Vigilamus – the importance of conserving Space for generations to come, through proactive space domain awareness now
It’s Monday morning. Week 59 of Covid working from home. The alarm goes off at 7am. Pre-Covid it was 05:45 in order to get the 7am train to London. Sunday nights are always restless nights as you transition into the new working week. My elderly cat wakes me without fail at precisely 2:58am wanting to go outside. Strangely, the motion detector light is always on at that time too, which makes me wonder who, or what, else is awake and moving about at those times. We installed a cat flap for him last year but I guess old cats don’t learn new tricks either, and he interprets darkness as the cat flap being closed and wants human intervention and company.
But I don’t mind a stroll outside in the garden in the dark of night, as a side benefit that rarely fails to amaze me is the beauty of the night sky and the starry display on offer. Sometimes I’ve seen the ISS and once I was startled to see a very clear and very fast moving train of close lights, which I realised afterwards was Starlink and which prompted me to join a local astronomy group. Sunday night’s offering was a huge and beautiful Super Pink full moon – one of only two full moons to appear in 2021. Last night (April 26th) it was at its maximum size.
Watching the stars always makes me think of my colleagues from Serco on night shift at RAF Fylingdales, whose motto is “Vigilamus – Always Watching”.
When people think Serco and are asked what we do, the mental image that usually comes to mind is of a person in a high vis jacket, driving a bin wagon, portering a hospital bed, or more recently, conducting Covid tests in a marquee in a car park somewhere near you. What all of these have in common is that they are the vital but below the radar (excuse the pun!) services to society that are often the glue that holds bigger citizen service outcomes together. If these services were to be interrupted, the impacts would very quickly cause problems in wider national critical service outcomes. And this is especially true for our Space services. We are proud to have been trusted by our armed forces to deliver critical national space services side by side with them ‘whole force’ for over 55 years now.
It isn’t widely known, but Serco’s focus on resilience and mission critical service delivery actually started in the Space sector. Serco’s first ever contract (and longest to date) is to provide maintenance, operation and spacetrack analysis of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning (BMEWS) radar and more recently the Upgraded Early Warning radar capability at RAF Fylingdales. Our primary role is supporting the RAF (and now Space Command since 1st April) in surveilling space to look for launching attacks of ballistic missiles. But Fyligdales  secondary and increasingly important role is to perform space situational awareness and they are tasked to track around  3,000 objects each day, either satellites, mand-made debris or natural objects – and to make sure that they are in their expected orbits and positions and try to predict any risk from conjunctions or potential collisions.  The data object track data is transmitted to the 18th Space Control Squadron in US Space Command to help keep the Space Control Centre catalogue of space objects up to date. Space is inherently dual use and it’s important for military satellite operators to know what commercial satellite operators are doing and vice versa.  So more recently Serco also been working with the UK Space Operations Centre to stand up a new Commercial Integration Cell to share relevant information to avoid collisions and work out ways of sharing data where possible. It’s all part of the UK adding value to our allies and adapting to changing risk scenarios.
Fylingdales also help authorities around the world to track launches of new satellites and assist in the mission planning to track  launches. With 32 orbital launches so far already this year,  and most launches being multi payload nowadays, the number of satellites launched is going up rapidly . And so, the night sky is getting busier and the role of Space Domain Awareness ever more critical for protecting our daily way of life.   
My 3am starry musings came full circle when I switched on the BBC on Monday morning and saw an article entitled Space junk map tracks 200 ‘ticking time bombs’ – BBC News. Given this growing congestion and contestion, it was good to see the prominence of Space in the Integrated Review and the emphasis in that and the Defence Command Paper on increasing UK capability in Space Domain Awareness. We also look forward to hearing more from both Space Command and UKSA on UK plans for Space Domain Awareness in the upcoming National Space Strategy this summer.
In the meantime, thank goodness for ‘Vigilamus’ and the work of UK Space Command and all their industry partners working on Space Domain Awareness. Serco and our Athena partners CGI, Lockheed Martin and Inmarsat are all proud to be playing our own individual parts in the UK and international efforts to protect and defend Space for generations to come.
If you want to see what Vigilamus looked like when our teams first started on Space Domain Awareness in the 1960s, this fabulous old Pathé newsreel is well worth a watch. The technology may have changed but the importance of suitably qualified personnel, collaboration, mission focus and trusted relationships continues to this day.

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