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Space Blog

Would a Space Agency boost UK Space?

In the week the whole world celebrates the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings in 1969, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has begun a consultation which aims to thrust the UK space sector forward for the next 40 years and beyond.
Lord Drayson pictured with Sir Martin Sweeting at SSTL earlier this year.
Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, kicked off the consultation at the London launch of a new European Space Agency (ESA) facility at Harwell yesterday. The consultation will seek views on whether the current organisation which oversees space in the UK, the British National Space Centre (BNSC), is the best funding structure to meet the challenges of the future and deliver the greatest benefit to the country. The UK has a hugely successful sector which is second only to the USA in space science, contributing £6.5bn a year to the UK economy and supporting 68,000 jobs. However, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on advances in space science and in order to safeguard the UK’s "critical mass" of skills and expertise, today’s consultation is seeking views on the appetite for a single agency to better co-ordinate the UK’s civil space strategy. Currently, British space policy is devised by a "partnership" of government departments and research councils operating devolved budgets. Speaking to the BBC, Lord Drayson said Britain would benefit from a more strategic approach.
Both in terms of raising the profile of space, which is a fantastic asset in the UK, and in terms of organising ourselves more efficiently, I think that an agency is the way to go.
The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology looked at the issue in 2007 and narrowly concluded that an agency was only worth setting up if the UK increased its civil spend on space substantially. At the moment, the government invests some £250m a year, mostly channelled through the European Space Agency (ESA). In the same article, Phil Willis MP, the Liberal Democrat chair of the HoC Science and Technology Committee welcomed the consiultation but questioned it's significance. He commented,
My personal view is that it is still worth having [even without a budgetary increase], but quite frankly without very significant additional funds, what you have is an organisation in name with very little clout.
Lord Drayson has cited the UK's involvement in the ESA GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme as a success. Indeed, many politicians agreed it was the perfect project for the UK because of the country's vocal position on climate change. However, Britain was indecisive and joined in the multi-billion-euro venture too late after some last-minute funding was organised by the Treasury. Industry has complained that the confusion over GMES cost UK companies the chance to bid for satellite contracts.





21 July 20090 Comments1 Comment

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