I am delighted to be here today at the ICC in Caerleon, this stunning joint venture between the Welsh Government and the Celtic Manor Resort.
This fifth biennial UK Space Conference is bigger and better than ever before bringing together the space community from across the globe to share plans, develop relationships and seek inspiration.
It’s a real honour to be among such a stellar line-up, including of course our very own British astronaut, Tim Peake. Because I’m a child of the Space Age.
I was just 3 months old when Neil Armstrong stepped out from Apollo 11 onto the surface of the moon, watching the moment from my mother’s knee. And just a little older when Britain’s SKYNET1 satellite took to the skies later in 1969, signalling a new age in space-based defence technology.
Half a century later, space is again taking centre stage.
Today is a fantastic opportunity to consider where we are in this key domain.
And where we are going.
Threats and Challenges
When we look at the threats we face, we quickly realise that space isn’t just about what happens above the stratosphere. Or for the purists among you, above the Karman line!
It is about what happens down here. We all rely on satellites for communications, navigation, timing and meteorology. Everything from your daily weather forecast to the SatNav in your car.
Take out that infrastructure, and we’d all experience delays, shortages and bottlenecks.
Enormous social and economic damage would result.
Our ability to react to danger would suffer, whether that be to humanitarian crisis, to terrorist attack, to breaches of arms control agreements or to expanding illegal drugs.
To say nothing of key defence functions.
Our armed forces’ co-ordination and communication would be much more difficult, in some circumstances, even impossible.
And the space technology which keeps all this together is potentially very vulnerable.
In the UK we remain fully committed to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which declares space to be the province of all mankind.
Free for exploration and use by all nations.
Noble sentiments, with which I am sure everyone in this room agrees.
But we have to recognise that the world has moved on since then.
Rogue states are more ready to challenge the international order, and non-state actors are increasingly gaining access to the sort of high-tech equipment which was once the monopoly of NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.
Cyber hackers are using cheap hardware to try to scramble satellites and manipulate observation data to their advantage.
The fact is that competition in space is fierce and the challenge of protecting our orbiting systems needs strategic thinking to reduce threat impact.
That’s why we and our close allies have determined it to be a war fighting domain.
If we are to deter an adversary’s willingness to threaten our space assets, we must be willing and able to defend them within the boundaries of international law.
Since 2015, space has been a key operational domain, joining air, land, sea and cyber to form the 5 domains which inform all UK Joint Force policy.
We’re working to fully understand the risks from accidents and natural hazards, to a deliberate attack by organised groups or another state.
But space is not just fraught with new dangers.
It is also a domain of incredible opportunity, and a substantial contributor to our prosperity.
According to the UK Space Agency and London Economics, our space industry was worth £15.5 billion in 2017/18. We build a quarter of the world’s large communications satellites.
And our expertise in smaller satellites is unrivalled, with the likes of Surrey Satellites, Clyde Space, and Oxford Space Systems building about 40% of the global total.
As the pace of change in space technologies quickens, we must maintain and improve that global position.
Not only because we’ll have a stronger national economy as a result, but because it will capture the imaginations of new generations of British engineers, technicians and, who knows?, astronauts of the future.
Richard Branson himself, a great British success story, is leading the incredible quest to put the first regular tourist flights into space.
The Secretary of State announced last week that the Ministry of Defence is seconding a member of staff to the Virgin Orbit programme.
Now UK defence goes further.
Next week the RAF’s Virgin Orbit test pilot will be announced in the United States.
A potential future astronaut wearing the RAF’s famous wings which will be a historic first and a stunning demonstration of our commitment to defence in all domains.
That commitment goes much wider, of course. Consider another anniversary:
Just over 5 years ago at their Welsh Summit, the Heads of State of the NATO Alliance signed their Summit Declaration at Celtic Manor, not far from where you’re sitting today.
It’s worth quoting.
“We agree to reverse the trend of declining defence budgets” they said. “Our overall security and defence depend both on how much we spend and how we spend it so, allies need to display the political will to provide required capabilities and deploy forces when they are needed.”
