Why we oppose today’s planned UK space launch

Monday, 9 January 2023 — Drone Wars

Protestors gathered at Newquay ‘Spaceport’ in October 2022 to oppose UK space launch

Tonight’s planned space launch from Newquay ‘spaceport’ is the latest step in a new era of expansion into space by the military with the UK wholeheartedly joining a space arms race which will inevitably lead to greater risk of instability and conflict.

Space is rapidly becoming a key domain for military operations as modern wars rely heavily on space-based assets for command and control,  surveillance,  intelligence gathering, missile warning and supporting forces deployed overseas. Satellites also enable communications links for military and security forces, including communications needed to remotely fly armed drones.

Over the past two years we have seen the setting up of UK Space Command, the publication of a Defence Space Strategy outlining how the MoD will “protect the UK’s national interests in space” and the announcement of a portfolio of new military programmes to develop space assets and infrastructure.   MoD ministers have openly stated that they now determine space to be a war fighting domain.

As well as today’s planned launch – which will see at least two pairs of military satellites placed in space – ground has been broken on a new spaceport in the Shetland Isles.

Protestors at Newquay Airport, October 2022. Credit: Phil Green/Peter Burt

Our position:

  • Rather than this military expansion into space the UK should be upholding and extoling the virtue of the Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, which recognises that space is a ‘global commons’ to be used for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of all countries and humankind. The treaty was aimed at preventing national and commercial exploitation of space and the damage that would cause.  Instead of upholding that common good, the UK and other states in conjunction with a gang of billionaires – are now doing the exact opposite.
  • The cost to international security and the environment of a new space arms race should be at the front of our thinking – not an almost forgotten afterthought. Billions of pounds are going to spent launching military systems into space with an untold amount of harm being done to the environment as a result. There urgently needs to be proper and detailed research undertaken into the environmental impact of a UK space programme.
  • It is simply not good enough to say that if we don’t do this then others will. The UK should be upholding the principles behind the Outer Space Treaty and working with its allies to update it to make it relevant to the current context and to technological developments.
  • Outer space is a region of wonder and inspiration. It continues to challenge and inspire many people who wish to explore and discover. However, a growing number of space activities are now focussing on commercial exploitation and warfighting.
  • We’re calling for more public discussion and debate about this new push to exploit space for military and commercial purposes. Currently, decisions with huge implications are being made by a small elite of policymakers and wealthy entrepreneurs for their own purposes and not for the benefit of humanity.  This must change.

See our joint briefing with CND ‘For Heaven’s Sake: Examining the UK’s Militarisation of Space’

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