UK Government announces ambition to lead the global effort to make space more sustainable

Posted September 30th, 2021 Posted in News

The UK government has announced its intention to build on the UK’s early advantage in robotics and on-orbit servicing and manufacturing (OSAM / IOSM) to establish global leadership in space sustainability. The Astroscale team were eager to read the latest Strategy delivered by Secretaries of State Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Ben Wallace MP, and Science Minister George Freeman MP who together outlined the UK government’s new National Space Strategy, released this week during the UK Space Conference.

Keen to lead in emerging sectors, the UK government intentions are clear, “In the coming decades, emerging technologies and applications will generate whole new markets. In-orbit servicing will extend the economic life of satellites; active debris removal will be increasingly required to keep orbits safe,”.

To support the growth of these new markets, the UK government plans to position themselves at the forefront of modern regulation for novel space activities, whilst keeping space sustainable, safe, and secure. We hope the UK’s opportunity to lead on developing regulation and licencing to support debris removal and on-orbit servicing will keep pace with the vital and rapid growth in the space sector. We were pleased to read special mention of the need for ongoing high-level input into the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the European Space Agency safe space operations.

Strong indications of support for ongoing European partnerships also came directly from the recently appointed UK Science Minister, George Freeman MP, who announced during the Strategy launch,

“…part of my (new) mission here is to make sure that we deliver a very strong collaboration with Europe, both through the European Space Agency and through a number of other programmes.”

The Astroscale UK team met with Mr Freeman shortly after the announcement and he asked our UK Managing Director, John Auburn, several questions relating to our ELSA-d mission and our plans to commercialize space.

“We were thrilled to meet George Freeman MP and explain our ongoing ELSA-d mission, the first commercial mission proving end-to-end debris removal technologies. We’re very keen to continue to work with our UK government partners in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency to support the delivery of these important space sustainability goals with our innovative technology and capability at Astroscale.” comments John Auburn.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit has hit the UK economy hard, but despite these seismic impacts, this latest strategy prioritizes ambitious growth and sustainability at the heart of the plan, including an ambitious target to reach Net Zero by 2050, and the commitment to release a new Net Zero Strategy to deliver on these targets.

On-orbit servicing and manufacturing (IOSM in the UK) is strategically placed in the list of key civil and defence capability priorities and the ten-point plan of initial focus areas. The Strategy includes an ambition ‘to explore advanced on-orbit debris removal servicing and refuelling’. The UK’s end goal? To maintain resilience, effectiveness, and value for money. These goals align closely with Astroscale’s End-of-Life and Active Debris Removal plans as we test, refine, and mature our research and development debris removal investments into commercial service offerings for satellite operators.  The evolution towards a commercial offering is supported through our partnerships with government and industry experts, including our ELSA-M multi-debris removal service in development with OneWeb, the UK Space Agency and ESA through the Sunrise program.

Space Domain Awareness is also outlined in the strategy with detection, identification and tracking of objects in space in the top ten priority focus areas. A commercial / industry cell within the National Space Operations Centre will continue to provide data to industry and a critical link between industry and defence. As we expand our Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capability under the leadership of Toby Harris, we welcome the opportunity for partnership with The Ministry of Defence, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, UK Space Agency, and ESA.

As we move forward with this new Strategy, the Astroscale team is keen to see funding levels support the UK’s ambitious plan to lead on space sustainability, with sufficient funding to support not just an UK-led Active Debris Removal mission, but also press forward with UK-driven regulatory and licencing advances that will enable the integration of debris removal into day-to-day business for satellite operators and governments alike.

Read the UK National Space Strategy.