We need an evidenced-based space strategy, academics tell policymakers


Earth in space

Space safety and security in the 2020s was the focus of a briefing event run by Imperial academics and partners, supported by The Forum.

Chaired by Professor Deeph Chana, co-director of Imperial’s Institute for Security Science and Technology (ISST), the event launched a report by Imperial researchers and the London Institute of Space Policy and Law (ISPL), which argues that “space safety is receiving inadequate attention in national space policy”.

Professor Chana outlined the work of the ISST, in particular its focus on the emerging grey zone between security, defence, resilience and personal security, of which space is becoming a key focal point. 

Influencing policymakers on space policy

Dr Jonathan Eastwood, director of Imperial’s Space Lab Network of Excellence, introduced the work of Space Lab, which brings together all of the college’s space research and engineering activities in one place. He outlined its different research capabilities, such as in space weather science, and summarised future plans. Dr Eastwood aims to coordinate efforts by different departments and researchers in collaboration with the ISPL to expand opportunities for Imperial to impact UK space safety policy development.

Imperial research can make important contributions to policy and regulatory development Dr Jonathan Eastwood

Dr Christoph Beischl of the ISPL then gave an overview of the report itself. It found that Imperial research can inform policy challenges in five space safety subject areas: Terrestrial Environmental Impacts of Space Activities; Space Debris; Planetary Defence; Space Weather; and Space Traffic Management (STM).

Dr Christoph Beischl outlines Imperial's potential policy impact
Dr Christoph Beischl outlines Imperial's potential policy impact

The role of space in global security

Policymakers then heard from Richard Laing of the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency. He explained the need to establish the NATO Space Technology Centre within the NCI Agency, and outlined the interactions with the NATO operational community, Alliance Nations, and space industry.

Space technology provides an opportunity to maintain and enhance NATO’s strategic advantage Richard Laing

The final speaker was Nick Howes of BMT, an analyst working in space R&D management consultancy. He outlined BMT’s horizon scanning activities in the space aspect of defence policy, including threats such as space debris and small satellites’ vulnerability to hackers. Nick also highlighted the potential training needs of operators and the technology development required to meet it.

International action for the global good

Professor Chana raised the risk of space exploitation, akin to the overuse of earth’s resources. Nick Howes stated that there have been 170 million pieces of debris added into space since the 1960s and warned of the huge potential threat to space safety and security. Dr Beischl noted that many governments agree on the principle of the problem but called for them to coordinate on an actionable solution.

Dr Beischl also praised the policy impact of UK academics in space policy compared to other countries. Nick Howes called for multinational research which focuses on global interests, not strictly national ones, highlighting concern about rogue nations developing their own space programmes. Dr Eastwood stressed the need to cement relationships between academics around the world to accelerate the progress of missions and research projects.

The attendees included colleagues from parliament, the Department for Transport, Met Office, UK space agency, Ministry of Defence and Airbus.

The Forum: Connecting our researchers with policymakers

The Forum is Imperial College London’s policy engagement programme, connecting Imperial researchers with policy makers to discover new thinking on global challenges. Please get in touch if you would like more information.


Joe Dharampal-Hornby

Joe Dharampal-Hornby
Communications and Public Affairs

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Contact details

Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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