Updating UK space

What do you think about the United Kingdom's space programme? How can space, as much as Dr. Who, entice British young people? UK Minister for Science and Innovation Malcolm Wicks wants some input.

As the UK drafts the nation's new civil space policy, the
British National Space Centre (BNSC) has released, A Consultation on the UK Civil Space Strategy 2007-10, seeking responses over the next few months from space-interested folks and other "stakeholders," on British space issues and activities -- including space science, Earth observation science, space exploration and international collaboration in space exploration, societal benefits, wealth creation, technology, education, security and dual-use, trade promotion, new opportunities and more.

In the consultation BNSC sets forth 18 questions as "part of the process of updating the UK space strategy which is scheduled for publication in Autumn 2007."

The new "strategy" (which apparently is the English word for "policy") focuses on three primary objectives:
a. Delivering world-class science by exploiting the UK's space activities and expertise;
b. Delivering public benefits in partnership with Government bodies and institutions to exploit the full potential of space activities;
c. Maximising the potential for wealth creation from space activities by facilitating a progressive business environment.

space minister, who recently met with Michael Griffin about UK involvement with the VSE, said in the consultation's foreword, "For the UK, space is a success story. The world space market is large and growing fast, and the UK has a healthy share. Space contributes £7bn to UK GDP and supports 70,000 jobs." (Although in the press release, Wicks calculated somewhat differently: "The UK space sector is expanding, with a turnover of £4.8bn last year and employing directly a highly skilled workforce of over 16,000 people." But never mind math, we're talking space.)

What about the vexing question of British men and women going into space? The government will no doubt hear opinions about funding UK astronauts. The consultation states, "There are no current plans to become involved in the International Space Station or manned space activities, as no funding partner currently believes that the potential benefits justify the costs involved." For the record, the current space minister holds a view of human space exploration that
contrasts with the UK's notorious ban on astronaut funding. As Wicks has told The Times of London, "Britain will be an active participant in American and European projects to explore the solar system and should not automatically opt out of missions with human crews."

(The Times reported, in 2005-06 the UK's space budget of £207 million "was spent exclusively on robotic probes such as Mars Express and Huygens, the craft that landed in 2005 on Titan, Saturns largest moon .... Britain is the biggest funder of the European Space Agency's Aurora exploration strategy to Mars, but it has withdrawn from the parts that will involve human spaceflight.")

Responses to the public consultation are due by April 2, 2007

Image credit: The Leonids over Stonehenge (cover, Astronomy Now, 1999).

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UPDATE: Meanwhile, speaking of Euro-space strategy, Minister Wicks was busy this week over in Edinburgh, participating in the first of a series of workshops (Jan. 8-9) hosted by BNSC along with ESA on "the future strategy for ESA’s long-term exploration of the solar system and beyond" with the participation of "various stakeholder groups from Europe in consultation with colleagues from across the world."

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Space is the great adventure of the coming millennium. -- Malcolm Wicks, UK Minister for Science and Innovation

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