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DSEI 2019: 'New' space race calls for UK strategy rethink

9th September 2019 - 16:03 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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In the face of a global ‘space race’ the UK is being urged to better define its role in the domain and confirm how many sovereign satellites are to be developed long-term.

Decision-makers should also be determining the region’s level of reliance on partners and finalising ‘how it wants to be perceived internationally,’ according to Alexandra Stickings, research fellow for space policy and security at the Royal United Services Institute.

She suggested that one way to manage collaborative-based projects would be to join new space programmes led by countries sharing the UK’s ‘strategic outlook and international values’. However, she hinted that future challenges like responding to an act of aggression or a deliberate ‘loss’ of space procured data have still to be dealt with by national authorities.

‘Increasing activities and capabilities will go some way towards establishing the UK as a military space force but to have truly global influence [and] become a valued and trusted partner to our alliances, we need to bring separate – and at times disparate activities – into a coherent and overarching strategy,’ Stickings made clear.

‘It’s only a short window before decisions need to be taken and the opportunity to recapitalise our capabilities [will be lost].’

Stickings provided a series of examples to show how complicated and diversified the space domain has become in recent years, with notable developments including the stand up of US Space Command, ‘potentially offensive’ capabilities being acquired by France, NATO ‘proposing’ to designate Space as a warfighting domain, India’s kinetic anti-satellite missile testing activities.

‘Iran has shown some ambitions and Russia is looking to restablish some of its Soviet programmes,’ she added.

National efforts aside, Stickings drew attention to commercial industry and the proliferation of ‘mega constellations’, while making reference to the European Space Agency’s near collision with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite – earlier this month.

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