Written Evidence Submitted by Northumbria University
Northumbria University is a globally facing higher education institute based in Newcastle in the North-East of England. Dedicated to empowering innovators, visionaries, and change makers to transform lives and make a remarkable impact on the world. The research of our academics is embedded in international and multi-disciplinary collaborations. Our expertise in the space domain encompasses a wide range of impactful research. We work on understanding extreme environments and space weather and the application of space medicine to both astronauts and terrestrial health issues. Our law school examines space law, policy, and the regulation of human activity to support sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space.
The recent Integrated Review ‘Global Britain in a competitive age’ highlighted the role of space-based applications and technologies in defence, security, and foreign policy. The government identified that these are going to be key drivers in the exercise of soft power, extending the influence of the United Kingdom and in generating trade and commercial activity. Given the research expertise of the submitting institution, this submission will focus on the development of an enduring National Space Strategy. This must be focused on the following long-term goals.
– The creation within the UK of an inclusive and diverse workforce with a high level of ‘space literacy’ and using space to encourage students to study cognate subjects.
– Ensuring that all space activity aligns with the UN Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines for Outer Space Activity with a special emphasis on developing world-leading capabilities in Space Situational Awareness (SSA), Active Debris Removal (ADR) and space weather monitoring.
– Focusing UK space endeavours on providing value to the terrestrial environment and communicating this value to the wider public.
– An acknowledgement of the wider applications of human spaceflight to benefit national and global health, addressing the challenges and barriers faced in securing research funding.
– A focus on research and development which embeds interdisciplinarity and collaboration with defence, commercial space actors and academia.
The management of space objects within the Earth’s orbital environment is proving to be one of the most challenging areas of technological governance. Space is a multi-national and multi-sectored common area, where scientific investigators and commercial actors work alongside sensitive military activities. The ubiquity of space applications in society coupled with the dependency of a whole range of essential earth-based systems means that national governments now need to work together to enhance our current knowledge of the space domain and wider space environment. This is an area where the UK could seek to establish leadership as a ‘data broker’ for all nations.
Traditionally, space activity within the UK had been focused on civilian applications, including the manufacture of small satellites, the application of data from space within maritime industry and scientific research into the space environment. There has also been considerable research and development enabled by membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) including, for example, the UK’s contributions to the International Space Station, Lunar Gateway, Mars Sample Return, SciSpacE and ExPeRT.
Nonetheless, space has become a significant domain for enabling the military in respect of command-and-control functions, enhanced communications, remote sensing, and global positioning systems. Additionally, within the military space sector, there are various technological advances that are shifting power that pose potential asymmetric threats to space systems such as ground stations, data, or satellites. These potential threat capabilities include anti-satellite testing, cyberattacks, or electronic warfare.
Modern space activity is therefore multi-sectored, with a whole range of actors seeking to use the space environment and any new national strategy for space must reflect this new reality. There is a considerable overlap between space security issues and the need for a safe, predictable operating environment to empower commercial applications of space. The new Strategy should seek to ensure that the foundations of all UK space activity are built on understanding responsible behaviours and norms to reduce misunderstandings and threats.
Questions to be addressed
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation individually and through international partnerships?
The UK’s global position as a space leader is contingent on the development of a National Space Strategy which permeates all UK space activity. This will allow the activity of the UK in space to be coherent, focused and based upon existing skills and new innovations. Ultimately, the long-term prospects of any nation to develop global leadership in space depends on the skill of the workforce. The issue of students studying STEM subjects should be a core concern of any national space strategy. The Strategy must be inclusive and promote equality as a core value of UK space activity in order to enrich those engaged in the study of space-related activities.
Membership of ESA should also be a core element and support for ESA should be echoed throughout the Strategy. Similarly, as a signatory to the US-led Artemis Accords, the new Strategy must focus on the addition of value to international partnerships. There is no sense in replicating activities for which other nations have well established reputations and infrastructure. The Strategy should ensure that the UK is an active contributor to ESA and Artemis programme by providing skills and knowledge that no other nation is able to provide to the same level.
