Tuesday, July 14, 2015

UK Reveals Its Vision for Space Research and Human Spaceflight

The front cover of the “National Strategy for Space Environments and Human Spaceflight”. Credit: UK Space Agency

UK released last week its strategy covering a range of scientific and technical disciplines, giving a coherent picture for activities which use the space environment – from fundamental physics and novel materials, to healthcare technologies and space science. The document, entitled “National Strategy: Space Environments and Human Spaceflight” sets out also the country’s vision for human spaceflight, ahead of British astronaut Tim Peake’s maiden trip to space.

“Our new national strategy is all about making the most of space: exploiting the unique opportunities for growth which human spaceflight and associated research programs can offer,” said David Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency “I’m immensely proud of British scientists, who really are among the world’s best, as demonstrated by the strong showing in the recent international space life sciences competition. Space and life sciences are two areas where the UK has a proud heritage and the UK Space Agency is committed to helping researchers access unique facilities such as the International Space Station (ISS).”

The UK Space Agency hopes that this strategy will help ensure that existing investment in space activities is well targeted and will be a guide for future investment decisions, providing a framework for further activities. 

The goals outlined in the document include attracting investors for the UK space industry and prepare the country for possible future commercial human spaceflight endeavors. It could be achieved by providing a regulatory environment that encourages commercial spaceflight in the UK.

“This strategy outlines our ambition to advance scientific knowledge and create the right environment for human spaceflight and space environment research to boost growth and deliver new technologies that will improve everyday life in the future,” said Jo Johnson, UK’s Minister for Universities and Science.

As it is underlined in the strategy, the establishment of a UK spaceport could help achieve the desired goals. It could provide frequent access to space for industry, government and academia. The spaceport could also enable new ESA activities to be located in the UK.

The upcoming spaceflight of Tim Peake, in December 2015, will be a major milestone for the UK’s involvement in human spaceflight. He will be the first British astronaut to visit the ISS.

The UK has a strong research base and is rapidly establishing itself as a key player in space environments research. In a recent international call for new life sciences experiments to be flown on the ISS, coordinated by NASA, ESA, and the Japanese and Canadian space agencies, 3 new experiments led by UK research teams were selected by ESA for further definition.

The UK space industry was lately boosted by opening two new space facilities: the new European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) and the new test facility for RAL Space.

ECSAT’s new building will be responsible for the development of new markets for satellite-based services and applications. The facility will also house the Earth Observation Climate Office, Science and Exploration teams and Technology and Quality Management teams supporting ESA research and development programs in the UK, focusing on ‘game-changing’ technologies and capabilities.

RAL Space’s R100 building will include two new Space Test Chambers along with a vibration facility, clean rooms and AIV (Assembly, Integration and Verification) control room. These enhanced facilities will be used for important future projects including ESA’s Sentinel 4 mission as part of Europe’s Copernicus program and solar and heliospheric physics with the Solar Orbiter mission.

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