Written Evidence Submitted by NATS




    1. NATS is the UK’s leading air navigation services specialist providing, under license, en route air traffic management services over the UK and eastern North Atlantic from centres at Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire.  In addition, we are contracted to provide air traffic control services at 14 major UK airports, and offshore services to the world’s busiest heliport in Aberdeen in support of the North Sea oil and gas industry.
    2. Airspace is a critical pillar of UK national transport infrastructure supporting the wider economy. It enables the safe and efficient passage of aircraft, connectivity with markets across the globe, goods to be transported, and supports tourism.
    3. Prior to the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK was the third largest aviation market in the world, behind only China and the United States, with direct connectivity to over 370 international destinations. Aviation contributes £52bn to the economy, employs a million people, and is a key enabler for trade – 40% of the UK’s non-EU trade by value travels by air.  We hope to get back to doing what we do best when Covid restrictions allow.
    4. NATS thanks the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee for the opportunity to contribute to its inquiry into a new UK space strategy and UK satellite infrastructure.  Our response is principally concentrated on the provision of national space-focused services to the commercial sector which also enable a national safety and security oversight capability.
    5. If the UK wishes to be a leading spacefaring nation and grow its contribution to the global space economy to 10% by 2030, the UK will need to manage its space flight and orbital activities in a manner that minimises the risks and maximises the opportunities of space.
    6. There are two basic capabilities that the State will need to provide to ensure that innovation can thrive both safely and securely. These are the Space Situational Awareness technology capability and Space Traffic Management procedural capability.  We will focus our response on the benefits that these capabilities would bring.

Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Technology Capability

There are a significant number of objects in space which can endanger spaceflight, and there is currently no full understanding or picture of where these objects are. Safety is NATS’ first priority and it must also be the first priority for space management. The UK should construct a space surveillance capability, in conjunction with other global partners, to enable increased situational awareness in space.

This capability would provide:

The provision of Orbital Debris Management and Space Surveillance and Identification would enable essential details of potentially hazardous and conflicting objects to be provided to commercial operators to ensure the safe launch, operation and recovery of commercial space vehicles.  It would also enable the UK’s security interests to be met.

Space Traffic Management (STM) Procedural Capability

The increased situational awareness of where objects are in space will enable the UK to establish a system of Space Traffic Management (STM) akin to the management of airspace at lower levels by NATS.  This would enhance the safety, stability, and sustainability of operations in the space environment.

This capability would provide:

The benefits of SSA and STM can be best demonstrated by the un-managed return to earth of a Chinese Long March 5B core stage in May 2021. SSA would provide the ability to track and manage debris in space, while STM would provide the knowledge of potential conflicts and what actions to take to resolve any conflicts

This proposed model of capabilities is similar to that proposed in the USA, where the Federal Aviation Authority is developing the Space Data Integrator, to enable more efficient use of airspace to support spaceflight. The system integrates feeds from multiple sources and allows the FAA to manage space flight and notify the ANSP of both clear airspace or the need to clear additional airspace in the event of catastrophic failures or unplanned re-entry by an orbital object. The provision of such a facility in the UK would support the safe and sustainable use of airspace for all users as the frequency of spaceflight increases and new technologies such as sub-orbital flights become reality.

Other space-based services that would benefit UK-based space operators include:

The above services could cumulatively deliver:


(June 2021)