The theme of partnership should be extended to the promotion of safe, sustainable, and secure usage of space. Having already adopted them, the promotion of the Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines for Outer Space Activity and sharing the knowledge of implementation at United Nations committee on the peaceful uses of outer space (UNCOPUOS will show the UK’s leadership. It will also provide opportunities for investment for UK companies and will help implementation and capacity-building in other less-developed space nations. The UK can gain a global position as a space nation by also continuing to lead by example and support responsible behaviours in space and using space systems. This is already underway with the UK-led UNGA Resolution on responsible behaviours in space promoted through the Conference on Disarmament.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base?
The UK benefits from a system of higher education that remains the envy of the world. Universities in towns and cities across the UK can provide an invaluable hub for research and innovation on a whole range of space applications and products. The National Space Strategy should have the aim of channeling funding towards these institutions as they provide not only access to world-leading research, but they represent excellent value for money, and crucially they have a level of accountability in how they spend that money. Northumbria University, for example, has considerable research expertise in satellite systems development, analysis of space weather, space medicine and the application of space medicine in a terrestrial context, as well as space law and governance. This is an example of the research and innovation expertise within one institution and can be multiplied many times over across the UK.
The UK also has considerable expertise, in both the military and civilian sectors, in Space Situational/Domain Awareness (SSA/SDA). The National Space Strategy should look to expand the collection of data about the space environment and develop the expertise of both military and civilian practitioners in the UK. This would, in turn, empower a whole range of space-based applications by providing a stable and secure space environment, allowing operational decisions to be made based on a much higher standard of space data. Perhaps crucially, this would place the UK at the forefront of discussions on SSA/SDA and the safe, sustainable, and secure use of space.
In respect of the weaknesses, perhaps the biggest single deficiency that a National Space Strategy could address is the perception of space activity as being removed from the public. The integrated benefits of space activity from a defence and security perspective, from a commercial perspective and from the perspective of the impact of space-based applications on individual lives needs to be reinforced. If the Strategy emphasizes the ubiquity of space applications and the dependency that most people have on the space environment, then more informed decisions can be made in respect of funding for space activity.
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies from the UK and the space strategies of other countries?
The UK needs space activity to become embedded within both domestic and foreign policy if the National Space Strategy is to be successful and not be seen as operating in isolation. The Strategy must be embedded within all aspects of UK space activity, especially integrating defence, security, and civilian elements where possible. A core element underpinning the Strategy must be to ensure that space takes a prominent place in governmental policy and budgetary discussions. In order to be effective, the Strategy must find a balance and synergy between existing areas of expertise and encouraging the development of new areas of strength.
As already stated, a National Space Strategy should look to place the UK as a leader in SSA/SDA with the strengths of private and military monitoring services. This could also feed into international partnerships, developing SSA/SDA expertise with the US and our European allies. Similarly, given the expertise that is already available, a national space strategy focusing on the sustainable use of space would see the UK take on a leadership role in knowledge transfer of utilising space systems data for UN SDGs, society, and environmental concerns. This could also be done in part through international partnerships as capacity building initiatives.
The Outer Space Treaty 1967 (OST) is the central trunk of international space law. It grants States the freedom to explore, use and investigate space and that use should be for peaceful purposes. Under the OST, the UK has international responsibility for its national space activity. The Strategy must ensure that the UK continues to be seen as a responsible space actor and a world leader in regulation. This means embedding both the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines and the Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines in the regulatory and licensing process.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy?
The Strategy needs to ensure that that defence and civilian use of space, cyberspace, and radio frequencies for satellites and space systems should be holistically approached to best regulate and secure those space systems. This integration and consolidation of the different interests and actors in space will ensure that all stakeholders buy-in to the Strategy and, therefore, are guided by it. This submission avers the following elements should form the central focus of the UK National Space Strategy.
Failing to embed any or all of these considerations within a national space strategy would seriously undermine the competitiveness of the UK space industry and may well present defence and security concerns regarding the capacity of the UK to defend its developing space assets.
Incorporation of these elements, however, would ensure that UK space activity has a coherence and integration unmatched throughout the world. Such a strategy would give the UK leadership in a crucial number of areas of space activity. This, in turn, would incentivise commercial space actors to invest in the UK and would also ensure that defence and security concerns were addressed. Crucially, by empowering integrated research and innovation opportunities, the economic advantages of space could be made available to every person in the UK.