Blighty's defence boffins are now spending £10m per year on space research, including a satellite mission set for blast-off in 2019.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is spending a total of £50m over the next five years on space "innovation", in particular for two space-related projects.
One of these is the Daedalus experiment, which aims to clear up space junk – that is, dead satellites in low Earth orbit – by attaching aluminium foil (a "de-orbiting sail" in the jargon). The foil increases the satellite's drag and pulls it down into the thicker levels of the atmosphere where it will burn up.
Currently, space junk is destroyed by firing rockets at it. This is expensive and time-consuming. The Daedalus experiment aims to determine what precise effects the sail will have. So far DSTL is monitoring a Canadian satellite which deployed its sail in May, and the doomed bird is expected to burn to ash in about two years.
The other major space project in DSTL's pipeline is a satellite mission to examine how ionosphere disturbances mess up radio-based communications. Solar activity heavily influences ionospheric activity, as detailed in this academic paper, and the DSTL project is to improve Britain's understanding of when and why the ionosphere does strange things.
Michael O'Callaghan, lead for space at DSTL, said in a canned statement: "This programme is fantastic news for DSTL and for the UK as a whole. It allows us to invest in research and innovation that supports defence and security aspirations, as well as supporting UK prosperity and developing skills in government and the space industry."
The British government is keen to develop its space capabilities, following on from what it perceives as its great success in creating a cybersecurity training industry that feeds into government hacking collectives such as GCHQ. The upcoming Space Industry Bill, due for discussion by the House of Lords next week, forms part of that strategy to tighten Blighty's governmental grip on the cosmos. ®