Spaceflight Insider

“Space matters”: U.K. publishes its first national space policy

UK ESA astronaut Time Peake.

U.K. ESA astronaut Time Peake. Photo Credit: U.K. Space Agency

The U.K. government has published a document outlining the country’s role in future space programs and envisioning Britain’s growing role in the space industry. The document, entitled “National Space Policy”, was released by the U.K. Space Agency on Dec. 13, 2015, and is the first nationwide policy combining existing civil and military space policies. It was issued just two days before Tim Peake was launched to the International Space Station (ISS), becoming the first U.K. ESA astronaut in space.

The 15-page document, whose opening words are “Space matters”, describes the roles and responsibilities of 17 different government organizations involved in space activities. It showcases how satellite data and services shape policy in areas across the country.

“Any space policy needs to keep up with the pace of change and reinvention in technology and in society. This document describes how we will do that and support the U.K. space industries in achieving their ambitions and realizing their potential,” said Sajid Javid, U.K. Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.

The document indicates that space is of strategic importance for the U.K. government because of the value that space programs deliver back to public services, national security, science and innovation, and the economy. It supports the growth of a robust and competitive commercial space sector, and also promotes the safety and security of the space operating environment. Lastly, it calls for international space cooperation.

Front cover of the “National Space Policy”

Front cover of the “National Space Policy”. Image Credit: U.K. Space Agency

“Here in the U.K., we have a powerful, innovative space sector, inspiring and improving lives, and bringing in billions to our economy every year. We are rightly proud and need to preserve and build upon our success,” said Oliver Letwin, a Member of the U.K. Parliament and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The National Space Policy tries to reaffirm that space really matters to U.K. government as it becomes increasingly important to modern Britain. The U.K. space sector has delivered annual economic growth rates of around 8 percent over the last decade, and it enables twice as many jobs as it directly employs. The country aims to grow its share of the global market from 6.5 to 10 percent by 2030.

“The value of the space sector in the U.K. has grown from £6.5 billion in 2007 to £11.8 billion in 2014. Our ambition is that the sector should grow to £40 billion by 2030. This is the first time that we have set out the wider U.K. government’s approach to space, creating a stable policy environment for industry and business. This enables industry and businesses to grasp the global opportunities that space offers,” Javid noted.

The British government underlines the importance of easy access to new space markets offering significant advantages to U.K. space businesses. For instance, the country has already set out an ambition to establish a spaceport in the U.K. for the need of commercial spaceflight and small satellite launch activities. A future spaceport is likely to be located in a coastal location, offering the potential to stimulate high-tech growth in local communities in Cornwall, Scotland, or Wales, providing new and long-term manufacturing and service jobs.

The document says little about the future British manned space missions; however, it highlights Tim Peake’s spaceflight as a major source of inspiration for students and children interested in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).

“The U.K.’s role in exploration – such as Tim Peake’s Principia mission to the International Space Station and those beyond our orbit as we explore our solar system – delivers cutting edge science and inspires the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Javid said.

According to the National Space Policy, the U.K. government will commit more to science and innovation when it comes to space programs tasked with answering fundamental scientific questions around our planet and the universe. Collaboration with international partners through the membership in ESA will be crucial to achieving these goals. ESA missions like Gaia – a spacecraft that is currently creating the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our galaxy – couldn’t be built without a significant contribution of the U.K. Space Agency.

 “Government will target its intervention across the science and innovation cycle from cutting-edge research and development through to near-market initiatives, ensuring that the U.K. is at the forefront of this critical modern technology,” the document reads.

The newly published National Space Policy shows that the U.K. is on the right track to restore its space ambitions. The country’s human space flight program was cut in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher’s administration decided that it would not spend any money on the contributions to manned space flight, rocket launchers, or the ISS.

Although Tim Peake is the first British ESA astronaut, he is not the first British citizen to go to space. Helen Sharman flew to the Russian Mir space station in 1991 without the British government’s support, but with private sponsorship.


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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