U.K. Policy Stresses Terrestrial Backup for Space-based Navigation

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PARIS — The British government on April 30 said a terrestrial alternative to space-based positioning, navigation and timing systems should be developed to mitigate the potential effects of outages — intentional or due to space weather — of GPS and other satellite navigation systems.

In its first published policy on space security, the government said so many critical infrastructures — military, civil government and commercial — have become dependent on GPS that a severe space weather event could cripple their functioning.

Widespread investment in an enhanced version of the venerable Long-Range Navigation, or Loran, terrestrial radio network would not replace the services lost in the event GPS or similar satellite services went dark, the document says.

But it would allow for a minimal survivability of at least some systems.

The “U.K. National Space Security Strategy” — released by Philip Dunne, British defence equipment, support and technology minister; and Science Minister David Willetts, who has responsibility for the nation’s civil space policy — places heavy emphasis on the nation’s creeping dependency on space systems.

Some crucial services, the report says, may already have lost the knowhow needed to survive a satellite outage.

The national security space policy is the product of Britain’s Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2013. How to cope in the event satellite services disappear due to severe space weather or because of intentional disruption is the document’s main preoccupation.

“Government, the armed forces, security and emergency services, key infrastructure and satellite operators have carried out detailed analysis on space dependency, resulting in increased resiliency measures,” the document says, mainly referring to added redundancies, encryption and anti-jamming measures.

The document makes no mention of Europe’s Galileo program, which is fielding a constellation of satellites in medium Earth orbit that will look like a civil version of the U.S. GPS network.

U.S. Defense Department officials have said they would like to use Galileo’s restricted-access Public Regulated Service (PRS), the Galileo version of the GPS military code, to take advantage of the added resiliency of having two 24-satellite constellations, and two signal structures, in orbit instead of just one.

After a long period of diffidence, and even mistrust, of the Galileo project and its PRS element, British authorities now support PRS. 

In a companion document on civil space policy released April 30, the government said the U.K. Space Agency is pursuing a second phase of an investment of 7 million British pounds ($11.8 million) in PRS technologies. The goal of the investment, which includes the production of prototype receivers, is to position British companies “to secure a lead over international competitors” in developing PRS technologies.

More directly than similar policy statements by the U.S. Department of Defense, the British space security strategy announces clearly its intention to increase British companies’ share of the global commercial space market.

The British government has identified space as one of “Eight Great Technologies” that will spur economic growth in the coming years. These technologies are being given priority access to government funding.

As part of its focus on the risks to space networks, the space security document proposes that Britain raise its profile in space situational awareness, both in cooperation with the United States and with European Union nations.

Britain’s Fylingdales phased-array radar in North Yorkshire already is a node in the U.S. Space Surveillance Network in addition to its role as a missile-warning system.

The report says the Fylingdales radar is capable of tracking hundreds of objects in low Earth orbit at a range of 3,000 nautical miles, or 5,556 kilometers. Further efforts on behalf of the U.S. network, or as part of a European Union space surveillance system, should be undertaken, the report says.

The commission of the 28-nation European Union has approved a seven-year program, valued at 70 million euros ($97 million), to use existing ground-based radars, including systems in France, Germany and Spain, to start a space surveillance network.

The space security policy makes a passing reference to U.S. space technology export policy, embedded in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). 

U.S. ITAR policy, the report says, complicates international space commerce and makes interoperability of space systems among allies more difficult. The government will work to minimize its impact.

The report also says Britain supports the European Union’s International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities as likely “the best approach” to establish global norms for conduct in space.

 

Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes


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