Government pledges extra £60m to UK Space Agency

The government today pledged an extra £60m to the UK Space Agency for Europe’s space programme.

The investment was announced by chancellor George Osborne during a speech at the Royal Society.

According to the UK Space Agency, the extra investment will also secure the future of the European Space Agency (ESA) facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire, including transferring ESA’s telecoms satellite headquarters to the UK and creating more than 100 new jobs.

Minister for universities and science, David Willetts, said: ‘This increase will bring the UK’s total investment in the ESA to an average of £240m per year over the next five years.

‘This will allow the UK to play a leading role in the next phase of European space collaboration. It will drive growth, create extra skilled jobs and help the UK to realise its ambition to have a £30bn space industry by 2030.’

In a statement Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the ESA, added: ‘With this substantial increase in investment, the UK is helping to promote competition in and encourage the growth of the European space sector by developing space capacities in the UK.

‘In addition to the increased use of UK industry, our commitment to growing ESA’s facility here in Harwell confirms that the UK Space Agency is taking up more of a leadership role in key parts of the space sector.’

The new resources will be focused on those projects that will bring economic growth to the UK, including a new generation platform for telecommunications satellites and next-generation weather satellites.

Today’s announcement is said to come ahead of the ESA’s Ministerial Council — a two-day meeting that takes place every four years to reach key decisions on European space programmes and activities for the future.

The meeting is due to start in Naples on 20 November and will be attended by Willetts. During the proceedings the minister will negotiate the UK’s commitment to individual programmes from the funding announced today.

Growth potential
Today’s speech by the chancellor set out eight areas in which the government believes it can help harness scientific expertise in order to create jobs and growth, including energy storage, advanced materials, plus robotics and autonomous systems.

‘No one doubts the world-class nature of British science,’ said Osborne. ‘But there has long been anxiety about our ability to turn scientific research into successful commercialisation.

‘Today I want to begin a debate about… future technologies where we believe we can be the best — where we already have an edge, but we could be world leading.’

Welcoming today’s speech, Sir John Parker GBE FREng, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: ‘I am delighted to hear such public support from the chancellor for investment in science, engineering and technology at this critical time for our economy.

‘The specific areas he has highlighted — computing, synthetic biology, agricultural science, regenerative medicine, energy storage, nanotechnology, robotics and space — have huge potential for growth.

‘This country is already a leader in some of these areas where top-class scientific research is underpinned by world-beating UK engineering.

‘Government can help the transition of great ideas from lab to market by creating a business investment-friendly environment that gives companies — and their supply chains — the confidence and incentives to invest in creating world-leading products and services.’