Submission from Klaus Becher, Managing
Partner, Knowledge & Analysis LLP
In addition to promoting science and innovation,
UK space policy also needs to respond to the increasing operational
importance of various services and applications that are enabled
by communications, navigation and observation satellites in space
for the successful delivery of UK policy objectives across a wide
range of Government departments and other public bodies. If this
new dimension is not adequately reflected in the way space-related
activities are conducted and coordinated, Government risks missing
valuable opportunities for leadership in innovation and good governance,
endangers its prosperity and competitiveness targets and is unlikely
to derive best value for money in its use of space applications.
1. This submission responds to the Committee's
call for written evidence on the delivery of public benefits from
the space-related activities of different Government departments
and the co-ordination of these activities. It presents preliminary
results of an ongoing study conducted by Knowledge & Analysis
for the space industry association UK Space (formerly UKISC) to
give a fresh look at the importance of space applications for
government's ability to deliver its policy objectives.
2. UK space policy has been successful in
adopting a user-driven applications focus earlier than other countries.
Generally speaking, however, science and the private sector have
been regarded as the users of space, whilst Government itself
has not. This particular approach, as reflected in current UK
civil space strategy documents, is increasingly out of step with
the practical adoption of space-enabled applications as tools
3. In three areas, space technology has
now moved from the sphere of early research, technology development
and isolated specialist applications to widespread, routine operational
use: communications, navigation (positioning and timing) and earth
observation, including weather monitoring. A rough analogy can
be drawn to the state of computing and information technology
two decades ago. As in IT at that time, Government faces the challenge
to incorporate revolutionary new technological capabilities productively
in its workings. As in IT at that time, it is not easy to fully
grasp the opportunities in a fast-moving technology environment.
The growing role of technology for government reaches far beyond
the issue of space. It is significant that the e-Governance Unit
has fast become the biggest unit in the Cabinet Office. The scope
of responsibilities in this field is large, and they are highly
important for the nature and quality of governance.
4. Tools that depend on space technology
are increasingly becoming mission-critical for a substantial number
of government departments and public bodies beyond the members
of the BNSC partnership. For example in international development,
sharing space benefits with African nations for telecommunication,
agriculture, water management and security is a necessary element
of the Government's commitment to eliminating extreme poverty.
A wide range of safety and security priorities require space-enabled
approaches, including transport security, flood protection, intelligent
traffic management and critical infrastructure resilience. In
climate-change policy, continuous measurements from space are
a key enabler for driving the UK's policy agenda forward internationally
and keeping track of worldwide implementation. Government cannot
anymore do its job properly without space, but awareness of this
fact is still not sufficiently established.
5. Just to illustrate the situation: We
already cannot anymore imagine meteorological services without
constant global measurements and real-time weather pictures. We
have come to assume that effortless, reliable, secure, round-the-clock,
instant communication exists with all points on Earth. We expect
accurate, up-to-date, rich mapping information to be available
for all parts of the world, even for countries without functioning
public administration. We increasingly demand that our security
services know with a high degree of certainty and accuracy about
potentially threatening clandestine activities in distant states
and are able to respond to crises early and effectively enough
to prevent armed conflict.
6. None of these expectations can be fulfilled
without systematic recourse to satellites, though of course space
is only part of the answer to some of them. In an age when everybody
enjoys free access to services like Google Earth and even al-Qaida
terrorists are known to use GPS for mapping their targets, governments
are expected to have superior geo-referenced information at their
disposal and use it to inform their decisions.
7. The UK Government as a whole has a stake
in assuring government communications, including in emergency
situations. Satellite communication operates without costly ground
infrastructure and is less vulnerable than terrestrial networks.
It can provide a backup communications infrastructure in support
of national resilience. Resilience also requires assured availability
of universal timing signals from navigation satellites, critical
for the functionality of other infrastructure networks from power
grids to mobile phones and financial markets.
8. In the Cabinet Office's vision of transformational
government, with secure, shared access to data across government,
at home as well as from posts abroad, government communications
requirements will be formidable, and by necessity reliant on space
communication for some functions.
9. With complementary visions of e-government,
e-democracy and e-voting, assuring a secure national satellite
communications infrastructure looks like a necessity if remote
parts of the UK and citizens abroad are to be included. Satellites
are the only way to achieve controlled, secure, single-hop instant
10. Uniquely, space technology also reaches
remote and uninviting territories, the seas and the airspace above.
