By Claire West

In the week the whole world celebrates the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings in 1969, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is beginning a consultation which aims to thrust the UK space sector forward for the next 40 years and beyond.
Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, will formally kick off the consultation at the London launch of a new European Space Agency (ESA) facility at Harwell, on Wednesday 22 July. The consultation will seek views on whether the current organisation which oversees space in the UK, the British National Space Centre (BNSC), is the best funding structure to meet the challenges of the future and deliver the greatest benefit to the country.

The BNSC has helped the UK to build a hugely successful sector which is second only to the USA in space science, contributes £6.5bn a year to the UK economy and supports 68,000 jobs.

However, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on advances in space science and in order to safeguard the UK’s “critical mass” of skills and expertise, today’s consultation is seeking views on the appetite for a single agency to better co-ordinate the UK’s civil space strategy.

The Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson said:

“Space is so important to our future. The UK space industry has thrived under the BNSC, but the Apollo 11 anniversary demonstrates the need for ambition, purpose and a clear sense of commitment.

“We now have to look ahead to the next 40 years. I want this consultation to be inspired and influenced by this idea. So we can provide the best support to our world-leading space sector. So it can continue to flourish and when the economic growth takes hold, make an even bigger impact on the UK economy and our lives.”

A thriving space sector will play an important role in building Britain’s future and the recession busting trends of the space industry is a testament to the nature of business that will generate the jobs of the future.

Space is a key part of the global communications network, driving globalisation and providing new business opportunities. The UK’s leading satellite infrastructure will also support sustainable development, help protect our oceans and fisheries, and allow us to predict and help when natural disasters strike throughout the world.

Britons benefit from space technology every day — often without realising it.

Some advances are obvious, such as satellite communications, television broadcasting. Mobile networks and accurate GPS equipment in cars. Others are more obscure, such as timing networks underpinning telephone and power grids.

Space applications can provide solutions for developing policy and providing services, for example, the Digital Britain initiative which will use satellites to achieve its goal of total UK broadband coverage by 2012.

The 12-week consultation is starting on the day the European Space Agency (ESA) lands in Harwell, Oxfordshire — opening its first facility in the UK. To participate go to from Wednesday afternoon for further information.

The ESA facility will focus on three areas — adapting space data and images to create new everyday applications; climate change modelling that uses space data; and developing technologies such as novel power sources and innovative robotics which could be used to explore the Moon and Mars.

Through the new ESA facility and the International Space Innovation Centre which will be created in Harwell, the UK will maximise its world-leading strengths in these areas and enable our space industry to win a larger share of the global market in space systems, services and applications.

The Government also recently announced the Space Innovation and Growth Team which offers a huge opportunity for the government to work alongside industry to define a clear plan — a 20 year vision — and come up with a strategy for the future growth of the UK space industry.

The Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, added:

“Britain is undergoing a space renaissance. We must build on this to strengthen our outstandingly successful space programme. I hope this consultation will help us establish the infrastructure we need to take UK space into a new age.”