The UK Space Agency (UKSA) launched today in Swindon. The new body, which replaces the British National Space Centre (BNSC), is being created to bolster the UK’s impact in the space sector and to bring together what is currently a very fragmented set of space-related government bodies and agencies.
This new body will have an annual budget of about £230 million behind it (a drop compared to the BNSC) and it is being created now because of predicted dramatic increases in the space sector in the coming years. Britain’s space industry is expected to grow, creating lots of jobs in the coming years. This is all very good stuff for the government to be talking about just weeks before a general election – ahem.
Sadly, politics are very much behind today’s launch. There was a time when the idea of a UK space agency would have really excited me. Now that I am a real-life scientist though, and given the circumstances, I feel a bit worried about it. There will no doubt be many scientists involved and employed by the UKSA (or will it just be ‘UKSA’) but there seems to be very little mention of research in all the hype surrounding today’s events.
Most of the UK’s involvement in the space industry has been centred around scientific research (astrophysics, climatology, etc) and it worries me that this new agency is going to take money away from that in order to put out the image of the UK as a space-faring nation.
On a less cynical note, the creation of the UKSA is something that people nationwide should be talking about. This could be a good chance to get classrooms, living rooms and pubs buzzing with talk of astronauts and trips to the Moon and Mars. After all, the schoolchildren are the ones that might actually go to such places!
I’m going to let my younger self lead the way on this one. When I was little I was so jealous of NASA and the way American’s got to own the galaxy by default. My 8-year-old self is really excited that the UKSA – even if it does have a terrible name – is here with it’s union flag logo to lead us all into the unknown. I realise that this agency represents spending cuts not increases and that this launch has been a bit of rubbish start – but there’s hope in the idea of a united space agency for the nation.
So I’m giving the UKSA a tentative thumbs up after my initial moaning. It may sound naive, but I hope that when this economic collapse levels off, the UK Space Agency will ultimately allow more astrophysics research to be undertaken. The UKSA could be a fresh beginning for the way we think about space in the UK. It might help us to reframe exploration, research and astronomy in general.
Here’s to strange new worlds, new life, and new ways of taking your tea – as the UK heads for infinity, and beyond!
[Photo above from ESA showing Major Tim Peake, Britain’s first official astronaut]