Mobile broadband communication via space opens the way to safety
measures such as live CCTV monitoring of passenger aircraft from
the ground, and resilient nationwide traffic automation. On the
strategic level, the global reach of unencrypted direct-to-home
satellite broadcasting without interfering state censorship plays
a central role in public diplomacy to promote international understanding
and security, as witnessed by the recent introduction of the BBC
World Service's Arabic satellite TV programme.
11. Closer to home, the Welsh Assembly Government
has identified satellite communication as the only way to include
all parts of Wales in broadband services. The Government's commitment
to nationwide digital inclusion will require a space component
based on cutting edge SATCOM technology, in spite of the misperception
that satellite broadcasting and freeview don't mix and the more
recent myth that DVB-T is the best way to deliver HDTV digital
12. A technology-neutral approach for telecommunications
services makes sense as long as only the main population centres
in the UK are concerned and as long as no disruption of critical
infrastructure on the ground is assumed. For inclusion of remote
parts of the nation and above all for global connectivity, space-supported
communications solutions are an indispensable enabler.
13. In Earth Observation, only satellites
can capture large-scale phenomena such as weather systems, ocean
currents, variations in sea levels or soil humidity. They are
also unique as legitimate tools for global information gathering
without the need for prior consent and knowledge by other countries.
14. Government needs to better understand
its direct interest in assuring that these space-enabled solutions,
some of them mission-critical for government as a whole, will
be available when they are needed. There appears to be a misguided
assumption that satellite communications, imagery and navigation
systems are market commodities that can be regarded as given.
This is to some extent true for communications, though commercial
demand alone is unlikely to provide enough spare capacity to satisfy
the world's governments' requirements reliably on the cheap in
bandwidth spot markets. In navigation and earth observation, there
is no viable upstream commercial market without government engagement,
both as provider of development investment and as main customer.
15. While the UK can claim leadership in
the development of successful public-private cooperation schemes
to leverage the innovation dynamics in the commercial sector,
it is important to realise that government is the main customer
for industry in many commercial applications of advanced technology.
Government cannot rely that the commercial sector will provide
the required technology without sustained public sector demand.
16. Organising joined-up government better
for the operational use of space-enabled applications for governance
in the role of informed lead customer of the UK space industry
is therefore a precondition for achieving the competitiveness,
innovation and prosperity goals of UK space policy. However, space
is still mostly seen as a matter for science and research. The
operational use of space is a new dimension that needs to be worked
into the fabric of Government.
17. Interested departments face the absence
of established budget provisions for operational expenditure on
space-application services such as advanced image data fusion
and systematic change detection. In defence and homeland security,
the novelty of the space dimension creates the risk of it being
crowded out by more traditional pursuits in spite of its core
role in establishing network-enabled capabilities. The recent
difficult and inadequate process of drumming up funds for important
collaborative programmes such as GMES or ARTES, both with potential
practical benefits beyond their science and technology development
role, further highlights the need for a review of practices.
18. There is an important linkage between
Government's operational need for space-enabled services and its
investment in space technology. This is well known in defence,
and also applies to space in a similar way. Space is far from
being a thing of the past. Technology development continues at
a rapid pace, and Government's needs will grow as new technical
opportunities are developed.
19. It would be short-sighted to define
Government's operational requirements for space-enabled services
in terms of today's deployed technology, such as the current range
of geostationary communications platforms or the current generation
of Navstar GPS. Communications satellites, satellite navigation
constellations and imaging from space are all likely to be transformed
almost beyond recognition from what we now believe to be state
of the art within the next decades. Worldwide mobile on-the-move
broadband satellite communications is already becoming an affordable
reality that is bound to revolutionise the way the world does
business, as well as public expectations of government services.
20. Space engineering faces unique weight
and size restrictions, energy constraints, extreme environmental
conditions and highly challenging sensor and data transmission
requirements. These have consistently worked as key drivers for
broader technology innovation and continue to play a central role
in the further advancement of information and communications technology
as well as new materials.
21. Space applications often rely on more
than one class of space assets. Integrated devices that use global
positioning and timing information from space as well as communication
via space have become standard equipment in maritime search and
rescue, container tracking for shipping safety and asset management.
Services that integrate geo-observation, navigation and communication
from space all in one, such as the real-time mobile networked
information systems are being introduced in various security forces.
22. The strength of some of the most powerful
space applications results from the ability to fuse space-derived
data with information from other sources, or from hybrid systems
that combine satellite links with terrestrial cable and wireless
networks as required, in a way that is transparent to the user.
Users are often not even aware of the space contribution to the
service. There is also the risk that such value-adding space linkages
are missed in the allocation of public funds for innovation, since
space is generally seen as falling into a category of its own.
