All very MoD-ern: RAF test pilot headed into space with Virgin, £30m small sat demo project

Defence ministry gets with the Apollo vibes

Roundup As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission, the UK's Ministry of Defence has gone a bit wacky – not only does it have fresh space plans, but it also wants to strap laser zappers to stuff too.

At the Royal Air Force's Air and Space Power Conference held earlier this week, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt declared the ministry is putting £30m into the development of a British small satellite demonstrator, which it hopes to launch "within a year".

Under the name Team Artemis, the joint UK-US venture will include eight British military personnel who will be sent to California to get involved in a US-led "international coalition formed to strengthen deterrence against hostile actors in space and prevent the spread of space debris in orbit".

Mordaunt said in a speech delivered at the conference: "Given the vastness of the challenge, this might seem a relatively small-scale initiative. But effectively we're planting the acorns from which the future oaks will grow. Critically, British industry is already a world leader in these innovative technologies."

As part of Britain's small but proud space heritage, she pointed to the Carbonite-2 satellite, designed by Surrey Satellites (an Airbus subsidiary), which the RAF has been testing to beam live video footage from space.

Rather implausibly, Mordaunt also heralded "a new age of 'sombre' wars conducted in the shadows, on the dark web, in the business world, space and often remote from what we've known of the battlefield" – a pronouncement that drew scorn from those used to the MoD's impenetrable gobbledygook.

Our man in spaaaaace – Mk.2

An RAF test pilot will also be dispatched to Virgin Orbit's bid to get into space, Mordaunt announced. Perhaps the Air Force is a little jealous that Major Tim Peake, a British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot before his transition to stellar glory for all time, scooped all of the publicity when he went into orbit with the EU Space Agency.

On top of that, the Defence Secretary also said she wants to see the RAF become a service where new joiners can "become an aviator or an astronaut, where you will push back the frontiers of space and create a launchpad to the stars".

Not so many years ago, the RAF's sole contribution to space awareness was a squadron leader driving a Whitehall desk. The service has evidently decided to go the whole hog, though whether Britain will do a Donald Trump and inaugurate a standalone Space Force remains to be seen.

And back to F-35s

Britain received its latest batch of F-35B VSTOL fighter jets from America as well this week, with the six aircraft having been flown across the Atlantic in the same way as the first batch. Allocated to 207 Sqn RAF, the jets will be used for training duties in the UK – meaning British aviators will no longer have to fly to sunny southern USA for conversion onto the supersonic stealth aircraft.

Turkey has also been kicked out of the F-35 program by Trump after buying a state-of-the-art Russian air defence system. This solves at least one of the problems El Reg's defence desk foresaw years ago, as since the days of Turkey housing a single engine overhaul plant, wiser heads have commissioned another one in Norway. ®

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