Cover Image: CARBONITE-2 with SSTL’s core team engineers. Credit SSTL/Beaucroft Photography
The launch of a new cutting-edge satellite shows the UK is "pushing the boundaries" in adapting to increasing threats facing the country, the head of the Royal Air Force has said.
Revealing the Carbonite-2 satellite was launched into orbit in January, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said the technology gives the RAF a first full-motion colour video from space.
Speaking to the Press Association, he said that although the RAF has "been in the space business for some considerable time", the new satellite is "pushing those boundaries outwards".
"It is turning the volume up on what we have previously done and it is partly because the opportunity is there and the technology is increasingly there to support those opportunities.
"But partly because we are being increasingly challenged."
"We, both militarily and in everyday life, have come to see space as a free good where we are not going to be challenged, and that is not the case."
"We are being challenged, and so space situational awareness, space resilience, the ability to continue to guarantee that vital operating environment is an RAF task, and we are doing more there."
The RAF has been working with the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and UK industry on the programme.
The first satellite of its kind, created by Surrey Satellite Technology, Carbonite-2 has completed its initial checks and is beaming back detailed imagery and footage from above the Earth.
Calling the project an example of "doing defence acquisition quickly", he said it was less than 10 months from initial concept to the launch of the satellite.
With £4.5 million of MoD cash ploughed into the wider scheme, he said for the amount paid, new territory has been entered.
"We have demonstrated a world-leading space-based capability and the UK has never had that before. It then sets the template for what we might do in the future," he said.
"That is money extremely well spent."
He said the Carbonite-2 is a "really good example" of technology being exploited and the British military "moving at a faster tempo" than before, and that the satellite could be considered "a poster for modernising defence capability".
Launched from India, it weighs 100kg, is the size of a washing machine and carries an off-the-shelf telescope and HD video camera, which have been adapted for space.
Sir Stephen said the satellite technology has a "very clear military application", and "it is entirely possible" the footage and imagery could one day be beamed and used inside the cockpit of an F-35B strike fighter jet.
Pressed on the importance of the technology to the future of the RAF and the British military, he said it offers an opportunity to "properly exploit the advantages of operating in space".
Sir Stephen said space provides the ability to "look on a worldwide basis, several times a day", something he stressed is "hugely powerful"