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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 January 2021

UK ‘marching towards’ 2022 satellite launch date

Launch from Scotland planned amid the increasing military value of space supremacy

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to invest in British space projects. AFP
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to invest in British space projects. AFP

The UK is on track to launch its first all-British satellite programme in 2022 amid fears of space becoming increasingly militarised.

The ambition was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in November as part of a £16.5 billion ($22.4bn) expansion on future warfare programmes, including space, to address weaknesses in Britain’s defence arsenal. He said it was the biggest investment in British defence since the end of the Cold War.

The new head of Britain’s military space programme said that his team was targeting the 2022 date for a domestically-built satellite and launch platform from UK soil in Scotland.

“That end point is very definitely in our programme and we are marching towards that,” said Air Vice Marshal Harv Smyth, head of the defence ministry’s Space Directorate.

British defence officials previously told The National that rival nations were ramping up efforts to seize control of outer space with daily hostile incidents targeting hundreds of military satellites in orbit.

Modern militaries increasingly rely on satellites to provide communications to ground forces and for accurate targeting with GPS technology that has turned space into a new frontier in the great power competition.

Mr Smyth told a webinar organised by the world’s largest arms fair, Defence and Security Equipment International, said the systems were vital for precision targeting of senior ISIS figures in urban areas without alienating the general population.

The same technology is used for civilian purposes including traffic lights, bank transfers and supermarket delivery systems. He said the failure of position, navigation and timing systems could cause “anarchy on the streets” and cost the UK £1 billion a day.

He said that Britain had been at the forefront of efforts to update old international laws to cope with the new environment in space.

Current laws developed in the 1960s have failed to keep pace with modern development, with the initial goal of preventing nuclear weapons being used in space. “Now that’s the least of our worries,” he said.

Mr Smyth said the UK was hoping to secure a competitive edge by harnessing the ideas of private industry from major players to “two blokes in a garden shed with a good idea and a small satellite”.

He highlighted the work of small companies tackling the growing problem of space junk – hundreds of thousands of fast-moving pieces of debris with the capacity to destroy multi-million-pound space projects. Other ongoing work includes using onboard-satellite artificial intelligence systems to assess data before beaming it back to Earth.

The number of craft launched is expected to increase dramatically as costs fall with governments and private developers planning huge constellations of satellites for both military and civilian use.

Nearly 3,000 satellites are currently in space, with about half of those put into orbit by the United States, according to a database compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The US’s geopolitical rivals, Russia and China, has 172 and 382 respectively, according to the figures updated to August last year.

The US created a new defence command in 2019, Spacecom, because of concerns its satellites were being targeted, potentially reducing its ability to shoot down missiles aimed at the US.

Published: January 7, 2021 06:15 PM

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