Space Programme: the UK, USA and Russia’s Cases


    Space Programme: a perspective by Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser for the United Kingdom.

    “If the UK and US can foster even deeper cooperation security forces can work together They can withstand the threats of today and tomorrow” -Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser for the United Kingdom.

    Mark Sedwill

    Space Programme: Why?

    Space is pivotal to defence and security operations. It provides critical services such as surveillance and reconnaissance, precision navigation and timing and communications.

    Competition in space is nothing new. Indeed it was the Cold War that led to the first steps on the moon. However, how we see space is changing. It can no longer be regarded as where we may safely observe the Earth. It is a warfighting domain like land, air and sea. This is driven by two factors:

    1. Recognition of how much we have come to depend on satellites. Not just for military operations but for almost every aspect of daily life.

    2. Increasing risk posed to satellites by the proliferation of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capabilities as well as natural hazards.

    Space is becoming increasingly congested with 170 million objects in orbit according to the European Space Agency; and although small, the objects can cause catastrophic damage known as the Kessler Syndrome.

    Users can take advantage of characteristics that offer significant utility across all levels of warfare: perspective, access, persistence and versatility.

    Space Programme
    119,247 satellites orbit earth currently. That does not include ‘junk objects’

    United Kingdom’s space programme

    In 2015, the UK designated space as a Critical National Infrastructure. It makes the most significant contribution to the effectiveness of all the instruments of national power.

    The Space Programme ensures the UK remains at the forefront of the latest space developments worldwide. It researches cutting edge space science and technology (S&T). The government invested £40 million to grow the UK’s spaceflight capabilities and is funding a range of industry-led projects. These include supporting vertical launches from a spaceport in Scotland and horizontal launches from Spaceport Cornwall. Currently, the UK is also investing in a £99 million National Satellite Test Facility in Harwell. In addition, the UK is investing £60 million to develop a revolutionary hybrid air-breathing rocket engine.

    As well as working closely with the UK civil space sector, such as the UK Space Agency and the Ministry of Defence’s Space Operation Centre, the programme leads UK involvement in key international space S&T activities. It supports the UK National Space Security Policy, Space Weather Preparedness Strategy and UK Prosperity Agenda. It helps by reducing the size, weight and power required for satellite payloads.

    Royal Air Force involvement

    The Royal Air Force is investing more than $33 million to launch a constellation of small satellites into low-Earth Orbit. These systems will relay high-resolution video and data to fighter jets. The goal is to increase pilot awareness through the initiative Team Artemis. It is a follow-on the Carbonite-2 spacecraft, a small satellite by the Airbus-owned company Surrey Satellite Technology. This was designed to provide commercial Earth observation capabilities. The facilities at RAF Fylingdales and the UK SpOC deliver space services to the government and other stakeholders.

    Operation Olympic Defender

    The UK became the first international partner to join Operation Olympic Defender, a coalition to strengthen deterrence against potential hostile actors and reduce the spread of debris in space. The UK’s Spaceflight Programme LaunchUK, aims to establish vertical and horizontal small satellite launches from UK spaceports, supporting the government’s aim of growing the UK’s global market share of the space sector to 10% by 2030. The programme brings the UK Space Agency, Department for Transport, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Civil Aviation Authority, with support from the Health & Safety Executive. The Joint Forces Command (JFC) liaises with the United States on positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) issues and through Information Systems and Services (ISS) at MOD Corsham, which manages UK orbital filings.

    Space Programme

    The UK recognises four space power roles:

    1. Situational awareness underpins all space roles and provides details of hazards, risks and threats.

    2. Control is the use of defensive and offensive capabilities to assure access and freedom of action in space.

    3. Support to operations enables and enhances the effectiveness of other military and non-military capabilities.

    4. Service support to space assets.

    A full spectrum approach aims to use all instruments of national power in a coordinated manner to achieve political and strategic objectives. Nonetheless, UK efforts remain modest with less than 600 personnel working on space, in contrast to the 30,000 personnel in the United States Air Force.

    United States’ space programme

    US Space Command is working to increase its collaboration for military operations as concerns grow about adversaries such as Russia and China and the development of anti-satellite capabilities. Former President Donald Trump re-established the Space Command and designated it a combatant command; with the aim to transform to more resilient space architecture, strengthen deterrence and warfighting capabilities, structures and processes. Thus, the Space Force was created as the sixth branch of the US military, within the Department of the Air Force, similarly as the Marine Corps sit within the Navy Department.

    The military’s joint space operations centre in Vandenberg served as a location for the US Air Force to work with allies such as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. In 2019, the Joint Space Operations Centre, transitioned to the Combined Space Operations Centre (CSpOC), to improve the integration of assets with foreign partners such as in Operation Olympic Defender.

    To preserve its satellite capability the US relies on deterrence. The absence of a human crew means adversaries may consider the risk of destroying the satellites. This creates a problem of attribution as it may be obvious who launched a direct ASAT but it may be less easy to attribute an electronic, laser or cyber-attack.


    Commander, United States Space Command (CDRUSSPACECOM) advocates, plans, and executes military space operations and prioritises, deconflicts, integrates, and synchronises military space operations with current and planned joint operations. The Space coordinating authority (SCA) is a specific type of coordinating authority delegated to a commander or a designated individual for coordinating specific space functions and capabilities, which integrates theatre-specific space operations and forces.

    Russia’s space struggle

    Many of the design bureaus that dominated space and aerospace design were either shut down or reconstituted as private corporations after the 1990s. After the country stabilised, the International Space Station was created and is to be deorbited in 2024. Currently, Roskosmos is the centre of space power and capabilities in Russia.

    The nation’s 10-year space programme worth 1.406 trillion rubles, known as the Federal Space Programme 2016-2025, will allow the growth of the 49 operational spacecraft to 73 but that the main priority will be communications and broadcasting satellites, which will grow from 32 to 41. Other remote-sensing satellites will multiply from 8 to 23.

    Russia is working to expand its anti-access denial approach through electronic warfare and develop offensive capabilities against ground-based space infrastructure. Russia’s economy is less dependant on space infrastructure than that of America or even China. Without legal access to Western technologies and components, it might be difficult for Moscow to develop its military satellites. This directly drives Russia to try to nullify its enemies through jamming and radio intelligence, sustainability of its command, control and communication systems. For that reason, Russia onto its neighbouring power, China.

    In April, Russia and China agreed to build a joint research station on the moon. Although China does not have a decades-long history in space, it is accelerating fast in space developments, which conducted ASAT tests and improved offensive cyber-tools against the United States.

    Maria Garcia Ribera
    Maria Garcia Ribera
    Maria is a graduate of Brunel University in Military and International History and is currently undertaking a masters in Intelligence and Security Studies. Her research is focused on war and conflict and its effect on geographical acquisitions.

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