Written Evidence Submitted by the London Institute of Space Policy and Law
This submission is in response to the inquiry by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) soliciting views on a range of topics relevant to the strategy to be adopted and the establishment and operation of a UK satellite infrastructure.
1. UK as a Space Nation
A number of factors are to be considered in assessing UK prospects within the international space sector. Among them are:
i. Policy and Strategy clarity, including international engagement;
ii. Regulatory certainty and stability;
iii. Government funding;
iv. Technology development; and
v. Skilled and experienced workforce.
The United States accounts for over 57% of $82.5bn world government space budget in 2020. The UK space budget in 2020 was below $1.1bn, close to that of Italy, compared to those of China ($8.9bn), France ($4bn), Russia ($3.6bn), Japan ($3.3bn), EU ($2.4), Germany ($2.4bn) and India ($2.0bn).
It is not clear whether the 2020 Government funding of space ventures and activities can be sustained. A material portion ($254m) of the $1.025bn expenditure last year included military space, with the bulk of the remainder, about $530m, constituting the UK contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA).
One may reasonably conclude that UK is unlikely to expend the financial resources to alone compete with the leading space active countries. Nor is it clear whether the required skills will be available. No reliable analysis has been made of such skills nor of any gaps that exist. Although ISPL has examined space safety and security expertise at one institution, Imperial College, the study was not a national investigation of likely future skill needs and gaps.
The best prospect for the UK to make an impact in the international space sector is through partnerships with other space active states that have compatible policies and possess complementary expertise and capabilities. ESA membership has been central to the development of UK space capabilities and industrial growth. As ESA forms closer relations with the EU and further engages in EU space programmes its relationship with and the benefits of membership derived by the UK could change. The UK could be excluded from EU space programmes managed and conducted by ESA, as the decision rests with the EU. Security related programmes would be affected, especially with the growing EU emphasis on the security role of space.
This makes partnerships with other states evermore important. The UK contribution to any partnership will be its skilled professionals and technological capabilities, particularly through research done at universities. These combined with access to the OneWeb constellation could make the UK and its partners the provider of anti-spoofing services for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems like GPS, Galileo, GLONASS and BeiDou.
2. Successful Strategies
To assess and compare policies and strategies and their success or failure it is first necessary to determine the criteria for assessment. It is notable that the objectives pursued by states differ widely. Some aim to advance access to health and education where others seek technological development and yet others prioritise growth in gross domestic product or increased participation by private entities.
To arrive at a successful set of strategies it is important that a clear policy is articulated and an assessment is made of technology requirements and availability and any skill gaps identified.
3. Satellite Infrastructure
To ensure the UK satellite infrastructure meets current and future national needs there are a number of requirements:
i. Government ownership to safeguard against changing commercial priorities and risks;
ii. Retention and development of long-term skills and institutional memory;
iii. Focus on systems and services providing societal benefits, as identified by STC;
iv. Development of sensors and systems that maximise benefits of existing systems;
v. Preservation of the space environment, central to resilience of satellite systems; and
vi. Robust cybersecurity.
The UK should remain fully engaged in efforts to establish a Space Traffic Management regime, including measures to reduce orbital debris. It should also continue to support adoption of rules of responsible behaviour in outer space for civil and military uses of space.
4. Further Action
As noted here and in our joint submission with Imperial College Space Lab, evidence is critical to the development of sound policy and strategy. There is insufficient evidence to formulate views on a number of the topics addressed by this inquiry. In particular we recommend that a study be made of skill gaps that would prevent the success of any strategy.
The relationship between the UK, ESA and the EU will both affect and be affected by policies and strategies the UK adopts. This needs to be closely monitored.
Euroconsult, Government Space Programs, 21st Edition; https://digital-platform.euroconsult-ec.com/product/government-space-programs/
Christoph Beischl, ISPL, Informing UK Space Safety Policy, 31 March 2020; https://www.space-institute.org/app/uploads/1603297587_Informing_UK_Space_Safety_Policy_ICL-ISPL_Final_Report_20201007.pdf
Jeff Foust, EU and ESA to Sign Partnership Agreement, SpaceNews, 16 June 2021; https://spacenews.com/esa-and-eu-to-sign-partnership-agreement/
Gerald Stang, Massiomo Pellegrino, Space Security for Europe, EUISS, 7 July 2016; https://www.iss.europa.eu/content/space-security-europe. See also subsequent EU Space Policy Conferences
ISPL Report, A Model for the Foundation of Effective Engagement and Collaboration between the UK and African Countries, 24 March 2016; https://www.space-institute.org/app/uploads/1492773297_ISPL_Final_IPSP_Report_24_Mar_2016_v3.pdf