JUST IN: UK Boosting Its Space Operations
iStock illustrationThe United Kingdom, once an empire based on its naval might, is seeking to expand its power and presence in space, fueled by its first domestic satellite launch.
The Prometheus 2 satellite is scheduled to enter space this summer on a Virgin Orbit Launcher One rocket, which deploys horizontally from a Boeing 747. U.K. Defence Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin announced the details at the Defence Space 2022 conference May 10.
“It will be the first time the U.K. has launched a British satellite into space,” he said. “It represents another giant step forward in our surge to become a space power.”
The satellite launch comes just months after the U.K. issued its new defence space strategy, underpinned by a government investment of 1.5 billion pounds over the next decade for space defence programs.
“This mission is about examination, experimentation, exploration,” said Quin. “There is so much we need to learn, and we know that Prometheus 2 will provide sparks to illuminate our future in space.”
Prometheus 2 consists of a pair of “CubeSats” — shoebox-sized satellites — that will perform functions such as “monitoring radio signals including GPS and sophisticated imaging, paving the way for a more collaborative and connected space communication system with our allies,” according to a U.K. government press release.
Prometheus 2 will build on the work of its predecessor, which is currently conducting experiments in space domain awareness to build capacity for satellites to avoid space debris as well as hostile activity from adversaries like China and Russia, according to Airbus Defence and Space’s Rick Greenwood.
He explained at the conference that Prometheus 1 is currently engaged in a test “to see how we can evolve the [tactics, techniques and procedures] to see how we can improve space-based [situational awareness] and actually what actions do we need to take and what time base do we need to take those actions in.
“These experiments are both proving the type of sensors and processing we need in space-based situational awareness and also helping us develop more advanced [tactics, techniques and protocols],” he added.
Designed by Airbus Defence and Space and built by the U.K.’s In-Space Missions, Prometheus 2’s development and launch are a result of coordination among the U.K. Ministry of Defence, the U.K. Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Agency.
International collaboration in space is both a goal and necessity, according to conference participants.
“Our collective ability to deter a conflict from beginning or extending into space relies on our cooperation with allies and partners to develop best practices, standards, and norms of behavior for responsible space operations,” said Gen. James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command.
Earlier this year, the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom issued a joint strategic document, the “Combined Space Operations Vision 2031.”
According to the document, the allied mission is to “generate and improve cooperation, coordination and interoperability opportunities to sustain freedom of action in space, optimize resources, enhance mission assurance and resilience, and prevent conflict.”