Despite the twin challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, the UK’s space industry has not just survived but thrived. A new trade show, Space-Comm, took place in Farnborough on 7 to 8 July to showcase the manufacturing supply chain for products, services and solutions supplying commercial enterprises and developments in space. UKSA’s Ian Annett delivered one of the keynote speeches at the event and spoke with Global Defence Technology about the secrets behind the UK’s space success, and the interdependency between commercial and defence space operations.

Berenice Healey: What was the goal of the event from a UKSA perspective?

Ian Annett: From an agency perspective it’s the first opportunity of the year to get the space community together again. I think of it as an opportunity to highlight the government’s ambitions in space and get back in touch with a community that has been very two-dimensional for the last 15 months.

As I said in my speech this morning, Claude Debussy said that music is made between the notes. And it’s very much like it is here; at the conference, there is that value of being able to talk to people on the corner of the stand or over a coffee and we can develop better relationships and understanding, and share ideas about what’s good for industry, governments, the planet and its people, which is very much the mission of the agency.

What are the UKSA’s ambitions for the year ahead?

One of the biggest ambitions that we’ve got is beginning UK launches in 2022, and new events offering us a real opportunity to corner a rapidly growing part of the space market. It’s exciting to be able to speak to the spaceports here; we’ve been engaging with Cornwall, Sutherland and Shetland, all of which have got plans to launch satellites from UK soil from next year. We don’t do that just for launches’ sake, of course, the market is there for the UK to help us grow back.

When you look at the space economy, particularly with small satellites over the last couple of years, the amount of private venture and private equity has kind of gone up by 25%, and when you look at the number of small satellites that have gone into space over the last few years there’s been a massive increase. That’s a part of the market that we can capture from a UK perspective.

The UK is absolutely brilliant, designing and manufacturing small satellites. We have satellite operation centres in the UK because we’ve got a stable legal framework and a well-regulated space industry, and we’re great at exporting data and all the apps that come with it. But the one part that’s missing from that of course is launch. And if you have a full end-to-end capability, all the way from design and manufacture launching satellite operations and then taking that data down and exploiting it, that gives you a really powerful capability, in both economic and security terms.

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If you look at the size and health survey that we released recently, we’ve seen significant growth in the space economy. Within the UK it’s worth over £16.5bn. It’s really important to us to keep that bottle-fed by doing the research and development. We expended some £700m on R&D, which represents about 4% of that, which is well above the national average.

The other bit plays to us being a science superpower as well. The priorities over the next year are about making sure that we can think about resilient space-based capabilities. Our critical national infrastructure depends increasingly on space-based assets; we want to make sure that we can improve that resilience.

Space is not the only place that you can improve resilience, but it certainly offers an opportunity to look at what else we can do from space to improve that resilience and protect our critical national infrastructure. But also, Earth observation for climate change, particularly important ahead of COP26, and also making sure we’ve got large programmes like Skynet which exists within MOD, of course, to improving our secure communication to protect more armed forces on a global scale.

Many defence and commercial activities share space assets. How does UKSA get involved in that relationship?

I’ve got an increasingly close relationship with Director Space [Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth] and also commander Space Command [Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey] and it’s no surprise that capabilities in space are increasingly capable of dual-use.

That becomes not only an effective way of providing space capability and is efficient for the government, but it also brings great minds together in the way the defence and civil space collaborate, so we’re increasingly closely aligned with the Ministry of Defence in our thinking.

There are areas that exist outside of that Venn diagram that are purely commercial, but there are many other areas where one man’s Earth observation is another man’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and we want to explore that as best we can, within the limits of security classifications. I’m really heartened by the relationship that we have with defence. I spent last week with Harv Smith, travelling to Shetland and Sutherland looking at our proposed launch sites.

How do you manage the two-way nature of securing space, both securing the assets in the space and how space assets provide vital services on the ground?

From a defence perspective around Skynet and the like, that’s probably one of the hardest to pick up on. When I look at it from a civil perspective, I look back on what I refer to as creating duality, diversity and redundancy. If you can provide that level of resilience by having alternative paths, for example, our space-based position, navigation and timing programme, then you might come up with some novel ways of doing that. Not just satellites in a medium Earth orbit like BeiDou, GPS and Galileo, you might do something completely different and supplement it with terrestrial capabilities as well.

I think of it as layers of resilience, rather than links in a chain of security where if you break that one link, we’ve lost a whole lot. If you think about them as layers on top of each other, that provides you that that kind of forward-looking resilience, and the same applies whether it’s communication capabilities or for Earth observation.

What would your message be for defence industry professionals who want to partner with UK space?

I think there are three things, and this is a collective message because I can’t lay this at the feet of industry, but across the sector in which I include government as well.

We’ve got to be bold; we’ve got to be ambitious. The first thing I’d say is either that bold ambition that we need as a headmark. The second thing is, we’ve got to move swiftly; we can’t hang around because either people will take advantage of us economically, or we’ll lag behind from a security perspective.

And the third thing is we’ve got to be prepared to take calculated risks. The space industry has traditionally used a waterfall approach for acquisition. We’ve got to try and bring agile acquisition methodologies into space and see whether we can fail fast, learn, and move forward.