United Kingdom’s New Space Strategy Paves the way for Defense Spending

Britain unveiled a national space policy on Sept. 27 that presented a broad overview of where the UK is headed in the defense space industry, but the paper was notably devoid of information regarding London’s military objectives.

The government had planned to release the national space policy and a related defense space strategy at the same time for a while, but the two texts have now drifted apart.

One space industry executive, who did not want to be identified while discussing internal discussions, said the industry had been advised that a more defense-specific policy was still in the works and would not be released until next month.

Of course, that may mean as soon as next week, but the executive noted that recent delays indicate a fluid timeline.

For the time being, firms will pore over the new national space plan for clues as to where Britain’s future security priorities will lie.

Many of the developments affecting defense have been identified earlier, so little of it will come as a surprise.

The first space launch from a UK spaceport is planned for next year, as is the construction of a military-civil National Space Operations Centre and the creation of the ministry’s new Space Command, which began operations earlier this year.

The national plan document said that the United Kingdom would prioritize its space defense aspirations by establishing a “balanced defense space portfolio”.

The strategy’s investment ambitions include developing independent space domain awareness capabilities to protect UK satellites, progressing the Skynet 6 communications satellite programme, and building a small constellation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites with supporting architectures.

The portfolio is part of a ten-point development plan detailed in the national space strategy to improve British economic and capabilities growth.

The defense space plan will include details on the portfolio, according to the document.

Defense is spending around £5 billion ($6.9 billion) over the next decade on the Skynet 6 programme to improve satellite communication capabilities, as well as £1.4 billion ($1.9 billion) on the acquisition and development of new technologies in space domain awareness, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, and other new capabilities.

The dual-use applications of free-space optical communications systems were one of the capabilities mentioned in the strategy document as being of interest.

The government is also weighing the benefits of investing in resilient Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) capabilities using a combination of creative new terrestrial and space-based technologies.

The UK Space Agency initiated a space-based PNT programme in October to look into new ways to supply critical satellite navigation and timing services to the UK from space.

The planned paper contains references to civil-military development initiatives as well as references to cooperation with international partners in development programmes.

Despite acknowledging that the UK lags behind its primary competitors, the national space policy made no mention of increasing government spending to accomplish its goals.

It warned that the UK was falling behind as enemies increased their investment in space capabilities.

The British government’s answer is to encourage the private sector to increase spending.

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