Ukspace Chairman: U.K. Offers ‘Too Little, Too Late’
“I think that one of the ways the [United Kingdom] can gain more influence is to have a more significant role at the beginning of each space program,” said Auburn, who also serves as aerospace business development director for Vega. “If you get in at the beginning — when the costs should be lower — then you can help steer the ESA program more effectively towards U.K. objectives. If you come in late, which we are doing in Kopernikus (formerly GMES), then you have very little influence, and the best roles for U.K. industry have already gone to other countries who got into the program earlier.”
UKspace, a trade association representing the British space industry, released a statement Sept. 18 critical of the government’s space efforts and calling for the U.K. government to “reinstate a robust national space program” in order to “guarantee national security in an increasingly complex international environment,” he said. “There should be a much stronger focus on the contribution of space to U.K. national civil security, with rigorous monitoring of threats to military and civil space assets and infrastructure.”
The U.K. government in March published its first “National Security Strategy,” identifying nine Critical National Infrastructure sectors that rely on space-based assets, but Auburn said too often with the government it is case of “too little, too late” when getting involved in major European space programs.
“The U.K. is often reluctant to get in early, until they know exactly what the program is all about,” Auburn said. “As a consequence, it is often too little, too late as far as we are concerned. I think on Kopernikus we have done this. We went in very low on the initial phase, and so we have had less influence on how this program has developed — and this is a strategic program for Europe, with global implications.”
While Auburn is optimistic that lessons can be learned, a complicated political hierarchy means prioritizing space programs can be difficult. “I think some of the lessons have been absorbed. One of them is that there are probably too many U.K. government departments involved in space funding,” said Auburn. “While we do not have one single agency, it remains difficult to make key decisions early enough in the process, particularly when the lead department may be an end user department that wants to use the data but struggles to fund the infrastructure. It is really more of a political issue in the [United Kingdom] and unless there is a very obvious link between department and space program, it is difficult for a new space program to get funded early.”
At a meeting of European Space Agency (ESA) space ministers scheduled for November, one of items up for discussion is placing an ESA facility in the United Kingdom. Auburn believes the opening of such a facility would be a significant boost to the U.K. space industry.
“We really do need to achieve this ESA facility in the [United Kingdom], and we hope that this will be decided in the November ESA Ministerial conference,” said Auburn. “I think this would raise the profile of space and ESA in the [United Kingdom] significantly. It would grab the public’s interest and show that space is not something done only by NASA, but that the [United Kingdom] and rest of Europe are leading a world-class space industry. It will help people to understand the benefits coming from space and how it can solve serious issues facing the world such as climate change, poverty and security.”
While the United Kingdom cooperates with both Europe and the United States on space issues, Auburn believes improving these relationships is critical for a successful future for the U.K. space industry. “At the moment, military space surveillance in the [United Kingdom] is dependent on a strong relationship with the [United States],” he said. “We believe that we also need to work more with European partners in things such as Space Situational Awareness, which ESA is looking to do. There are major European space programs where the [United Kingdom] would only need to put in 15 percent to 17 percent of the money in order to gain the full benefit of the program. We need to achieve a better balance between using the special relationship we have with the [United States] and working with Europe so that we can benefit from those programs as well.”
Auburn also wants more awareness of the impact space can have in areas such as national security. “We need to look at the security and defense aspects,” he said. “We reviewed the National Security Strategy and this was our response, looking at the [Critical National Infrastructure] elements and how space could improve our resilience to the threats. It has not really been made clear enough to or by government just how much space is involved in our day-to-day lives. If you look at the [Ministry of Defence], 90 percent of what they do is dependent on space. What we are trying to do is raise the profile to a higher level in government so they can take it more seriously and see that investing in space is really good for meeting their strategic goals and delivering security as well as good for the man in the street.”