Aerospace & Defence

Government must invest in UK space programme

23rd June 2020
Joe Bush

Unite, the UK’s leading union, is urging the Government to commit to invest in the UK space programme in the interests of national security and to ensure that thousands of highly skilled jobs are not put at further risk.

The Government has yet to commit to invest in its own version of the European Union’s Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS). The UK lost access to the project when it left the EU.

Unite says that it is essential that the UK has access to such a system in order to allow satellites to securely transmit information to other platforms which can have military, critical national infrastructure, civilian and scientific purposes. For example, fighter jets need a satellite infrastructure to support their operations.

The union says that if the UK does not commit to developing its own version of Galileo it will be forced to rely on off-the-shelf systems, which will not only leave it vulnerable to denial of access to systems that underpin our most critical infrastructure, but also lead to a loss of skills and jobs in the UK’s space industry.

Prior to Brexit the UK were major players in the Galileo project with workers at Airbus being the word leaders in the crucial encryption technology which is essential to prevent messages being intercepted by foreign powers. SSTL, an Airbus UK company, also built the payloads (the communications antennas, receivers, and transmitters) for the Galileo project.

At present, the UK is a major global space player with a diverse and rich supply chain, and an ambition to grow its market share both through domestic and export opportunities. As an example Airbus UK last year won 30% of the commercial satellite market and employs over 3,500 people.

To further succeed in this ambition the UK needs to commit to a GNSS solution to retain jobs and also complete its industrial strategy review so that a strong national capability can be maintained and supported with appropriate R&D driving UK investment and supply chain security.

The UK’s own GNSS system is also essential for the further development of drone technology and the drive for autonomy in transport systems. As we become more reliant and more demanding of drone technologies and driverless cars secure access to GNSS is critical and will allow UK to continue to be a world leader.

Unite national officer for aerospace Rhys McCarthy said: “The Government has got to commit to invest in the UK’s space programme. Without the support of the Government, thousands of highly skilled jobs could be lost and the expertise that the UK currently holds could go overseas.

“The emerging economy of autonomous vehicles and modern-day defence technologies depend on a satellite infrastructure in order to operate. Failure to invest now will send the UK to the bottom of the league when we ought to be global champions.

“A sovereign satellite system will not only defend the UK it will defend the economy post-pandemic.

“In the uncertain times of the 21st century, when cyber-security is a massive concern, it is absolutely imperative that the UK does not lose its skills capability and does not compromise national security.”

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