The UK is to continue its active role as part of ESA, industry secretary Andrea Leadsom confirmed following the ministerial council meeting in Seville this week. As ESA is not part of the European Union’s organisations, the UK’s involvement is not affected by Brexit.
Leadsom agreed at the meeting that the UK Space Agency (UKSA) would contribute £375m a year for the next five years towards ESA’s international space programs. “We are delighted to be making this investment in ESA today. From improving communication and connectivity, to helping us monitor the impact of climate change and protect our power grid, our membership of this international organisation will further our position as a space, innovation and climate superpower,” Leadsom said.
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The commitment marks a 10 per cent increase in space investment, which is being matched by the other ESA members. This reflects a desire to increase the number and ambition of space missions, including studies of black holes using gravitational waves and the upcoming comet interceptor mission.
Other missions with which the UKSA expects to be involved include building the Lunar Gateway space station, from which future crewed moon landings and Mars exploration will be launched; a sample return mission to Mars, where the UK’s contribution totals £180m; new satellites to better understand climate change; research towards establishing 5G and satellite broadband services around the world, towards which the UK will contribute a total of £250m; an early warning system for solar storms and removal of orbital space junk. The UK’s contribution to the latter two products, which are in partnership with the US, will total £80m.
The UK has also committed over £200m to invest in Earth Observation missions, including the UK-led TRUTHS (traceable radiometry pinning terrestrial and helio studies) mission, which aims to establish a space-based climate and calibration observing system to improve confidence in climate change forecasting. Conceived and designed at the National Physical Laboratory, TRUTHS is scheduled to launch in 2026-28. The council meeting also agreed that all ESA astronauts from the class of 2009, including Tim Peake, will return to the International Space Station before 2024.
Additional investments include over £16m on satellite navigation innovation, £12m to support commercial spaceflight and over £30m to support space technology, including help for small businesses to take advantage of the space sector.