Satellites are too costly in tough times, say protesters

Unlike the rockets used by Nasa and SpaceX to launch satellites, Virgin Orbit will use a specially adapted jumbo jet – VIRGIN ORBIT/EPA

By Ross Kaniuk,
Publsihed by The Times, 31 October 2022

Protesters have targeted Britain’s first satellite launch to complain about the cost of living crisis.

Next month a Virgin Boeing 747, known as Cosmic Girl, is due to take off and dispatch a rocket that will put nine satellites high above Earth. The plane arrived in Cornwall this month. The project has been partly financed with £10 million of taxpayers’ money.

Kate Hudson, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s general secretary, said space was the “new frontier for military escalation” with “no real public scrutiny or accountability”. She added: “Billions are being spent on this new arms race which could instead be invested in helping to solve the current cost of living crisis.”

The rocket, LauncherOne, will go out over the Atlantic to launch the satellites, some of them British. A Virgin Orbit spokesman said its mission would inform the company about space and the world’s climate. “We believe in the power of space access to make positive impacts on the everyday lives in how it informs understanding of our world and especially climate. We remain committed to open space for good, for everyone, from everywhere.”

But CND argues that rather than focusing on space expansion, Britain should be “upholding and abiding by” the Outer Space treaty aimed at “preventing national and commercial exploitation of space and the damage that could cause”.

Chris Cole, director of the campaign group Drone Wars, said the launch would initiate a “new era of military space expansion”, marking the UK’s joining of a “space arms race” that would lead to instability and conflict.

The satellite is intended to be the first of many launches from centres around the UK, with up to eight Virgin Orbit flights a year eventually taking off from Spaceport Cornwall, based at Newquay airport. The government hopes the industry will be worth £3.8 billion over the next decade.

The probes offer environment monitoring, weather observations, data relays and other services. One of the satellites is also expected to help to stop migrant trafficking and other illegal sea activity.

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