Tonight’s planned space launch from Newquay ‘spaceport’ is the latest step in a new era of expansion into space by the military with the UK wholeheartedly joining a space arms race which will inevitably lead to greater risk of instability and conflict.
Space is rapidly becoming a key domain for military operations as modern wars rely heavily on space-based assets for command and control, surveillance, intelligence gathering, missile warning and supporting forces deployed overseas. Satellites also enable communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to remotely fly armed drones.
Over the past two years we have seen the setting up of UK Space Command, the publication of a Defence Space Strategy outlining how the MoD will “protect the UK’s national interests in space” and the announcement of a portfolio of new military programmes to develop space assets and infrastructure. MoD ministers have openly stated that they now determine space to be a war fighting domain.
In February, Shetland Islands Council granted planning permission for the proposed SaxaVord Spaceport, located on the Lamba Ness Peninsula in the northeast of the island of Unst in the Shetland Islands. Other Scottish spaceports have also been proposed for Sutherland in the Highlands and at a site in the Western Isles.
The proposed developments on Unst are relatively modest in terms of their footprint on the ground, comprising of a gatehouse, three launch pads, a satellite tracking station, two hangar buildings, an administration building, pyrotechnic store and hazardous materials store – and a wildlife hide – on a site of about 198 acres (80 hectares). But this masks a much larger environmental impact resulting from the space launch activities which are planned at the site.
To carry out spaceflight activity in the UK spaceport and launch operators must be licensed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Shetland Space Centre Limited has applied for such a licence to operate a vertical spaceport from Unst.
As part of their licence application, spaceport and launch operators are required to submit an Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). The purpose of the AEE is to ensure applicants have adequately considered any potential environmental effects of their intended activities and, if necessary have taken steps to avoid, mitigate or offset the risks and their potential effects. The AEE for the Saxavord Spaceport has been prepared and submitted on behalf of the operators by ITPEnergised (an international consultancy), whose job is to present the development in the best possible light – highlighting the benefits and playing down the impacts in order to ensure that a license is issued for the spaceport. It should be noted that even as the public consultation on the Assessment of Environmental Effects was ongoing, work had begun on construction of the spaceport. Read more →
St Mawgan, Newquay TR8 4RQ Meet at West Car Park entrance. Public transport details here. Car parking costs £5 for 2 hours.
The first space launch from UK soil will take place sometime during the first two week of November with a ‘launch window’, granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) opening on October 29.
Unlike traditional vertical launches, the Launcher One rocket will begin its flight strapped to Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ aircraft, a converted Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. Once the plane reaches 36,000ft the rocket will separate and then ignite, with its engines firing it through the earth’s upper atmosphere till it reaches orbit.
While the launch is being presented as a step forward for the civil space industry – with Virgin’s commercial space ambitions being heavily promoted – the rocket will launch two military satellites (that we know about) alongside commercial ones: Prometheus-2 and Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment (CIRCE). The mission is being led by RAF Squadron Leader Matthew Stannard.
Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin told the Defence Space 2022 conference in London earlier this year that Prometheus-2 is a CubeSat intended as a test platform for monitoring radio signals including Global Positioning System (GPS), conducting sophisticated imaging, and paving the way for a more connected space-based communication system. It was built in collaboration with Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), In-Space Missions, and Airbus Defence and Space, with DSTL owning the satellite. Read more →
Drone Wars UK and CND are co-hosting a webinar to examine the UK’s militarisation of space. The webinar builds on the briefing the organisations co-published in June (right).
Dr Jill Stuart is an academic based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an expert in the politics, ethics and law of outer space exploration and exploitation. She is a frequent presence in the global media on the issue and regularly gives lectures around the world.
Dave Webb is former Chair of CND and long-time peace campaigner. He has played a leading role in CND’s work on missile defence. He is a member of the Drone Wars Steering Committee and co-author of the new report ‘Heavens Above: Examining the UK’s Militarisation of Space.
Bruce Gagnon is founder and Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He is author of numerous articles on the issue as well as a regular speaker at conferences and meetings. He is an active member of Veterans for Peace.
Dr Kate Hudson is General Secretary of CND. She has held that post since September 2010, having previously been Chair of the campaign since 2003. She is a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner and author of CND at 60: Britain’s Most Enduring Mass Movement.
Although the UK’s space programme began in 1952, until recently it has had very limited impact. However, as the commercial space sector has expanded and the cost of launches has decreased, the UK government is now treating space as an area of serious interest. Over the past two years we have seen the setting up of UK Space Command, the publication of a Defence Space Strategy outlining how the MoD will “protect the UK’s national interests in space” and the announcement of a portfolio of programmes for developing space assets and infrastructure. Over the summer of 2022, the UK MoD plans its first UK space launch from the UK.
Concerns include a spiralling space ‘arms race’; the environmental impact both on earth and in space, and the risk of an accident sparking an armed confrontation.
Drone Wars UK’s new briefing, published in collaboration with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), looks at the UK’s emerging military space programme and considers the governance, environmental, and ethical issues involved.
Space based operations affect many aspects of modern life and commerce. The global economy relies heavily on satellites in orbit to provide communication services for a variety of services including mobile phones, the internet, television, and financial trading systems. Global positioning system (GPS) satellites play a key role in transport networks, while earth observation satellites provide information for weather forecasting, climate monitoring, and crop observation.
Space is also, unfortunately, a key domain for military operations. Modern military engagements rely heavily on space-based assets. Space systems are used for command and control globally; surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance; missile warning; and in support of forces deployed overseas. Satellites also provide secure communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to fly armed drones remotely. Many precision-guided munitions use information provided by space-based assets to correct their positioning in order to hit a target.
The falling cost of launching small satellites is driving a new ‘race for space’, with many commercial and government actors keen to capitalise on the economic and strategic advantages offered by the exploitation of space. However this is creating conditions for conflict. Satellite orbits are contested and space assets are at risk from a variety of natural and artificial hazards and threats, including potential anti-satellite capabilities. Satellite systems are defenceless and extremely vulnerable and losing an important satellite could have severe consequences. The loss of a key military or dual use satellite (such as one used for early warning of missile attack) – through an accident, impact of debris or a meteorite, technical failure, or a cyber-attack or similar on critical ground-based infrastructure – at a time of international tension could inadvertently lead to a military exchange, with major consequences. Read more →
Book Review: ‘War in Space – Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics’ by Bleddyn E. Bowen. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2020
With the increasing recognition of satellite technology as critical to our daily lives, a number of states, including the US and the UK, now see space as a critical military domain like land, sea and air. Bleddyn Bowen’s new book ‘War in Space – Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics’ attempts to place the notion of ‘spacepower’ into the mainstream of International Relations by adding the use of space systems to the preparation for, and execution of, warfare.
Bowen notes that spacepower has provided new methods of political-economic development and poses questions such as ‘will a war begin or be decided in space?’, ‘how do satellites change the way war is conducted on Earth?” and “what difference can space warfare make on Earth?” While full answers to these questions are not easily provided at a time when rapid change is taking place, Bowen does suggest that wars may not begin in space or be decided by what happens in orbit alone, and that space technology is not going to provide simple solutions to strategic problems.
While the second part of that statement may be true, the first part can be challenged in the light of the recent rush to space activity. Satellite systems are defenceless and extremely vulnerable and now that satellite technology is employed in so many aspects of our lives – from controlling drones to weather forecasting to banking and communications to GPS – the loss of an important satellite could cause havoc. However, the loss (even through an accident such as impact with space debris or a meteorite) of a key military or dual use satellite (such as one used for early warning of missile attack) at a time of international tension could lead to a military exchange and be catastrophic. Read more →