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UK Space Agency Discusses New Space Policy

By Caleb Henry | January 20, 2016
      Alice Bunn UK Space Agency

      Alice Bunn, director of policy at the UK Space Agency. Photo: U.K. Space Agency

      [Via Satellite 01-20-2016] In December last year the United Kingdom released its first national space policy, outlining the country’s political approach to space. Already an advanced nation in the space domain, the U.K. aims to grow its portion of the global space industry to 10 percent by the year 2030, and reach 40 billion pounds ($56.6 billion) by the same date. Alice Bunn, director of policy at the UK Space Agency, describes the national space policy as a strong statement that the U.K. is serious about being in space.

      “What we tried to do was produce a document that is very high level and simple,” Bunn told Via Satellite. “We have a number of more detailed strategies, but what we were really missing was that overarching piece.”

      Bunn said the U.K.’s national space policy aligns different government departments behind the same objectives. The document lists more than 20 different organizations — ranging from transport, to defense, justice and even medicine — that have ways to benefit from space. To create the U.K.’s first national space policy Bunn said the country drew heavily from the United States’ space policy, and has common threads with Japan’s Basic Plan for Space Policy. Japan, she said, was less of a direct influence and more a reassurance that the U.K. was headed in the right direction.

      Industry was also influential in creating the document. Bunn said that, because space can be advantageous for improving public services like weather forecasting, national security, and the economy, ensuring the policy supported a strong industrial base was paramount. The U.K. government intends to incorporate benefits from space where possible. For example, the national space policy describes satellite broadband as the best way to bridge the digital divide for the last 5 to 10 percent of the country’s population, and companies such as Avanti, and BT in partnership with Satellite Solutions Worldwide, recently received contracts to deliver such services.

      “It’s principle-based,” explained Bunn. “The first principle is that we recognize that it is of strategic importance. By that I mean we don’t do space for reasons of national prestige; we do space because we recognize that it can be very often the most cost-effective solution. Whether you are trying to find your place in the universe, enable global telecommunications, or monitor the planet’s changing climate, very often space is the most effective and unique environment to do that.”

      Another important development related to the space industry in the U.K. is the recent publication of the “strategic defense and security review.” Bunn said this document classifies the space sector as critical national infrastructure for the first time, boosting the recognition of its importance.

      “It’s about identifying our critical national infrastructure, either for national security or for delivering essential public services — or, in the case of space, for both. We need to ensure that infrastructure is resilient, and we need a complete picture of how we use the infrastructure and what we would do in terms of backup or alternative sources if for any reason that infrastructure was unavailable. The government will take a number of steps to make sure we can rely on the infrastructure, and recognition of it is now deemed critical,” she said.

      From a national security standpoint, the U.K.’s national space policy emphasizes a commitment to protecting against non-malicious threats such as space debris and space weather, and malicious threats such as counter-space technologies. The document mentions the U.S. as a close international partner in the defense realm.

      The U.K. national space policy also addresses the highly anticipated spaceport. The document describes launch as important and mentions sub-orbital
 space tourism and micro gravity science services as means to build up crucial technical and operational know-how, leading up to launch capabilities for small satellites from the U.K.

      “A future spaceport is likely to be located in a coastal location, offering the potential to stimulate high-tech growth in local communities in Cornwall, Scotland or Wales, providing new and long term manufacturing and service jobs,” the U.K. national space policy reads.

      Bunn said the agency has not made a selection yet, and that ensuring safe and secure operations of a future spaceport remains priority at this stage.

      “The big focus today is still on the regulatory frameworks that need to be in place,” she explained. “We still consider this primarily a commercial project. We are doing this because we see a commercial benefit in having a spaceport in the U.K., and much like having airports, you can imagine years down the line there will be many different operators all operating from one spaceport.”

      Looking ahead, Bunn said this year the U.K. Space Agency has a goal of working with different entities across the country such as the department of environment and department of climate change to embed space services in government. The agency will seek to drive uptake of space services to achieve efficiencies in the public sector. Industry collaboration will also continue to be important — and not just financially. Bunn said the agency is evaluating the best ways to support the space industry, whether that is funding, teaming up on projects or deregulation, in order to maximize its potential in the U.K.

      “We recognize that the space sector is changing so quickly at the moment. We are all looking at these mega-constellations and we have seen the scale of satellites reduced. We have a number of projects in the pipeline looking at our regulatory regime and making sure that we strike the right balance between meeting our international obligations around the safety and security of the space environment, but also being able to really support this fast-paced, innovative new sector,” she said.