OT Interviews: Skyrora’s Alan Thompson27th Jan 2023
Skyrora is seeing that the HMG departments that have an operational requirement upon Space, are beginning to articulate and coordinate this demand better.Alan Thompson
Orbital Today had the good fortune to ask Alan Thompson, Head of Government Affairs at Skyrora about how the company sees governmental relations regarding launch licences, orbital coordination and how the end of the churn in government in 2022 affected the space industry.
OT: Since the UK government is looking to shorten and simplify their licence processing, and Skyrora went through the application process last year, what suggestions would the company have in that direction? Do you have an updated estimated time frame for receiving the licence?
AT: The licensing process has not been completed as we are waiting on approval following our application. Skyrora is optimistic that the approach we have adopted, one of seeking to engage and involve stakeholders (and regulators) in our activity, will significantly assist the regulator in the evaluation of how we undertake this activity, and stand us in good stead for receiving a licence.
OT: The churn in government in 2022 seems to be over, and 2023 seems to be calmer for the moment. What kinds of differences are you seeing in government – space industry relations?
Skyrora is seeing that the HMG departments that have an operational requirement upon Space, are beginning to articulate and coordinate this demand better. As a result, this means there is now better connectivity across Government, which Skyrora is keen to encourage and accelerate. The recent launch attempts demonstrate that a more coordinated and focused understanding of every aspect of gaining access to Space is required, in order for the UK to have reliable sovereign launch capabilities.
OT: Regarding international and intergovernmental relations in regulations, do you see a need for closer cooperation between governments, especially in terms of dealing with space debris? How would that work?
… there is now better connectivity across Government, which Skyrora is keen to encourage and accelerate.Alan Thompson, Skyrora
AT: From the point of view of launch, there is a requirement within the licence application to not only identify any objects within the proximity of the launch trajectory, but also to map a course that will avoid any collision. This is called Collision on Launch Assessment (CoLA). In order to do this, launch companies require access to the registry, and real time information about spacecraft (objects) trajectories in Space. In the first instance and for the purposes of the licence, this information is provided by agreement between HMG and the US by the 18th Squadron US Space Force. The RAF Space Command has had a Space Operations Centre for a good number of years which has fulfilled a similar function. Moreover, the trend in capturing and preparing such reports and information about spacecraft and debris has been towards commercial companies. The UK’s Northern Space and Security (NORSS) has been building out this function of providing CoLA, being recognised by Raytheon which recently invested into this capability.
Skyrora recognises the requirement to be accountable in this regard, especially as our primary mission is to provide logistics services to put more satellites in orbit. From this point of view, we have developed a code of conduct called the ‘Prospero Principles’, and are offering this to launch partners (satellite manufacturers). These Principles will enable such partners to confirm their willingness to adhere and seek to avoid, through the application of responsible behaviours, the aggravation of this issue. Yes, greater coordination between all Space actors should be the adequate solution, bringing together governments, commercial companies, and the UN office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).
OT: With certain orbits becoming crowded, is there a need for greater regulation or coordination regarding satellites in space? Would it be enforceable?
AT: UNOOSA has been more active over recent months, with more actors beginning to make moves in Space. HMG, as one of these actors, is particularly supportive of the UN Office of Outer Space Awareness’ programme LTS (Long Term Sustainability). Another side of this is the work that is being undertaken by Privateer space, which they define as ‘Space Environmentalism’, and the aspirations to support that “data base or comprehensive registry of all relevant space objects” to include a level of debris.
Orbital Today would like to thank Alan Thompson and Skyrora for taking the time to discuss these matters with us. We look forward to speaking with Alan Thompson again in the near future.