Britain is ‘lagging behind’ in space programmes


The Commons Defence Select Committee published a report today called ‘Defence Space: Through adversity to the stars?’ which reports that Britain has fallen behind other countries when it comes to space. It also states Government’s stance on space “lacked sufficient clarity and direction”.

The 41-page report claims that Britain is rated a third-ranking power when it comes to its space program.

Countries which have been rated a top tier power in space issues are the United States, China and Russia.

Japan, France and Germany were considered tier two, and Britain is behind all of them when it comes to space.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, the Committee chairman, said: “Over this inquiry we heard that the UK is, at best, a third-rank space power, lagging behind Italy, and while Government has recognised there is work to do, the Whitehall machine is not moving fast enough.”

The UK has failed to develop its own satellite navigation system following Brexit, as in 2018 Theresa May backed out of the European Union’s own system, called the Galileo project.

Britain had already invested £1.2billion into the scheme, and the move was criticised at the time by the former Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve.

He said: “Brexit was supposed to increase our strength and influence, yet here we are pulling out of a key project of great importance to our national security. To compound this disaster, we will have to pay out billions to replace the project.”

In 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched the Space Based Position, Navigation and Timing Programme (SBPP) as an alternative to the European Union’s system, but Mr Ellewood has said both projects “have has disappeared into the ether.”

He added Britain risked “falling further behind both our peers and our adversaries” and also stated: “The lack of progress is unacceptable.”

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Chairman Ellwood also said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has thrown the importance of space as a defence domain “into sharp relief”.

He said: “In Ukraine, military satellites have been relied on to provide secure communications, intelligence and weapons targeting.

“And, for the first time, we have also seen commercial systems, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, being used to support operations on the ground.”

Mr Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and the richest man in the world, gave Ukraine access to the internet through the satellite-based system Starlink, and the Ukrainian army has used it as communication between their troops as well as help the whole of Ukraine regain access to the rest of the world. 

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The committee has wanted that a lack of attention to space could help those hostile to Britain and even damage satellites, as the report states: “Space systems are under threat of deliberate attack from our adversaries

“Accidental damage from collisions in an ever-more contested and congested space environment.”

In order to solve the UK’s lack of space enterprise, the report suggests that Britain makes a new Cabinet Office position for a Minister for Space in order to “provide central leadership on space”.

It reads: “The committee calls for a Minister for Space to be appointed within the Cabinet Office to provide clear centralised direction and accountability in taking forward the UK’s civil and defence ambitions in space.”





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