Parliament and Space: Maintaining Capabilities

10th Nov 2022
Parliament and Space: Maintaining Capabilities

Parliament and space met head-on in a 4th November House of Commons report. In the report, Commons pointed to a set of concerns focused on the purchase of OneWeb and space-borne navigation around the UK.

Parliament and space: OneWeb

In July 2020, the UK Government under Boris Johnson purchased a £400m stake in the bankrupt space-borne internet provider OneWeb. In the report, the House of Commons points to a number of issues with this investment. First, the report raises questions regarding the benefit to UK taxpayers the investment brings. OneWeb’s broadband coverage to people in remote areas of the UK through providers such as BT is noted, but then the authors ask whether there are any other benefits the investment brings, especially in terms of value for money. Moreover, they noted that “this unusual investment approach should be treated as exceptional and avoided in the future.” The House of Commons also declared that the Government should report to Parliament on a yearly basis regarding the state of this investment, including in reference to “how the company is contributing to scientific and technical advancements in the UK space industry.”

The potential OneWeb merger with Eutelsat also comes under fire in the Parliamentary report. The report calls for a “proper scrutiny” as well as assurances from the Government that the company’s UK operations will not be affected. The authors call for the National Audit Office to assess “how well the taxpayer’s investment has been protected to date” and whether to keep holding the OneWeb stake.

PNT Services under question

The Parliamentry report also questioned the wisdom of the Government’s path toward ensuring secure Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services for necessary uses such as defense and critical national infrastructure. The current reliance on the US GPS system for these services leaves the UK vulnerable to blockage. The decision taken by the Government seems to be favoring the use of OneWeb’s LEO constellation even though the expert community is pointing out the technical issues with this solution. This decision by the Government has not been described in a strategy document, either. Furthermore, some are questioning the very use of a space-borne system given the extra aspects of vulnerability that space-borne systems have by their nature.

The problems associated with the purchase and potential use of OneWeb and its platform are just one set of issues examined in the report. Parliament and space also meet in the body’s ‘disappointment’ with the Government and the pace at which the bureaucracy around the first UK launch was proceeding. Orbital Today will take a further look into the major themes of this report.

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