WASHINGTON — The first step in improving the United Kingdom’s space domain awareness is bringing existing data together, said the head of the country’s new Space Command.
“There are so many different sensors out there already, it is about initially bringing that data together, understanding that data, using that data so we’ve got a single picture and understanding of what is going on,” said Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey at the DSEI 2021 trade show in London Sept. 15.
The Vice-Marshal noted that about 11,000 satellites had been launched since 1957, with about 7,500 still up there. Only 4,500 are operational, he added, 1,200 of which were launched just last year. With that increased congestion, UK Space Command needs to know what’s on orbit and where it’s going in order to protect its own satellites.
The UK primarily relies on terrestrial optical radars for space domain awareness, although eventually its capabilities will include on orbit sensors, said Godfrey.
“In terms of enhanced space domain awareness, we are developing foundational capability in sensors and data … and continuing our research and development program for [civilian and military] international sensors,” said Godfrey.
The UK recently gained a trove of new space domain awareness data from the United States Space Force. The American service announced Aug. 14 it had signed a data sharing agreement with the UK, granting the Ministry of Defense access to its Standardized Astrodynamics Algorithm Library, or SAAL — a collection of algorithms and information about orbital physics that helps the Space Force determine the trajectory of objects in space.
That agreement was signed as part of Operation Olympic Defender, a multinational coalition of space-faring countries spearheaded by the United States to deter hostile action in space and address the issue of orbital debris. The Space Force took over the initiative from U.S. Space Command in May 2020, and is currently located at the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
The UK was the first international partner to join Operation Olympic Defender in 2019 and was the first to gain access to SAAL.
“Why would you not be a part of that?” asked Godfrey rhetorically.
UK Space Command was established in April 2021 following a global trend of nations reorganizing their military space efforts after the creation of the U.S. Space Force in 2019, but it only officially stood up July 29. UK Space Command has grown swiftly in the subsequent months. Beginning with just three members, the organization now boasts 430, said Godfrey.
Nathan Strout is the staff editor at C4ISRNET where he covers the intelligence community.