Commons Queries Freeman Over Space17th Jul 2023
The UK government has come under fire during a House of Commons Space, Innovation and Technology Committee Meeting, due to delays in making ‘key decisions’. Science, Innovation and Technology Minister George Freeman faced tough questions over the yet to be established Space Sector Industry Forum, as well as slowness with developing the UK launch industry.
Concerns regarding the UK’s satellite sector were also raised. The committee report said: “the UK space and satellite sector is much more than a “nascent and emerging” sector… it urgently needs [a] clear and strong organisation in Government to match its current importance as well as its future strengths.”
Concerns Over The Government’s Space Leadership Bodies
Mr Freeman announced a Space Sector Industry Forum is set to replace the current Space Leadership Council. The under-construction forum would provide: “a regular and enduring opportunity for industry leaders to meet with Ministers to help inform the Government’s long-term strategy for space.” In response, the committee called for a leader to be appointed, who will take advice from industry experts and ensure success is achieved, by the end of 2023.
Further criticism was fired at the government’s lack of transparency over the establishment of a National Space Council. Although the committee welcomed the progress, the government remained guarded and only confirmed the council would be established when questioned.
The UK’s Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Strategy
Mr Freeman came under further fire when he told the committee that the PNT strategy sign-off was ‘within weeks’; later backtracking and saying: “[the] timeline was unlikely to be met and would most likely be published by the autumn.” In response, the committee report offered scathing criticism, saying the government has been leisurely passing the strategy between departments with no real plan materialising. Moreover, the committee argued this: “demonstrates how the disjointed approach to leadership of the UK’s space and satellite sector is hampering progress on important matters.”
The Committee’s Recommendations On Streamlining The Launch Licencing Process
Much of the committee’s recommendations centred around fixing the launch licencing process. The committee acknowledged that UK space licencing body, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), had “taken steps to expand its team dedicated to space launch and to improve its engagement with licence applicants.” This has led to 340 CAA issued licences since 2021. However, key under-construction spaceports – such as SaxaVord in Northern Scotland – are still seeking approval.
Although a slow start and cumbersome process did see an upturn, it was argued that more could be done to streamline the process. Therefore, the committee called for a report reviewing CAA’s regulations and for the government to contribute detailed improvements, which is to be published in the jointly agreed timeframe of September 2023.