Space to Improve: The Missing Answers and Vagaries in Space Strategy in the Integrated Review

Fabians' Defence & Security
3 min readMay 18, 2021

Opaque government investments and questions on sustainability need to be urgently clarified

Laurence Russell is a journalist who covers the UK space sector. He can be found at https://lcrussell.co.uk/journalism

The recent Integrated Review reiterated the country’s commitment to a UK commercial launch in 2022 from Scotland, most likely referring to a delayed set of test flights originally intended to fly in 2020 with Lockheed Martin, now to be run at Shetland Spaceport. Both Skyrora and Orbex have also expressed intention to fly from Sutherland in 2022.

Clarification on Oneweb’s place within the architecture of Skynet 5 (our existing military satellite deployment) is desired. Military low Earth orbit (LEO) support is seeing definition via the U.S. DoD’s Blackjack program, which will be well placed to assist NATO members after its successful rollout, which could be as early as 2022. Given our own network of LEO data satellites will possess explicit military functions, the question remains whether we are following in America’s footsteps or pursuing a different strategy.

Similarly, the developing role of the new UK Space Command stands to be defined. Orbital tracking is becoming a vital aspect of global security, both against threats and the growing issue of debris. With tracking centres opening across the NATO-aligned world, the UK ought not fall behind as a global intelligence leader.

UK-based launch is an impressive precedent, and a strong gesture at the head of a growing newspace economy. Spaceport infrastructure is vital to commercialising space, but we must learn from the world’s foremost space powers and progress sustainably. Green rocket fuels such as Ecosene, developed by Scottish space company Skyrora, alongside space debris mitigation technologies like Astroscale’s magnetic satellite docking plates, developed with the help of UK scientists, are two such technologies that ought to be recognised and embraced earlier rather than later in the interest of a forward-facing space economy.

The review expresses intention to operate harmoniously with American and European space agencies as well as that of Japan and Australia. While other NATO-aligned space powers could certainly be named, the absence of UAESA is felt. National and commercial entities within the United Arab Emirates have a several ambitious space missions planned, some of which have worked directly with Airbus — as with the Thuraya 4-NGS project and several others.

More widely, global standards for debris mitigation remain undefined. With the assistance of ESA, France has made the first steps toward genuine space regulation, but the U.S. has avoided such commitments. Given the scope of the debris issue, decisive, prudent legal precedents should be formed now, just as the UK has committed themselves to their climate targets. Comprehensive regulation disincentivising the propagation of space junk and mandating the deorbit of derelicts is what the world needs to avoid risking orbital catastrophe. The same can be said of RF spectrum allocations, as the reallocations recently undertaken in America have caused significant and avoidable economic shock.

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Fabians' Defence & Security

Defence & Security arm of the Fabian Society, commenting on UK defence and national security policy.