It is only 60 years since the first space flight, so how many objects do you think we humans have launched into space since then: 50, 100 or 1,000? The truth is that we simply don’t know. We have lost track of so much of the material we have sent into orbit. As you can imagine, that lack of situational awareness is quite frightening. But we are also at a very exciting time in the space sector, highlighted by plans for UK launch capability. It means that, more than ever, we need to develop effective civil and commercial tracking capability to ensure the sustainability of space. This can only be achieved by developing space situational awareness (SSA) through persistent monitoring satellites and cataloguing the decades of junk.
There is a tremendous opportunity to show the world the UK has major international role to play in space awareness and surveillance, protecting the assets that we rely on for communications, travel and science, and ensuring the safety of future launches.
Historically, space tracking around the world has been done by the military because the focus has been on missile early warning, something the North of England is renowned for through the RAF Fylingdales station in North Yorkshire where I spent a significant part of my RAF career. My experience taught me that it is not really the role of the military to monitor everything that goes into orbit and we need to develop a civilian SSA sector so that we can offer responsible access to space.
Since I set up NorSS in May 2017 as a specialist in SSA, I have received tremendous support from the space incubation programme delivered by Business Durham in partnership with the UK Space Agency which has allowed me to see at first hand the potential to grow this important sector.
The UK can be an international space power and the North East’s academic and commercial expertise in areas such as astronomy, astrophysics, space law, hardware, software and data analytics, makes it well placed to make a major contribution. In addition to operational areas around space traffic management, we have the opportunity to draw on expertise inside and outside of the space sector to help shape the global debate around the legal and regulatory structures needed to make space flight safe and sustainable.
Ralph “Dinz” Dinsley, Founder and Director – Northern Space and Security Limited (NorSS)