON – Britain gave a broad view of where the country is heading in the defense space sector as it launched a national space strategy Sept. 27, but details about London’s military ambitions were largely absent from the document.
For a while, the government’s plan had been to release the national space strategy and an associated defense space strategy in tandem, but publication of the two documents has now drifted apart.
One space industry executive, who asked not to be named while discussing internal deliberations, said industry had been told a more defense-specific strategy was still incomplete and would have to wait until sometime next month for publication.
That could, of course, mean as early as next week, but the executive said previous delays suggest a fluid time line.
For the moment, though, companies will be picking over the new national space strategy for guidance on where Britain’s future defense focus is heading.
Little of it will come as a surprise, with many of the developments impacting defense having been flagged previously.
Among the key developments include the first space launch from a UK spaceport, planned for next year, building a military-civil National Space Operations Centre, and creating the ministry’s new Space Command, which went operational earlier this year.
The national strategy document said Britain would prioritize its defense ambitions in the space domain with the establishment of what it called a “balanced defense space portfolio.”
“It will integrate current and planned capability management activities, combining existing core programs with exciting new initiatives to ensure the UK has capabilities to support defense operations in the modern age,” said the document.
Developing independent space domain awareness capabilities to protect UK satellites, advancing the Skynet 6 communications satellite program and building a small constellation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites with supporting architectures are part of the investment ambitions outlined by the strategy.
The portfolio is part of a ten-point development plan envisaged to boost British economic and capability growth outlined by the national space strategy.
Details on the portfolio will be included in the defense space strategy, said the document.
What’s already known is defense is investing around £5 billion ($6.9 billion) over the next decade to enhance satellite communication capabilities with the Skynet 6 program and a further £1.4 billion ($1.9 billion) in the acquisition and development of new technologies in space domain awareness, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control and other new capabilities.
Among the capabilities name-checked by the strategy document as being of interest were the dual-use applications of free-space optical communications systems.
“We will also investigate new waveforms and encryption methods to provide better end-to-end protection,” said the document.
The government is also continuing to evaluate the case for investing in resilient Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities through a mix of innovative new terrestrial and space-based technologies.
Last October the UK Space Agency launched a space-based PNT program to explore innovative ways of delivering vital satellite navigation and timing services to the UK from space.
Civil-military development initiatives and references to cooperation with international partners in development programs are themes running throughout the strategy document.
“By integrating our commercial and military space activities, we will use space to protect British interests abroad and on home soil, establishing the UK as one of the most attractive and innovative space economies in the world,” said Science and Innovation Minister George Freeman.
“Today’s national space strategy sets out our vision for ensuring that our thriving space sector lifts off for the long term,” said Freeman.
“We will collaborate internationally with our partners and allies to achieve our goals, including: maintaining our role in the European Space Agency whilst building new and enhanced bilateral relationships with countries such as the U.S.,” reads the strategy document.
The national space strategy made no mention of increased government funding to meet its ambitions, even though it acknowledged the UK lagged behind its key rivals.
It warned the UK was not keeping pace with threats as adversaries step up investment in space capabilities.
“Other nations have invested proportionally more and the UK lags behind our international peers. As a result, whilst the UK sector has continued grow, it is not currently increasing its share of the global space economy,” said the document.
The solution envisaged by the British Government is to get the private sector to step up spending.
“The UK will require a significant increase in private-sector investment in space activities, and the full combined efforts of every participant in the UK space economy, from businesses to innovators, entrepreneurs, and space scientists,” the strategy document said.