Last week, two Imperial academics gave evidence to MPs about satellite infrastructure following the publication of the new National Space Strategy.
This evidence was to a new inquiry by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee which is looking into subjects covered by the government's National Space Strategy. This strategy sets out a ten-point plan to build on the UK's global strengths in space and embrace the opportunities space technology offers.
“I cannot think of anything, either terrestrially—on Earth—or beyond that does not require positioning, navigation or timing and their derivatives, such as speed, heading and attitude. Overall, positioning, navigation and timing underpin life as we know it.” Professor Washington Yotto Ochieng Head of the Departmental of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Imperial’s Professor Washington Yotto Ochieng, Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chair in Positioning and Navigation Systems, took part in the first session of the inquiry, outlining how the government can capitalise on the UK’s existing strengths in satellites to meet the aims of the National Space Strategy. He especially spoke about the importance of resilience in satellite infrastructure to ensure continuous, unbroken access to satellite-based positioning, navigating and timing (PNT) systems like GPS.
On the National Space Strategy more widely, Professor Ochieng praised its ambition, while saying it will need to be built upon further, such as through policies to ensure the UK has the skills pipeline it needs for the strategy to succeed, as well as more detail on future funding. He was clear about the importance of the government leading in space strategy, which will encourage industry to then do more in areas like satellites.
During the session, Professor Ochieng also highlighted how precise, resilient satellite systems will become even more crucial as the world develops new technologies which will rely on satellites, such as driverless vehicles and smart cities.
Lucy Edge, Chief Operating Officer of the Satellite Applications Catapult, echoed these views and set out other potential applications for satellite technology in tackling climate change, including measuring the progress of COP26 pledges such as reducing methane emissions and halting and reversing deforestation.
During the second session, Professor David Southwood, Senior Research Investigator in Imperial’s Department of Physics, spoke about how scientific breakthroughs linked to space projects are now applied widely in society, such as mobile phone technology which came out of communication systems used in deep space exploration.
He echoed Professor Ochieng in saying that the National Space Strategy clearly outlines the government's vision for space, and that the focus must now move onto delivery. He also praised the launch of the National Space Council, noting its importance in encouraging ministers from across government departments to work together on space strategy.
He also highlighted the importance of effective monitoring of space weather and the need for solutions so that any future large-scale solar events do not disable satellite infrastructure surrounding the Earth. This point was also stressed by Professor Anu Ojha, Director of the National Space Academy, who spoke about the current expense of using materials to protect against space weather and the need for further advances in hardware solutions.
The committee will take further oral evidence over the coming months, including most likely a session with the relevant minister. It will then produce a report with recommendations for government policy on space strategy and satellite infrastructure, which the government will later formally respond to.
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