Space

Defence Secretary Wants RAF Pilots To Earn 'Space Wings'

In addition to a £30m investment in a small satellite demonstrator, an RAF test pilot will be sent to Virgin Orbit's space programme.

The Defence Secretary has proclaimed that "the sky is no longer the limit" as she announced a new space plan for the UK to adapt to "evolving threats". 

During a speech in central London, Penny Mordaunt announced £30 million will be invested to fast-track the launch of a "small satellite demonstrator" within the next year.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said the small, low-orbiting satellite could eventually lead to high-resolution video being streamed into the cockpit of a fighter jet.

It is hoped the technology will provide pilots with "unprecedented levels of battle awareness".

She said the investment will see the UK play a "leading role" in space.

The satellite will be supported by a new team made up of UK and US defence personnel called Team Artemis. 

The UK will also become the first partner to join Operation Olympic Defender - a US-led international coalition formed to deter hostile actors in space.

Over the next 18 months, eight British personnel will deploy to the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) in California.

Could the RAF be heading in to space? (Picture: NASA).

An RAF test pilot will also be sent to Virgin Orbit's space programme, which is owned by businessman Richard Branson. 

The programme is researching launching small satellites into space from the wing of a Boeing 747.

Speaking at the RAF Air and Space Power Conference, Ms Mordaunt said: "Science fiction is becoming science fact.

"One day I want to see RAF pilots earning their space wings and flying beyond the stratosphere.

"If you join our RAF you will join a service where you can become an aviator or an astronaut, where you will push back the frontiers of space and create a launchpad to the stars," she continued.

"In the face of evolving threats from hostile actors in space, we are acting more closely than ever with our international allies through Five Eyes, NATO and now Operation Olympic Defender."

She also announced Joint Forces Command will be reborn as "Strategic Command".

Ms Mordaunt said the new title is more than just a name change and will see the Command take on a greater strategic role in tackling "grey zone" threats across land, sea, air, cyber and space.