Opinion: Is the UK – US Space “Partnership” really what it’s made out to be?

24th Jun 2022
Opinion: Is the UK – US Space “Partnership” really what it’s made out to be?

We wrote recently about agreements made between the British and American governments related to space projects collaboration. The recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between the US Space Command and their UK counterpart was mostly in relation to military and defence. Although another partnership announcement last month covered a broader agreement around general space-related activities. But there’s a problem. The UK-US Technology Safeguards Agreement.

The TSA of course only really covers US space technology being used on UK soil, but it’s a sign of how the UK/US relationship stands. The agreement sets out a strict set of rules on how US technology is handled and used when in the UK. It ultimately prevents any “foreign” technology to come anywhere near the US kit as well as any “foreign” individuals (including British personnel).

So, for example, an American satellite arriving in the UK for launch into orbit can only be handled by US government personnel and can only be fitted into a US rocket. Which contradicts the collaboration narrative that is presented to the media. Understandably, this is a matter of security to ensure any US military hardware is not compromised in any way. Particularly satellite communication hardware.

The main problem here is that it prevents ACTUAL collaboration between the two nations on UK soil. No British personnel will be involved in US satellite launches. It may even tie up UK launch facilities entirely on days when US hardware is being prepared for launch. It would definitely rule out any rideshare arrangement.

The Technology Transfer Agreement does specifically state that it permits US satellites to be launched onboard UK launch vehicles, however the agreement makes the practicalities of that very complicated. So this really looks more and more like a one sided arrangement.

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