Written Evidence Submitted by Dr Jonathan Eastwood, Director of the Space Lab Network of Excellence and Senior Lecturer, Department of Physics, Imperial College London

(SPA0035)

 

Executive summary

1.1.   It is widely accepted that Space Safety and Security must be a fundamental cornerstone of the UK’s Space Policy and Strategy. It is of the utmost importance that all such Policy and Strategy in this area is evidence-based, particularly given the unique technical and environmental constraints of the space domain.

1.2.   Imperial College London, through its Space Lab Network of Excellence[1], and the London Institute of Space Policy and Law[2] (ISPL) have recently conducted two Studies examining the current status of UK policy in the field of Space Safety and Security, as well as the potential of Imperial to provide evidence-based information.

1.3.   This Submission is presented with the aim of highlighting these Reports and findings to the Committee, since Space Safety and Security needs to be a key thematic element of future UK Space Policy and Strategy. The findings of both Reports suggest that the UK Government needs to make it a priority to develop a UK Space Policy and Strategy which:

 

  1. Space Safety and Security

2.1.   Access to and use of space is of increasing national significance, identified as a key technological, research and strategic priority for the UK. The national interest in space is based in part on strategic civil and military security concerns, as society becomes increasingly dependent on space-based systems for communications, Positioning/Navigation/Timing, 5G, Earth observation, climate change, space weather, integrated applications such as the Internet of Things and more.

2.2.   The anticipated dramatic expansion of space activities and reliance on them in the next decade brings environmental, technical, and social risk. Electronics are fundamental to space systems, but the space environment is hazardous and so space weather monitoring, prediction and mitigation, including procedures in case of temporary disruption to services such as navigation and communication, are basic requirements. Space Traffic Management (STM) is critical in the era of satellite Mega-Constellations at altitudes where orbital life may be long. New regulatory controls will need to be brought into place both at national and intergovernmental level to ensure safe usage and reasonable access to orbits. The overall operational control of constellations will require much autonomy in compact systems. Finally, the demand for radio bandwidth for operations needs well-informed intra-governmental agreement to manage allocation.

2.3.   In 2020, the Imperial College London Space Lab Network of Excellence[5] (ICL Space Lab) and the London Institute of Space Policy and Law[6] (ISPL) performed a joint Study examining the potential of Imperial to contribute to the development of an evidence-based UK Space Safety policy. In performing this work, a survey of the status of existing policy in this area was carried out. The findings of the Study are presented in the 2020 Report[7] reviewing the current status of UK Space Safety Policy and the ability of Imperial to contribute to evidence-based policy development.

2.4.   A key finding summarised in the 2020 Report is that “Although Space Safety is an area of growing international importance and fundamental to the UK’s aspirations in space generally, there is no dedicated reference to Space Safety in current UK Space Policy (including Strategy) documents.” There are, however, certain identifiable policy directions and related strategic approaches by the UK Government in the five Space Safety subject areas of Terrestrial Environmental Impacts of Space Activities, Space Debris, Planetary Defence, Space Weather and Space Traffic Management. These are summarised in Section 3 below, with a brief analysis of the outstanding issues and questions that a new UK Space Policy and Strategy should address.

2.5.   The 2020 Report further identifies two general recommendations to advance knowledge-based Policy and Strategy development concerning Space Safety:

            the publication of an official organigram or other official graph outlining UK policy (including strategy)-making regarding each subject area in general, as well as an official procedure that academic actors could follow to contribute proactively to it; and

            the maintenance of an official, continuously updated and easy-to-access government list of its promoted domestic and international strategic measures concerning each subject area, along with information on resource (including funding) allocation.

 

  1. Space Safety Subject Area-specific findings and recommendations

3.1.   Terrestrial Environmental Impacts of Space Activities. The 2020 Study finds in this area identifiable directions to the UK’s Space Policy and Strategy, with a clear desire to prevent adverse environmental changes on Earth as a consequence of space activities (primarily launch). Nevertheless, there are several outstanding issues, and a key element of future UK Space Policy and Strategy should be developing reliable evidence to inform:

            reasonable environmental impact guidelines for the licencing of both space objects and spaceports;

            the advancement of reliable and reasonable domestic and international environmental regulations;

            the clarification of the UK’s preferred future role in the EcoDesign branch of ESA’s Clean Space initiative;

            the increased raising of awareness about space activities’ terrestrial environmental impacts.

