The government has made a major commitment to the European Space Agency with the announcement of a five-year investment programme worth almost £2bn.
The UK Space Agency has said that that, between now and the middle of the next decade, it will fund European programmes to the tune of £374m a year. The government said that this will “secure UK involvement” in a range of major projects.
This includes the Lunar Gateway programme to build a new space station orbiting the moon, the construction of an early-warning system for solar storms, and research dedicated to the use of space technology in the delivery of next-generation communication such as 5G and satellite broadband.
The UK will also take part in a £180m global project to bring back to Earth geological samples from Mars for the first time.
The UK has already, effectively, dropped out of the ESA-run Galileo project to develop a European satellite navigation system. For the last 18 months the government has been investigating the potential of building its own sat nav platform.
But the commitment to the ESA – which is independent of the European Union – means that UK firms will now be permitted to bid for contracts on other European space programmes.
Business secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “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.”
The UK was a founding member of the ESA in 1975. The organisation now has 22 full member states, while Canada and Slovenia also have agreements permitting them to “fully participate in the programmes of the ESA Education Office”.