UK launches $1.89bn space defence strategy

Investment will increase number of British satellites orbiting Earth

The UK will commit £968 million over 10 years to deliver a multi-satellite system known as the Istari programme. Photo: forplayday
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The UK will invest £1.4 billion ($1.89bn) to launch more satellites as part of its first defence space strategy.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was crucial that Britain pushes the “frontiers of our defence space ambitions” to stay “one step ahead of our competitors”.

As part of the public investment, £968 million will be committed over the next 10 years to deliver a multi-satellite system – known as the Istari programme – to support greater global surveillance and intelligence for military operations, the Ministry of Defence said.

A further £61 million will explore laser communications technology to deliver data from space to Earth at a speed equivalent to that of superfast broadband.

The defence space strategy follows the national space strategy, which was published in September.

In the latest document, the MoD outlines how it plans to protect the UK’s national interests in space in an era of “ever-growing threats”.

International rows over satellites, space weaponry and collisions in orbit have increased in recent years, causing friction between the US, China and Russia.

With the UAE set to launch Arab world’s first mission to the lunar surface, 2022 could be when the space race really heats up.

The MoD said Britain’s space strategy would stimulate growth in the sector and support highly skilled jobs nationwide while allowing Britain to work more closely with its Nato allies, including the US.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace MP visited the US Air Force's Space and Missile Centre in Los Angeles last year. Photo: Ministry of Defence

The newly announced money is on top of the existing £5 billion being used to upgrade the UK’s Skynet satellite communications capability, providing strategic communication services to the UK armed forces and allies.

“It’s crucial we continue to push the frontiers of our defence space ambitions, enhancing our military resilience and strengthening our nation’s security,” the Defence Secretary said.

“This significant investment will help to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of space innovation and one step ahead of our competitors.”

Mr Wallace is in Croatia as part of a diplomatic tour to defuse tension between Russia and Ukraine.

On Tuesday, he was due to make a written statement to the House of Commons on the strategy.

Minerva and Prometheus 2 in the pipeline

Supporting programmes funded through existing investment will also form part of the strategy.

The intention is said to be to provide “cutting-edge” technology for intelligence, surveillance, situational awareness, and command and control.

These include Minerva, in which £127 million will be invested over four years to develop a network of satellites to integrate space with the land, air, sea and cyber economies.

Another satellite project is Prometheus 2. Its two small satellites, each about the size of a shoebox, are set to provide a test platform for monitoring through GPS, radio signals and sophisticated imaging.

Officials said this will pave the way for a “more collaborative and connected space communication system” with combat allies.

UK Space Command, established in July, will lead the approach to space defence.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 5:07 PM