The UK government today announced a new space agency which it hopes will provide some unity to the country’s space research. But it declined to heed calls for a doubling in spending on participation in European space programmes.
The imaginatively titled UK Space Agency will bring together government civil space funding, which is current distributed across a number of bodies. It should also allow the UK to negotiate its participation in international projects with one voice.
As well as unveiling the new agency, business secretary Lord Mandelson announced the creation of an International Space Innovation Centre, to be based at Harwell. The centre will be backed by £40 million, coming from both industry and government (press release).
“What we’re announcing today is an absolutely landmark decision and a landmark investment, which shows just how committed we are to our space sectors,” said Mandelson.
He also wheeled out the government response to the recent Space Innovation Growth Strategy report which came out in February.
“We agree with the majority of its recommendations,” said Mandelson. “We also know in the next few years fiscal conditions will be tighter.
Crucially, the recommendation to double government spending on European Space Agency programmes will not be supported.
Despite that, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, told those attending the launch that the new agency was “good news” that built on previous UK space initiatives.
The UK Space Agency seems to have gone down well with British space fans, who have been after a stronger voice for a while. It even comes as a minor surprise, as Nature’s Geoff Brumfiel noted back in February that “officials and space scientists I’ve talked to believe privately that it is unlikely an agency can be cobbled together before a general election in May”.
And then there are those who wonder why it has taken so long. Before the grand unveiling of UKSA this morning, one attendee could be heard grumbling “It’s a shame this didn’t happen during the boom years.”
UKSA joins a number of existing namesakes, including the UK Statistics Authority, the UK Skateboard Association, the UK & Irish Samba Association, the UK Shareholders’ Association, and the UKSA sailing charity.