Space Debris. Analysis of this area indicates policy directions to improve the UK’s space debris and associated (non-malicious) hazard surveillance capabilities to meet the significant threat they present to national security or socioeconomic development and welfare, and building national resilience capabilities and capacities to match such hazards. A number of areas need consideration in developing UK Space Policy and Strategy, where evidence-based information is needed to inform:

            the continuous development of domestic guidelines addressing rapidly-evolving space debris issues;

            the advancement and streamlining of reliable and reasonable domestic and international space debris regulations;

            the clarification of the UK’s preferred future role in the space environment branches of ESA’s Clean Space initiative;

            the determination and implementation of further domestic and international Space surveillance and data exchange mechanisms;

            the determination and implementation of a sound domestic and international mechanism for the development of and the provision of access to removal and mitigation technologies;

            the increased raising of awareness about space debris issues, including by conducting further studies, and the active discouragement of identified or presumed related problematic space activities.

3.2.   Planetary Defence. Again, the analysis contained in the 2020 Report suggests that the UK has the policy directions of improving the UK’s Near Earth Object (NEO) space surveillance capabilities (related to the previous area) and developing some capability and capacity to solve/mitigate such hazards. There is evidence of promoting engagement both internationally and domestically and supporting work addressing regulatory challenges. Looking to the future, the following areas were identified as requiring examination, and the input of evidence, in UK Space Policy and Strategy development:

            the development of an authoritative definition of NEOs;

            the systematic selection of appropriate mitigation or deflection measures;

            the clarification of the UK’s preferred future role in ESA’s S2P Planetary Defence topic area, Space Mission Planning Advisory Group and International Asteroid Warning Network;

            the advancement of NEO observation capabilities and related database-building domestically and internationally;

            the increased building of public awareness;

            the development of a fully-fledged UK severe NEO strike preparedness strategy similar to severe space weather events, despite the low probability of such strikes.

3.3.   Space Weather. The UK Government strategy for space weather is relatively well defined in comparison to the other areas considered here, through the existence of the Space Weather Preparedness Strategy (with a new version to be released in the near future), together with the National Space Policy and National Space Security Policy. The 2020 Report finds that the policy direction is to improve the UK’s available capabilities and capacities in space weather monitoring and forecasting, and to build national resilience capabilities. Of particular importance is the ability to withstand a severe space weather event. Although the space weather strategy is well advanced, the future UK Space Policy and Strategy should ensure that evidence-based information is used in:

            the inclusion of space weather components that are not related to the Sun;

            the further evaluation of space weather impacts on existing and emerging UK space assets;

            the systematic selection and promotion of appropriate mitigation measures, with a view to the fact that impacts of events may vary and different assets may be affected differently;

            the development of detailed response plans to less-severe space weather events;

            the clarification of the UK’s preferred future role in ESA’s Space Safety Programme Space Weather topic area, as well as other international space weather coordination mechanisms;

            the further advancement of cross-national data exchange;

            the increased building of public awareness.

3.4.   Space Traffic Management. Although there is no international consensus on the precise definition of STM, the concept of having mechanisms for the safe launch, operation, and return of space objects free from interference is clear. However, the 2020 Report could only conclude that that the UK has no identifiable policy directions and related basic strategic approach in the STM subject area. Nevertheless, by planning to implement the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and through other evidence, the UK Government clearly sees the benefit of a mature and global STM system. Further areas of action indicated by this analysis include:

            the comprehensive deliberation and determination of gaps and priorities in STM;

            the creation and adoption of consistent domestic and international procedures to discuss, decide on and implement STM;

            the encouragement of more public engagement and educational activities in developing STM;

            the further promotion of the development of STM enabling technology and the determination of a mechanism that creates fair access to STM technology.


  1. The Challenge of Mega-Constellations

4.1.   The decision by UK government in July 2020 to take a £500m stake in OneWeb (the only European mega-constellation) is highly significant for the UK’s Space Policy and Strategy. This decision strategically places the UK as the first major European player in the constellation-based communications market, but at the same time triggers direct involvement in a highly complex technical and political landscape.

4.2.   Satellite Mega-Constellation projects such as SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper project propose to bring high-speed internet access anywhere on Earth. Emblematic of the rise of “NewSpace”, these rapidly evolving technological capabilities are driving significant disruption and play into all aspects of Space Safety and Security. A strong evidence-based Space Policy and Strategy is therefore crucial to navigating the fluid and dynamic challenges posed by these developments.

