SPACE must not become a “battleground”, the chairman of the UK Space Conference has warned, while acknowledging the UK must take steps to ensure its increasingly reliance on satellite technology means assets must be protected – with top secret plans being put into place to do just that, according to defence experts.
Martin Barstow, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Leicester and the former President of the Royal Astronomical Society, was speaking on the sidelines of the event. Prof Barstow’s comments followed a plenary session during which Jan Woerner, director-general of the European Space Agency, said his biggest concern for the future of space exploration was the prospect of it becoming increasingly militarised. US President Donald Trump is planning what he calls a “Space Force” to counter threats, and earlier in the day UK defence and procurement minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan talked about the need to turn space into a “warfighting domain”.
Prof Barstow told Express.co.uk: “ESA has a different perspective compared to most agencies because it’s not a national agency so it has no remit to do with defence
“There has always been a bit of tension between military space and civil space because a lot of what we get came out of military space but we’ve done the sort of swords-to-ploughshares thing and developed that more into civil and applications and more human-based benefits.
“But I think we also worry about our safety – we heard quite a lot this morning about about the MoD’s interest in space, which is becoming more prominent in a way which it hasn’t been for many years.”
The Government yesterday announced it was plouging £20million into research to improve systems at the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre.
Space weather – solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and the like – has the potential to disable satellites and knock out power grids, thus causing large-scale disruption.
Prof Barstow said the move was illustrative of mankind’s increasing reliance on sophisticated technology.
He explained: “I think we have to acknowledge that protection of ourselves as a country is going to depend on space more and more in terms of monitoring and understanding things like solar activity – solar flares, space weather – which is not actually a military thing but is something that affects our assets.
“The military have to communicate, and that’s going to rely on space-based assets more and more.
“We don’t want it to become a battleground, that’s the thing.
“We don’t want it to become a competition between agencies and I think most people don’t want it to become a place where there’s conflict.”
With respect to Mr Trump’s idea of a space force, and specifically the phrase itself, Prof Barstow said: “It would worry me – Donald Trump has used that a lot.
“I think it would worry NASA as well but of course they are an agency which has to report under the instruction of an executive.
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“And so at that level they have to do what they are asked to do.
“I think the idea of conflict moving into space is very worrying.”
Earlier in the day Ms Trevelyan had appeared to suggest the landmark Outer Space Treaty signed by the USSR and the USA in 1967 was becoming increasingly obsolete.
Referring to the treaty’s characterisation of space as “the province of all mankind”, she said: “Noble sentiments with which I am sure everyone in this room agrees.
“But we have to recognise that the world has moved on since then.
“Rogue states and all those who challenge the international order, and non-state actors are increasingly gaining access to the sort of high-tech equipment which was once the monopoly of NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries.
“That’s why we and our close allies have determined it to be a warfighting domain.”
Both Russia and China are known to be working on anti-satellite missiles and other technology aimed at knocking them off line.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman told Express.co.uk: “We will always protect our interests by investing in the latest space technology, working closely with allies and urging other nations to abide by international law.
“From supporting military operations to predicting weather patterns and running satnavs in cars, having access to safe and secure information from our satellites is crucial.”
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