• Article
  • 16 Apr 2024
Kirsty  WilliamsPhoto
Kirsty Williams

UK and US Collaboration in Space – Looking to the Future

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The UK and US have long collaborated on space projects, whether this is through private companies or government-based initiatives. So, to say there are numerous ongoing projects is hardly news, but there are some interesting things happening at the moment that point to future plans.


On that note, let’s look at the relationship between the two countries and what this means for the industry as a whole.

UK and US Collaboration in Space

As mentioned, this is hardly a new relationship, so there are plenty of projects we could discuss. However, it’s worth looking at a few specifically to understand the countries’ current plans for expanding the future of the space industry.

In 2021, the UK, the US and Australia announced a trilateral agreement to share and develop emerging technologies between the three countries. Although space wasn’t included at the time, this has recently changed.

They announced a Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) network – ground-based radar stations that can track and characterise objects in deep space and geosynchronous orbit. The plan is to improve the countries’ awareness of potential threats in space; an especially important goal considering the rise in advanced satellite technology.

Elsewhere, there is the collaboration between Airbus and Northrop Grumman to develop the UK military satellite comms programme, Skynet. Obviously, Skynet itself isn’t new, but the two companies will work on Skynet 5, the next-gen version of the network. Although designed for the UK MOD, it’s fair to assume there will be plenty of information sharing between the UK and the US, as is tradition.

But it’s not necessarily all forward-thinking collaborations between the two countries. In January 2024, Airbus announced it was buying UK-based company Eutelsat OneWeb out of its share in the Airbus OneWeb Satellites venture. However, this isn’t necessarily bad news because Airbus has developed its own facilities to build the satellites, meaning OneWeb’s part of the agreement has essentially been fulfilled.

The Differences Between Their Approaches

The US’s space strategy is largely the same as ever, albeit with a greater focus on privately-owned space companies. The UK, on the other hand, has seriously ramped up its efforts in the space sector in recent years.

In a recent interview with Airforce Technology, Chairman of Airbus Defence and Space UK, Ben Bridge, summed up the differences succinctly: “The US is certainly spending an awful lot more in a month than the UK will probably be able to spend in many years.”

In short, the differences between the countries’ strategies are largely dictated by their budgets. The US will always have more money to spend on the space sector than the UK, and its industry is a lot more established. However, the UK will hopefully see some major growth in the coming years, and it would be unreasonable to say there wasn’t a strong foundation to build on.

The UK has long punched above its weight in the defence sector, and this will likely spill over into its space industry. Space is quickly becoming the new frontier for military and intelligence technologies, which will have a trickle-down effect on civilian tech. While the differences between the two can be summarised by their respective budgets, their strategies for the future are largely the same.

Final Thoughts

Collaborations between the UK and the US in space are beneficial for the wider industry, as they always have been. We will likely see the UK carve out a bigger space for itself in the coming decades, and backing from a powerhouse such as the US will make this far more achievable.