4.3.   The identification in the 2020 Report of such substantial UK policy gaps in Space Safety and Security is thrown into sharp relief by the rise of Mega-constellations. To scope the potential problems more precisely, in 2021, ICL Space Lab and ISPL performed a second Study, using the expertise of academics at Imperial to identify the major areas of concern relating to Space Safety and Security as applied to Mega-constellations. These are described in a recently published ReportSatellite Mega-Constellation Safety and Security: Importance of Evidence-Based Information” (the 2021 Report)[8] and must be factored into the policies and strategies that constitute the new UK Space Strategy. Furthermore, there is a pressing need for the UK government to acquire evidence-based knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about policy and strategy relating to the following areas of concern:


  1. UK Strengths

5.1.   The UK has proven strengths in space technology and research that have enabled it to enjoy an advantage in developing its space sector capabilities. To maintain this position strategies should be adopted to retain and develop the skills and knowledge needed in the new space environment. This will not only support and advance the UK space sector but is critical to the development and adoption of evidence-based policies and strategies.

5.2.   Research and academic institutions are central to creating the skilled and knowledgeable work force of the future, as well as creating the evidence to support development of appropriate policies and strategies. This was illustrated in the case of Imperial alone by both the 2020 and the 2021 Reports identifying where Imperial, as a leading research-intensive university, has the potential to develop and provide evidence-based information and knowledge relevant for the development of the UK Space Policy and Strategy in the field of Space Safety and Security. Space Safety and Security is closely aligned to many aspects of Imperial’s Academic Strategy 2020-2025 and so both Imperial and ISPL will continue to focus on this area in the future. Both entities remain at the disposal of the Committee to discuss these issues and provide any further information that the Committee may find useful in its Inquiry.

  1. Contributors

6.1.   Dr Jonathan Eastwood is a senior lecturer in Space and Atmospheric Physics group, part of the Department of Physics at Imperial College London. His research interests include space weather, space plasma physics, and developing novel miniaturised instrumentation for space weather monitoring. Since September 2019 he has served as Director of the Space Lab Network of Excellence.

6.2.   Space Lab is the multi-disciplinary Network of Excellence for all space-related activities at Imperial College London. It has >130 members drawn from across Imperial. The purpose of Space Lab is to bring together all of Imperial’s activities in space in a coordinated way for the benefit of its members, Imperial, and society at large. Its focus is on societal and community outreach, industry and enterprise, academic partnerships, and contributions to evidence-based policy. Delivering this requires a strong internal community and so in addition to bringing together many different academic departments, Space Lab works directly with a variety of College partners including: Advancement, the Community Engagement Team at White City, Societal Engagement, the Office of the Provost, the Enterprise division, and The Forum, Imperial’s policy engagement programme.

6.3.   ISPL is an independent institution associated with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London University. Its Board and multi-disciplinary Faculty includes internationally acknowledged leaders in space related topics.  It has close links with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), national space agencies, commercial enterprises, law firms and academic institutions around the world. ISPL performs independent and commissioned research in space policy and law, publishing associated reports and studies and provides supervision of research degree students. The Director of ISPL is Prof. Sa’id Mosteshar. The lead researcher and author of both the 2020 and 2021 reports was Dr Christoph Beischl, ISPL Research Fellow. Dr Beischl is also an Academic Visitor in the Department of Physics, Imperial College London.

(June 2021)


[1] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/spacelab

[2] https://www.space-institute.org

[3] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/research-centres-and-groups/space-lab/public/Informing-UK-Space-Safety-Policy_ICL-ISPL-Final-Report_20200910.pdf

[4] https://www.space-institute.org/app/uploads/1624274461_Final_Draft_v1_-__Policy_Paper_ICL-ISPL_UK_Satellite_Mega-Constellation_Policy_Project_cb_ISPL_20210331.pdf

[5] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/spacelab

[6] https://www.space-institute.org

[7] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/research-centres-and-groups/space-lab/public/Informing-UK-Space-Safety-Policy_ICL-ISPL-Final-Report_20200910.pdf. See also associated news articles: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/206993/we-need-evidencedbased-space-strategy-academics/ and blog posts https://blogs.imperial.ac.uk/the-forum/2020/10/08/evidence-and-safety-must-be-central-to-the-uks-space-strategy/, as well as a briefing event to key industry and government stakeholders https://www.imperial.ac.uk/events/117832/space-in-the-2020s-safety-and-security/

[8] https://www.space-institute.org/app/uploads/1624274461_Final_Draft_v1_-__Policy_Paper_ICL-ISPL_UK_Satellite_Mega-Constellation_Policy_Project_cb_ISPL_20210331.pdf