UK Launches New Space Agency

Britain has created a new national space agency, with plans to build a multimillion-dollar space innovation center. Until now UK space policy has been split between government departments. “The new agency will be a focal point in order to coordinate in a much more streamlined and efficient manner, working both on national projects and alongside ESA for the wider industry as well” said the UK’s first astronaut Major Tim Peake, who was selected in 2009 to represent England in space.

The U.K. Space Agency (UKSA) will begin operation – and have a new website available — by April 1, 2010.
“The action we’re taking today shows that we’re really serious about space,” said Lord Paul Drayson, U.K. Minister for Science and Innovation. “The U.K. Space Agency will give the sector the muscle it needs to fulfill its ambition.”

Drayson and Peake both said that the British space industry has remained strong despite recession troubles elsewhere and could grow into a $60 billion-a-year industry and create more than 100,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

“Our industry is really a hidden success story,” said Peake speaking on the BBC, “even during economic downturn, the space sector has been one of the few industry that has shown steady growth. We are in the forefront of the robotics technology and manufacturing small satellites and telecommunications as well.”

Peake said the UK space industry currently add $6.5 billion pounds to the economy and employs 68,000 people.

No new money will be added to the UK space budget, and the 200 million pounds allocated for UKSA is a consolidation of existing funding.

Peake said this doesn’t mean that the UK will leave the ESA alliance. “It is not a case of forging our way on our own. Every country that is in ESA also has their own agency and space policy. The ESA allows us to get involved in projects that no single country could afford to.”

In reading reactions from some of the UK bloggers, however, most convey skepticism about the new organization.

In New Scientist, Dr.Stu Clark wonders where the science is among the allocations for buildings and new technology. Plus he’s not sure if the plan for the UKSA is sustainable. “So it’s all very well having a 20-year plan, but the big question is whether UKSA can survive the next six months.”

At Astronomyblog, Stuart Lowe expressed disappointment. “For me, the launch has been a let down. We were led to believe that UKSA would be a NASA for the UK. The reality is far from it… I want to have an fantastic, inspiring, space agency. I want us to invest in it like we mean it. I want a NASA. I feel as though we’ve got a refurbished, second-hand agency that might collapse as soon as it leaves the launchpad and never make it past the General Election. Come on UK. You can do so much better.”

The e-Astronomer isn’t too fond of the UKSA logo: We got an exciting new logo. Actually I hated it. Looks like something somebody invented for a fictional fascist party in a cheap TV drama. Modern and thrusting and all that. But I guess its memorable.

Still others ask the big question: How is UKSA going to be pronounced? “Uk-sah” or “You-Kay-Ess-Ay?”

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, New Scientist, e-Astronomer, Parsec

10 Replies to “UK Launches New Space Agency”

  1. ‘No new money will be added to the UK space budget, and the 200 million pounds allocated for UKSA is a consolidation of existing funding.’

    Excuse me for being sceptical, but this has all the hallmarks of pre-election New Labour bullsh@t. A repackaging and recycling of existing budgets into something new at zero cost… they’ve done it with everything from the ‘railways fit for the 21st century’ to education. This, dear space enthusiasts has been announced virtually simultaneously to a government announcing cuts in university and research funding.

    I would love to see a UK NASA. Even better, I would love to see a stronger, better funded ESA, with the UK playing a larger role. However, I think there is more chance of finding intelligent life on the surface of Venus.

  2. I don’t know what to think of this. The cynical part of me tends to agree with Andy F. This does not seem like an agency which will be doing any big science, or any science at all. Let’s face it–200 million pounds a year isn’t going to do much.

    However, there is another role which it could serve. If they were to focus less on science (not that I want to see science funding cut, mind, but let’s say they leave it to ESA) and more on the space industry it could be useful. Let’s say, for example, that they help out developments such as the Skylon Spaceplane. This is a SSTO vehicle which could completely revolutionize space travel. From what I’ve hear, ESA has been impressed with other projects by the same company, so I hope that it will work. If they do that, not only could the create a multi-billion pound industry, but it would also become much cheaper and easier to launch science satellites.

    So, I guess I on’t know what to think. Probably UKSA is just a useless political tool, but I’ll try to keep my hopes up.

  3. Along time ago, in a United Kingdom far far way, the Air Ministry wasn’t at all enthusiastic about supporting Sir Frank Whittle and his newfangled and “impracticable” jet engine idea. Instead, they gave Whittle a nervous breakdown and the lead in jet powered flight to Germany in the early stages of World War II.

    Seventy years later, the United Kingdom launches another political committee, a Space Ministry, at a time when the trend in the United States is away from state sector control and towards supporting private industry (watch for more announcements on April 15th).

    Whoever has the right approach, large space missions, and other big science (e.g. ISS, LHC, the Unbelievably Large Telescope, the Square Kilometre Array) is so costly, they must rely on international cooperation. That much isn’t going to change.

  4. You know if it wasn’t a multi-million dollar center than it would be really small. I mean the average house alone can cost $500,000.

  5. “The ESA allows us to get involved in projects that no single country could afford to.” Like manned launch capability, hi-hoooo!

    It is kind of ironic that a coalition of 18 countries can’t do what three countries can do independently.

    But than again the UK’s space budget is only like 300 million, even though their GDP is around 2 trillion. Which according to some estimates is greater than Russia’s who space agency has a budget around 2.4 billion.

  6. I too am a doubter. As commented previously, no extra money, but a nice new logo. It will change nothing.

    Another pointer to this amounting to nothing is the fact that the UK is the only nation to have independently developed a launch capability, only to give it up. We had one successful lauch in 1971, Prospero, and the program was already cancelled.

    If the government was really serious, it would stump up the cash, just like the Germans have with DLR. UKSA could end up being embarassing.

  7. I’m with my fellow Brits on this one, especially Andy F’s comments.

    It’s probably coincidence, but the choice of the ‘launch’ date, 1st April, is very appropriate. The 200 million should just about fund the expenses of the controlling committees, MP’s, and even leave some change to pay for the guys who will be trying to wind up the rubber band to power our latest launcher.

    Yet another missed opportunity. And you thought GW was thick!

  8. According to tonight’s BBC1 main evening news, all three major political parties, including New Labour have now committed to large scale and deep public spending cuts following the General Election. Full story at:

    The BBC is forecasting that if the NHS is ring fenced, budget cuts in other departments could be even more extreme at 20-25%.

    Given the UK Government’s lack of backing for Blue Streak, and Prospero in the 60s and 70s, and even the proposed shut down of the Merlin network and Jodrell Bank radio observatory by the the Science and Technology Facilities Council 2 years ago, I find it difficult to imagine that budgets for space and science will remain at current levels, never mind being increased.

    Unfortunately, this is just pre-election window dressing.

  9. This action seems to be a consolidation of resources to some and a waste of finance to others? Hmm…. I’ll go with the consolidation of resources group – thinking its good to herd all the ponies into one corral!

  10. Good news finally. There may be no more money coming in but at least it will all be coordinated into one organisation which is good news. We will see how the setup works in time. Hopefully it will encourage the UK to invest more in space.

    Incidentally a minor point but the article states:
    ” the UK’s first astronaut Major Tim Peake, who was selected in 2009 to represent England in space.”
    Not England but the UK please. England is just one of the constituent countries of the UK, so he was NOT chosen to represent England.
    There have been British-born and effectively British astronauts before in NASA, but they had to take up US-citizenship in order to do it.

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