Defence Secretary outlines ambitious space programme

Harwell space

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has outlined the MOD’s ambitious space programme, committing £30m to fast-track the launch of a small satellite demonstrator within a year.

The small satellite demonstrator, which will be supported by a new transatlantic team of UK and US defence personnel, named Team ARTEMIS, will sit alongside a host of other programmes.

The UK is to become the first partner nation to join Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led international coalition formed to strengthen deterrence against hostile actors, and seconding a RAF test pilot to Virgin Orbit’s small satellite programme.

The Defence Secretary has also announced that Joint Forces Command, the organisation design to coordinate activity across the Armed Forces, will be transformed into Strategic Command and given a greater strategic role across the five war-fighting domains: Air, Land, Sea, Cyber and Space.

Speaking at the Royal Air Force Air and Space Power Conference in London, the Defence Secretary said: “The sky is no longer the limit for our Armed Forces with a multi-million-pound investment in the launch of a small satellite demonstrator, supported by a new transatlantic team of defence personnel. In the face of evolving threats from hostile actors in space, we are acting more closely than ever with our international allies through Five Eyes, NATO and now Operation Olympic Defender.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State has announced our plans to take our space ambitions to the next stage through Project ARTEMIS. When this is combined with our investments in the training and development of our people, improved command and control, greater space situational awareness, and our commitment to the Space Coalition with our allies, it all underlines the important and constantly growing role of Space in the Royal Air Force’s capabilities.

“ARTEMIS gives us the opportunity to grow skills, understand the military relevance of small satellites and responsive launch, and consider how to get space-based information to the warfighter in operationally relevant timelines, all of which are vital to ensure we stay ahead of the evolving threat.

The Defence Secretary has announced that the small satellite demonstrator would be launched within a year, funded through the multi-million-pound Transformation Fund.

These small, low-orbiting satellites can be sent into space more cost-effectively than their predecessors and can be replaced far more quickly. The programme may eventually see live high-resolution video beamed directly into the cockpit of the RAF’s fighter jet fleet, providing pilots with unprecedented levels of battle awareness.

The UK is already a world-leader in small satellite technology, including an investment of £4.5 million last year in the Carbonite 2 spacecraft. Carbonite 2 achieved a world-first in returning colour video from Low Earth Orbit.