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Athena, the UK’s new national team in space, formed of Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK, has published a report, with support from Bryce Space and Technology, that showcases the opportunities available to the UK through growth in its space sector and how to seize the moment to do so. Ahead of the Defence Space 2020 conference (17-18 November), of which Athena is a strategic partner, the team argues that now is the right time to propel the country towards an ambitious, achievable goal of becoming a respected space-faring nation, by galvanising the UK and its society, across both civilian and defence communities.

The Aim of Athena

Athena – representing an end-to-end, sovereign and UK-based approach to space services – believes that the UK has reached a pivotal moment in its space aspirations. Currently, it is trailing behind nations such as France and Japan, who are considered robust space powers due to the depth and sophistication of their space capabilities, which they put to good use in their pursuit of a clearly defined national strategy and the resulting widely-recognised economic, technical, societal and security benefits.

The report, called A New Approach to Space, recommends seven key areas of focus for the UK until 2030:

  • Integrate military and civil space operations into a National Space Operations Centre to jointly operate key national infrastructure and maximise data sharing
  • Invest in satellite communications to deliver a secure platform for military and government
  • Develop a sovereign space-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing capability to address urgent national requirements and to enable burden sharing with key allies
  • Establish satellite launch operations from the UK
  • Invest in research and development and create a National Space Academy to nurture STEM talent and develop a career pathway into space
  • Increase contribution to space domain awareness
  • Participate in the European Space Agency Copernicus Programme and further support earth observation activity with additional UK programmes

The report identifies a set of principles and enablers to achieve these goals, including effective regulation and licensing, public awareness-raising, and the development of a diverse supply chain. Activity should be driven by the development of a National Space Strategy, the report recommends.

Importance of Space

Space and its associated capabilities are strategically vital to civil, commercial, security and defence policy ends. As a nation, the UK is wholly reliant on it for everyday activities such as satnav for commuting, through to precision timing for banking, global navigation services for shipping and earth observation services for weather forecasting. It has been estimated that the loss of global navigation satellite system services alone would cost the UK economy in excess of £1 billion per day.

Athena, launched in May 2020, was formed to seize development opportunities that new space technologies will offer, driving economic growth for the UK and diversification across the British space sector as Athena succeeds. The combined capabilities and technologies available to Athena will enhance further the country’s ability to deliver the UK’s ‘Prosperity and Security in Space’ strategy, which aims to increase the value of space to wider industrial activities to £500Bn, generate an extra £5Bn in UK exports and attract £3Bn of additional inward investment.

Read the full report here.

Jack Richardson