Yesterday the Secretary of State for Defence made a series of announcements regarding the UK’s ability to operate in space and with allies.
The announcements are welcome news for the UK’s defence and space industries and demonstrate opportunities for change in the way the MOD works with industry.
Front and centre of yesterday’s news was the announcement that the UK will be committing £30m to a small satellite demonstrator. The project will be taken forward by a new transatlantic team of UK and US defence personnel named Team ARTEMIS.
The small satellite demonstrator will be funded through the Transformation Fund – money brought together by the previous Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson and designed to fund the development of technologies necessary for modern operations.
Given the increasing importance of national presence in space and Brexit raising the issue of sovereign capability the announcement is timely and gives UK industry further confidence that there are opportunities for UK businesses.
The UK has a burgeoning space industry with companies of all sizes working on all forms of technology from propulsion and guidance to payloads and miniaturisation. Small satellites are a new venture for the MOD, this agile form of space capability is far from the large programmes such as SKYNET and should offer more flexibility for industry.
Small satellites enter lower orbits and can be sent into space in a much more cost-effective manner than larger platforms. Smaller satellites are also used in greater numbers within constellations and are already widely used in commercial sectors, there are lessons that defence can learn from these first adopters.
It is important that UK companies are directly approached with these opportunities and are supported when looking to collaborate with the MOD. The UK space industry has a myriad of potential customers and opportunities in various sectors; Defence must be an attractive customer and adapt business practices to accommodate these companies. SMEs in the technology sectors (space and digital communications in particular) can move at a rapid pace; the MOD must look to move just as quickly to harness their technologies.
Also announced yesterday was the news that the UK will join Operation Olympic Defender and second an RAF test pilot into the Virgin Orbit small satellite programme. This intention to remain operationally close to the US and engage with large commercial space projects demonstrates a pragmatic view from the UK MOD to remain at the forefront of global space capability.