UK dependence on foreign satellites ‘risks threat of economic blackout’

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Britain is being exposed to “an economic blackout of frightening proportions” because of its dependence on foreign satellites, a space industry chief has warned.

Space industry body UKspace is concerned that firms have very little ability to defend data if hostile powers decide to attack satellites owned and operated by other countries.

According to analysis by the association, at least 90% of the satellite communications and data that UK businesses rely on is owned and operated by other nations, such as the US and states within the EU.

While a national cyber force was recently announced to improve Britain’s military satellite defences, a report by UKspace to be published next week will express fears over civilian dependency on foreign satellite assets.

It claims even a temporary disruption, caused by a hostile cyber or space-based attack, or simply the future withdrawal or change of services, would “wreak havoc” on the economy.

“Investing in our own national capabilities is essential for our future security, but also an opportunity to create new jobs in the UK, driving a stronger recovery across the country.”

UKspace says the UK spends less on space than other countries and only about 5% of the 2,600 satellites in orbit today are UK registered.

Darren Jones, chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, said: “For the UK to be a major space power the Prime Minister urgently needs to announce Britain’s post-Brexit space policy.

“From the purchase of OneWeb to the announcement on military space capacity, it’s clear the Government maintains an interest in space but our space strategy is currently far from coherent.

“From skills and jobs and international research collaboration to British manufacturing and the question of Britain’s own sovereign positioning system, we still have more questions than answers.

“This report is therefore welcome and timely and I hope the Prime Minister and his Government will take action to address its findings.”

A Government spokesperson responded, saying: “We have transformed space into a heavyweight British industry in the past decade – growing in size by 60%, employing 42,000 people and pumping £14 billion each year into our economy.

“New national space capabilities will help boost our economy and security.

“We will use satellites to take the fight to climate change, launch into orbit from UK spaceports and connect millions to broadband through our investment in OneWeb, the UK’s own global fleet of satellites.”

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