The evidence is all around us, although more obvious in some ways than others. Day to day it helps us keep in touch with family and friends, predict the weather, find our nearest ride-share, make card payments and access a repository of the world’s knowledge via the internet. Satellites keep an eye on our fragile Earth allowing us to study global warming, monitor disasters, identify diseased crops and improve agricultural efficiency to feed our growing population. Strategically and tactically, our militaries rely on navigation, secure communication and information services to keep us safe, much of which is derived from space-based data.
The changes are also hard to miss in the aviation industry. Inertial Reference Systems (an Apollo programme spin-off) and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) allow us to cross oceans, navigate mountains and deliver precise-approach and autoland capabilities with unprecedented accuracy. SATCOM provides aircrew with access to a medical professional on every flight, immediate weather updates, Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) and ADS-B surveillance. When things go awry, satellites receive 406Mhz emergency beacons to locate aircraft in distress. Airspace management relies on these modernising factors to deliver the same reliable service to a more congested European sky.
Policymakers are increasingly aware of the importance of space data to the functioning of modern society and are seeking to deliver higher assurance of access to it. The UK has committed to growing the domestic space sector from 5% to 10% of the global market by 2030, alongside the LaunchUK programme to develop national capabilities for space launch. Spaceport Cornwall is a frontrunner, with the site due to deliver horizontal launch from Summer 2022. However, this presents an interesting challenge to integrate launch operators, among other new entrants, with the existing airspace management strategies. The solution to this challenge spans far beyond the UK and will require an international effort to deliver mutual benefits to Europe as a whole.