Written evidence submitted by ATHENA (INR0070)



Athena is pleased to submit this submission to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on The FCO and the Integrated Review.


This submission focuses on the role of the space sector and space capability in UK foreign policy and the Global Britain approach of the current Government.


Accordingly, we have focused this submission on the following areas of the Call to Evidence:

- The priorities for UK foreign-policy strategy;

- The relationship of the FCO with other UK Government departments in foreign-policy strategy;

- UK allies, and how they shape or contribute to the FCO’s strategy; and,

- Resource priorities, and areas that the FCO has deprioritised.


1. About Athena


Athena is the UK’s new national team in space, formed by Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK. The four companies are world leaders in providing technology and services across defence, space, communications and information technology to governments, businesses and other organisations.


Athena has been formed to seize development opportunities that new space technologies will offer, driving economic growth for the UK and diversification across the British space sector as Athena succeeds.


The combined capabilities and technologies available to Athena will enhance the country’s ability to deliver the UK’s ‘Prosperity and Security in Space’ strategy, which aims to increase the value of space to wider industrial activities to £500 billion, generate an extra £5 billion in UK exports and attract £3 billion of additional inward investment.


Athena will work on several opportunities that leverage space-based technologies, their ground-based systems and end-to-end services as they arise, both in the UK and internationally in the export market.


The UK has significant potential for strong growth in the space sector, as it develops in importance worldwide to facilitate new technologies, such as driverless transport, enhanced navigation, secure communications for defence and for industry via the Internet of Things (IoT) and, more broadly, as part of 5G and other hybrid networks.


While continuing to operate as separate companies, Athena will see Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK – already major employers in the UK – develop shared capabilities to meet future demand for space-enabled solutions for business and government customers. This will also aim to boost the UK economy, in partnership with the UK Government’s growing focus on the space sector and its priorities around ‘levelling up’ economic benefits across the country.


Unleashing untapped potential in the UK space sector through future export business will deliver further growth and job creation at the four companies’ sites across the country, as well as enhanced skills in the UK workforce.


2. Importance of space as a foreign policy consideration


This submission focuses on the critical role of the UK space sector in UK foreign policy, including our security, global influence, resilience and exports. We believe it is critical that space is considered fully in the Integrated Review (IR) and that the FCO plays a leading role in driving this focus.


a. Competitive advantage and optimising alliances


The sector currently has world-class specific space capability, but it faces intense competition from international competitors with strong domestic space programmes. Unless the UK makes a full strategic assessment of space within the context of the IR and subsequently invests in prioritised strategic capabilities, the UK risks being left behind by competitor nations, and it will miss the opportunity to develop unique strategic capabilities which complement those of its Five Eyes partners, particularly the US, and wider NATO partners.


Space is a strategic domain for all major, regional and aspirant powers. Major space nations such as the US, India, China, Russia, France and Japan are all intensifying their focus on space, identifying it as being critical to their national security and strategic autonomy; for example, France’s 2019 Defence Strategy was shaped by the strategic imperative that ‘space is now a new front that we have to defend’, that ‘strategic competition is hotting up’, and that it ‘affects commercial, industrial and geostrategic interests’. All credible space nations currently invest more in their capability than the UK but the IR represents an opportunity to address this.


The UK has committed to a National Space Strategy and a National Space Council to focus its strategic activity in space. It is important that foreign policy benefits, and the role of the FCO, MOD and Cabinet Office, as well as BEIS, are considered at the heart of such activity from a Whitehall structural perspective. The UK’s allies are increasingly concerned about the resilience of their space-based capabilities. The UK could increase its international influence by delivering critical parts of joint, layered architectures with the US and Five Eyes partners, as these architectures give greater resilience and performance.


b. UK resilience and critical national infrastructure


Space underpins the UK’s economic and security resilience. It is one of thirteen sectors classified as UK Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). Space technologies underpin over £300bn p.a. in UK economic activity. It is the means by which the nation can access remote sensing data, critical positioning, navigation and timing signals, and universal communications on which modern society relies. The Government commissioned Blackett Review highlighted a £1bn per day loss to UK productivity if the UK was to lose access to GPS signals.


c. Soft power and international development


Space is important for the UK’s soft power. The UK’s £150m ODA-funded International Partnership Programme (IPP) has funded projects in over 40 countries, with direct social, economic, environmental and humanitarian impacts on 10 UN SDGs. Space science is a global endeavour and UK institutions are cooperating with their peers in countries across the globe.


d. Exports and Global Britain


Space is also highly export focused. Two third of UK space revenues (when excluding Direct to Home television) are generated through exports. Strategic initiatives can also attract very high value Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); for example, Space Park Leicester, recently designated a DIT High Potential Opportunity.


e. Competitiveness through regulatory strategy


A proper orbital strategy affords the UK substantial influence internationally and should be a priority for the UK. Slots of national interest require protection in order to secure the ability of the UK to act from the space domain and to protect its ability to act autonomously and with partners. An orbital slot strategy is, by definition, international – coordination arrangements, sometimes via Treaty are a regular feature of the space access regime. From an organizational perspective this creates an important delivery role for regulatory bodies, including the UKSA and Ofcom, in the execution of the UK’s national space strategy. Their mandate should reflect this important role.


3. Foreign policy considerations


Given the importance of space to the FCO’s objectives, we would encourage the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) to look more deeply into this matter and request that space, as a topic within the IR, is afforded significant weight and that space-related foreign policy aspects are factored in properly.


Specific foreign policy aspects include:




July 2020