Last week, the UK Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Luke Pollard, discussed how space can support the British Armed Forces in the future at the Space-Comm Expo in Farnborough, UK.

Pollard’s speech underscored the importance of space as a military domain in its own right when he argued that the UK government ought to treat it in the same way as “ships, planes and tanks” by delivering equal “opportunity, policy and funding” to the emerging area.

The UK government published its National Space Strategy in February 2022, which put forward its recognition of the importance of space to military operations, proposed a broad set of goals as well as the ways that it would go about implementing its vision.

Space has become increasingly important for supporting military operations. Satellite communications (SATCOM) are leveraged to provide a force global coverage anywhere and at any time, even in the remotest regions of the world.

However, Pollard is not convinced that the government outlines a clear requirements setting for industry to lead the way into space.

Private sector leads the way in space

At Space-Comm, Doug Liddle, the CEO of Space Missions Ltd, recognised the support the UK government gives to the space industry.

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“The UK space sector has been good at recognising commercial opportunities… Constantly we punch above our weight… it is a success story that companies are flourishing in the UK thanks to the ecosystem here.”

However, Liddle also contemplated the future needs of industry, stating: “I hope the UK will develop and deliver a strong national programme. Create the export opportunities that will see the UK level up in the next ten years.” 

Pollard’s assessment of UK space strategy

Pollard similarly called for a strong national programme.

“My theory is that the UK lacks a well defined roadmap, meaning we are falling behind our global competitors in space,” Pollard asserted.

While the private sector has spearheaded the mobilisation of space for the past decade, it may be slightly unfair to fault the government for a lack of direction when it comes to space.

Space is still an emerging domain – even if most countries today are starting to recognise its value as an economic, scientific and military asset. As it stands, all countries lack a comprehensive legal and governance base that determines the remits by which we can operate in space.

International collaboration is needed to determine the remits of space operations, but collaboration also helps with comin gup with the next generation technologies and concepts for all multi-domain and space-based challenges such as space congestion and debris among other things.

Moreover, “Space is multi year,” Liddle stated. It is widely recognised within the industry that space-goers must look at least a decade into the future as the infrastructure takes a long time to field – from launching satellites to designing and manufacturing spacecraft.

Since the UK government has already successfully demonstrated its ability to identify worthwhile commercial opportunities, perhaps we ought to give them the chance to direct future operations with a much-needed roadmap.