Spaces High: UK increases space tech funding
December 18, 2019
2 min read
What's going on here?
On the eve of European Space Agency (ESA) summit, the Prime Minister agreed to increase funding to the ESA by more than 15%, in order to contribute to international space initiatives including addressing climate change, high speed mobile technology, and returning samples from Mars.
What does this mean?
The ESA is an intergovernmental organisation which is independent from the European Union, promoting space research and coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members. This enables members to participate in programmes which are beyond the scope of singular countries. At the ESA summit, member states are able to bid for places on projects, but these bids cannot be made without funding commitments.
In coming to the final decision on funding, the Prime Minister’s office raised concerns over whether a policy announcement would be appropriate during an election period, and with regards to how this would fit with plans for the national space programme. Thus the ability of the UK, the ESAs fourth largest contributor, to bid on programmes was questionable leading up to the summit.
What's the big picture effect?
The UKs decision to increase funding to the ESA will safeguard its role in some of the ESAs most important programmes. The UK made it a priority to win a larger role on the Copernicus programme. Copernicus is concerned with earth observation and has the potential to provide us with a better understanding of climate change and how to mitigate it. Other programmes benefiting from the increased funding by member states, include exciting programmes such as Athena (an X-Ray Telescope), Lisa (satellite observatory detecting gravitational waves), and collaboration with NASA on Hera (investigation of asteroids and how to deflect them should they be on a collision course with Earth).
The move to increase funding will aid in the UKs ambition to secure 10% of the global space market by 2030, equal to 40 billion pounds. The UK has however arguably made reaching these goals more difficult with its commitment to leaving the EU, with several companies moving workers to the continent. However, it should be noted that the UK will remain a member of the ESA even after Brexit.
British astronaut Tim Peake has praised the increase, saying that “governments are realising what our future is – whether it’s around autonomous vehicles, whether it’s around quantum computing, artificial intelligence, potential future energy sources such as nuclear fusion – if we don’t invest in R&D (research and development) then we’re not going to reap the rewards of what potential that has to offer us in the future.” Whatever the future holds, the UK can look forward to being a part of exciting new developments and capabilities!
Report written by Julie Lawford
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