Solution Lead, Space, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence
4 Feb 2022
For centuries, people have gazed towards the heavens, imagining the possibilities that lie beyond the stars. But today, such excitement is tinged with the knowledge that space is now increasingly contested by allies and adversaries alike. Here, John Young examines the UK government’s first ever Defence Space Strategy, which sets out plans to protect interests, stimulate growth and support jobs
Space. Rarely does one word enjoy such resonance across the generations. The hunger to explore the universe and discover the secrets of the stars has inspired humanity for centuries and continues anew today.
Space, though, is more than just a source of reverence and wonder. It is now fundamental to our very way of life. From global communication networks to transport systems, weather forecasts to smart phone navigation, space is an ever-present in our daily lives. And defence is no exception.
Now, of course, this is nothing new. In 1961, when President Kennedy used a speech before a Joint Session of Congress to announce plans to land a man on the moon that decade, the ambition was framed within the wider context of the ongoing cold war with the Soviet Union.
Some 60 years later, that contest endures in different guises and different players, but it is no less important.
As my colleague Paul Spedding has pointed out, there are many reasons why space is so important to defence. At a time when the UK’s Ministry of Defence is poised to deliver a digital backbone to the country’s armed forces, it is through space that activities such as secure global communications and navigation, mission planning and tracking of hostile activity – to name a few – can take place. No wonder space is now an operational domain in its own right – along with air, land, maritime and cyber.
It was against this background that the UK government recently unveiled its long awaited Defence Space Strategy, setting out plans to operationalise the space domain. The document couldn’t have been timelier.
No longer a contest just for super powers, a great many nations are today jostling for celestial advantage. Our constellation of satellites and space systems provide abundant targets for cyber-attacks and other sub-threshold activity by adversaries. At the same time, some are testing anti-satellite weapons – while not reminiscent of a scene from Star Wars, a calm and secure environment it is not.
The power of partnerships
So, what to make of the government’s plans?
The strategy is well aligned with the wider strategic priorities for space and will help support the UK’s ambitions in the domain. And of course, the extra cash – £1.4 billion for defence space technologies over the next 10 years – is to be welcomed, especially at a time when government funds have been drained by the impact of the pandemic. This additional cash will help deliver a step change from data for space to actionable intelligence delivered to and tasked by the end user.
But it’s not just about spending money – it’s about how it is spent, and for what purpose.
The good news for those of us in the UK is that we can call upon a space sector which blends ingenuity with heritage, innovation with expertise. Already, it is worth more than £16.4 billion per year and employs over 45,000 people. Given that the global space economy is expected to expand from an estimated £270 billion in 2019 to £490 billion by 2030, the opportunity for yet further growth is clear.
Now, I work for BAE Systems Digital Intelligence so I would say this, I know, but of particular importance in the strategy was the emphasis placed on partnerships. That’s because the best and brightest are at work not only in Whitehall’s corridors of power, but across academia and the private sector too. Greater collaboration across these sectors would help garner even better results.
In some areas this is already happening – take the tiny, shoe-box sized satellite known as Prometheus 2, for example. Manufactured by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, it is operated by our colleagues at In-Space Missions and its payload will provide a test platform for monitoring through GPS, radio signals and sophisticated imaging. In turn, this will support the Ministry of Defence’s science and technology activities both in orbit and on the ground.
It’s this type of work – bold, innovative and cutting edge – that will propel the UK forward in this new space race. A race for new scientific discoveries; a race for further exploration; a race for the latest technologies; and a race for new jobs and prosperity.
At BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, we’re excited to be playing our part in supporting the Ministry of Defence’s ambitions and those of our partners to help deliver a real change in resilient capabilities – now and into the future.
About the author
John Young is a Solution Lead, Space, at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence
We have been working in this ‘Space’ for more than two decades. We have specialist technologies in waveforms, electronics, antenna and digital signal processing and analytics with 20 years in ground based signal processing for various space agencies.