23. The UK seems to be lagging behind in
its adoption and use of such integrated, space-enhanced services.
For example, while geographic information systems (GIS) have been
widely adopted in government for a variety of uses, there has
so far been very little use of space imagery (optical, radar and
hyperspectral) for data fusion, enhanced feature recognition and
change detection. One plausible explanation for the weak take-up
is the lack of central guidance on the use of space services in
24. The relative influence of any nation
on the international system, and prospects for deriving enhanced
national prosperity gains within this system depend to an increasing
degree on technological leadership, including the ability to anticipate
and shape new technologies and their applications. This is particularly
relevant to the UK not just for competitiveness and wealth creation
but also for the successful pursuit of policy priorities such
as climate change, sustainable development, global inclusion,
security of commerce and transportation, counterterrorism, conflict
prevention and defence.
25. More work is needed to investigate the
emerging needs and requirements for space-enabled services in
pursuit of UK public-policy objectives. The number of actors involved
is potentially huge and spans across most parts of government.
Much speaks in favour of a cabinet-level review of UK space policy
that incorporates this new dimension of practical government dependence
on space applications, and also integrates the UK's hitherto strictly
separate civil and defence space efforts under a coherent, joined-up
national space strategy.
26. It is recommended that the Committee
examines the important role the Office of Science and Innovation
can play in such a context for moving science to applications
and enabling Government as a whole to adopt the innovative operational
services that are enabled by communication, navigation and observation
27. In addition, some important policy questions
must be answered: Should practical applications such as geographic
information systems, climate monitoring or ocean surveillance
be run in-house by the responsible government departments? Should
they be left to science institutions such as NERC's new National
Centre for Earth Observation? Or would it be better in terms of
value generation and operational efficiency to work with private-sector
contractors in a structured, long-term relationship? The latter
approach has a particularly good tradition in the UK.
28. Uncoordinated, dispersed in-house capacity
building in a wide variety of public bodies would have to be expected
as space applications are more and more adopted in day-to-day
government work. GIS systems, for example, are directly relevant
to mapping, planning, land use surveillance, forest management,
coastal protection and many more dispersed areas of responsibility.
However, this can result in wasteful duplication and weaken industrial
competitiveness. Running operational services in science institutions
can limit their practical adoption and relevance, eg in crisis
management, as well as their commercial exploitation. Reliance
on private contactors can pose problems as companies come and
29. New questions also arise on the European
level. In the EU and ESA, it would naturally fall to the UK to
act as driver for practical applications and value for money.
In fact, though, there is a widespread perception abroad that
the UK has no national space policy at all and is only reactive.
A lack of strategic guidance for UK space policy and the pronounced
separation of civil and defence space efforts have both contributed
to limiting the UK's role on the European level.
30. In stark contrast, French President
Chirac renewed his country's commitment to space as a "grand
European project" earlier this year. The UK can only gain
from putting this political offer to use by injecting UK values
and strengths in a shared effort to build up practically useful
space capabilities. The key to increased influence in European
space, where most of the UK's space investment is spent, lies
in the combination of world-class science and technology with
top-level awareness of the strategic importance of space.
31. Taking such an approach would open up
opportunities to achieve improved leverage of ESA and EU space
spending, including GMES and Galileo, for the UK's practical innovation
and capacity-building across government as a whole, including
security and defence. A stronger political commitment to space
would also increase the UK's chances to shape the rules and priorities
of European space policy. For example, it could then work more
effectively toward allowing a competitive space-industry sector
to exist in Europe with less transatlantic and intra-European
protectionism. It could also augment a UK-led European security
and defence policy, integrated with NATO but able to act independently,
with the space dimension that will be required for network-enabled
32. The dual-use nature of space technology
and the strategic advantages its control offers to space-faring
nations demand such an inclusive approach to space policy that
views civil and security space as two sides of the same coin,
at least for the purpose of identifying objectives and priorities.
This dual nature also poses a constant challenge to the direction
of space technology activities. In the interest of efficiency
gains, it would better be approached openly than ignored.
About the submitter
Klaus Becher directs the international security
and technology consultancy Knowledge & Analysis LLP in Richmond,
Surrey. He was Associate Director at Wilton Park and headed the
European Security Programme of the International Institute for
Strategic Studies. He has been involved in policy analysis and
advice on space issues since 1989. For example, in 2004 he co-chaired
the AIAA working group on international cooperation in space exploration.
He moved to the UK from Germany in 1999. His application for British
citizenship has recently been accepted. He holds a MA degree in
political science from the University of Bonn.