by David Webb, chair of UK CND and convenor of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
· Boris Johnson’s recent announcement of a £16.5billion boost to the UK’s defence budget, at the expense of the foreign aid contribution, will do nothing to keep us safe and will take resources that could help ease the strain on the NHS at this critical time.
However, it will be music to the ears of aerospace corporations as, together with the current 0.5 per cent above inflation annual increase, it means an overall increase of about £24.1billion in defence spending over four years—the biggest increase since the start of the Cold War.
Billions have been promised for technologies that will “revolutionise warfare” and plans include the establishment of a new agency dedicated to AI, a National Cyber Force and a Space Command which will launch its first rocket from Scotland by 2022.
A UK Space Command has been on the agenda for a while and follows the 2019 commitment of £30 million to fast-track the launch of a small satellite demonstrator.
Apparently it will “work alongside MOD’s recently formed Space Directorate as a joint command structure” and is needed because the space domain is “critical” to the UK remaining a “leading 21st century power”.
Space, Covid and Brexit
Space is also being viewed as a path to recovery from the economic havoc wreaked by Covid-19 and Brexit. Dr Colin Baldwin, Head of Local Growth Strategy at the UK Space Agency has said:
“We know that space will help put fuel back in the tank of the economy as it recovers from the pandemic and are determined this growth will be felt in all corners of the country.”
According to the UK Space Agency, space is one of “the UK’s fastest growing and most venerable sectors” and has trebled in size since 2010, at the last count the UK space industry employs around 42,000 people and generates an income of nearly £15billion every year.
The global space market is expected to treble in the next 10 years and the UK government wants in. It is funding a number of regional ‘space hubs’, led by a consortium of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to bring together local authorities, academic institutions, research groups and businesses to ensure that space is a priority for regional economic growth and to attract commercial investment from space companies.
Among those receiving government funding is ‘AstroAgency’ which operates across Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Space Leadership Council.
As we have mentioned in previous articles in the Voice, Scotland is well positioned geographically for the launch of small satellites into orbits used for communications and earth-observations and the UK government has asked US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to identify suitable locations for space port development.
Earlier this year planning permission was granted for a space port at the A’Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland.
The port is backed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in conjunction with the UK Space Agency and British Aerospace Company Orbex who are developing a ‘Prime’ launch vehicle for the site and have already secured contracts for six launches of commercial satellites.
Highland Council received 457 objections and 118 representations in support of HIE’s planning application. Among the objections raised were the impact on the environment, including the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area, and health risks.
However, the local authority approved the plans in June and referred their decision to the Scottish government for scrutiny. But ministers declared that their permission was not required, and the decision should be made by Highland Council.
Danish billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen, who own land near the proposed Space Hub Sutherland, have also expressed concerns about its impact on vulnerable protected areas and their company ‘Wildland Ltd’ is seeking a judicial review of Highland Council’s planning approval.
Mr Povlsen, owner of the ‘Bestseller’ retail clothing empire said to be worth £4.5billion, and his wife have bought up around 220,000 acres of Scottish countryside across 12 estates.
However, they have also invested almost £1.5million in the UK Space Agency approved Shetland Space Centre being developed by Lockheed Martin on Unst.
Perhaps a case of recognising the possible financial gains tempered by a bit of NIMBYism? Not that unusual perhaps in the world of billionaires.
It should always be remembered though that although space activities are usually presented to the public in terms of their possible commercial value, the military dark side is always present.
Space operations are often of use to both the commercial and military sectors and UKspace, the trade association of the British space industry, is working closely with the RAF to establish a Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) at the MoD’s Space Operations Centre (SpOC) in High Wycombe.
A similar set up to that currently operated by the US Space Force at the Combined Space Operations Centre in Vandenburg Air Force Base in California which is also improving interoperability between members of the US Space Command’s Operation Olympic Defender (OOD).
OOD was established to build international partnerships to ‘deter adversaries and hostile acts in space’ and the UK was the first nation to join in 2019.
The UK is also the first to obtain access to the US Standardized Astrodynamics Algorithm Library (SAAL) which contains information to help predict the locations and trajectories of satellites and objects in orbit.
Access to SAAL allows partners to better collaborate in space and to streamline multinational military operations across the globe.
It will also increase the ability of the SpOC to collaborate with the US Space Force and share data with the 18th Space Control Squadron, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
How long will it be before we see Scotland becoming directly involved in US plans for space domination, if it isn’t already? Watch this space!