This month we’ve demonstrated that political will to the full.
UK defence has secured an extra £2.2 billion, 2.6% above inflation between 2019 and 2021.
That’s well above the government’s commitment to grow the defence budget by 0.5% above inflation every year of this Parliament.
Defence will get over £41 billion in 2020/21, exceeding our commitment to spend 2% of GDP and making us far and away the largest NATO defence spender in Europe.
That means more investment in our capabilities:
- on conventional defence on land, sea and in the air
- on our Continuous At Sea Nuclear Deterrent
- on our global security and humanitarian commitments, demonstrated by the speed with which we dispatched RFA Mounts Bay to bring succour to the many thousands devastated by Hurricane Dorian
- in the newer domains of cyber and space.
In all these areas, we’re maintaining and extending our ability to match a global capability with a global presence sufficient to deal with any eventuality.
And we’re maintaining and extending our space prosperity in three key areas:
First, we’re investing. The government is putting serious money into supporting Britain’s world-class space sector.
For MOD’s part, I announced at DSEI that £70 million is going into the development of enhanced receivers to ensure the most secure satellite navigation and timing is made available to our serving personnel.
The next step is the SKYNET 6 programme, successor to the British satellite launched 50 years ago this year for which we’ll be announcing further contracts worth £6 billion over the next few months.
This investment is a bold statement by MOD, showing our determination to invest in the new “Global Britain”, taking our military capability further and faster and demonstrating that our ambitions are not limited by the skies.
Second, we’re innovating. As a government, we’re putting in the resources.
In return, we expect our partners in the space industry to keep doing what they do best solving the most complex of problems with new thinking, then getting the answers off the drawing board and onto the production line.
We have a proud tradition of expertise and innovation in space technology.
Today, as well as leading the world in small satellites and other key areas, our companies are pushing the boundaries at the very edges of technical innovation.
Reaction Engines, for example, are unlocking the future of hypersonic flight with the revolutionary Sabre propulsion system.
And the Daedalus experiment, part-funded by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, is exploring revolutionary sustainable “de-orbit sails”, giving satellites controlled descents at the end of their operational lives.
If we’re to maintain and improve our competitive position, that sort of continual innovation must become the norm.
MOD is right behind the sector’s innovators, and I am delighted to announce today that Dstl and the UK Space Agency will jointly be putting over £1.5 million into 12 new projects.
These are the winning bids from the Space to Innovate competition, and Dstl’s Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead will be providing full details of them later at the Laboratory’s stand.
The winning bids span the innovation spectrum from industry and academia, and these sectors will be working hand in hand on delivery. So investment and innovation are central to our future in the stars.
But we know we cannot compete in this contested and dangerous world alone, international partnership is critical.
That is the future: international partnerships which bring the UK’s unique skills and experience into closer alliances, multiplying the effects we can have.
So the Ministry of Defence has just established the joint UK and United States initiative, Team ARTEMIS, a key part of the RAF’s ground-breaking work as it leads command and control of MOD’s space operations.
ARTEMIS paves the way for the creation of a constellation of small satellites, with its key industry partners Airbus, Raytheon and Surrey, and its launch partner Virgin Orbit.
And we have become the first international partner in the US-led Operation OLYMPIC DEFENDER, an international coalition to deter against hostile actors in space, and to prevent the spread of orbiting debris.
The work we’re doing with our friends in the United States is vital.
And, we’re looking to work more closely in space research with our European and global allies, as we move into post-Brexit relationships.
So I’m delighted to see that this year’s conference has a bigger international presence than ever before.
Wherever you’ve come from, this week will leave you in no doubt about the strength of this country’s rich space heritage.
We look back with pride on the achievements of the past.
But we also celebrate the present and look forward to a bright future.
We have enormous technical expertise, strong bonds with our partners across the world, and the political will to drive innovation and improvement.
Together giving a bold signal of Global Britain’s new aspiration.
An aspiration founded on heritage, supported by serious investment.
And now reaching for the stars.