U.K. Science Minister Paul Drayson announced today that Britain would, finally, create its own space agency. No news yet on the body's name or spending power, but it has long been argued that a single body managing the U.K. space effort would bring more coherence to research efforts and give the United Kingdom more clout in negotiations with international partners.
Currently six government ministries, two research councils, the Technology Strategy Board, and the Meteorological Office all have an interest in space activities. Their efforts have been guided by the British National Space Centre, but this small organization has no spending money of its own. Britain has a long-standing policy of avoiding any programs of the European Space Agency that involve human spaceflight, focusing its efforts on robotic science missions, earth observation, and the commercial exploitation of space. As a result, the United Kingdom spends much less on space activities than its European rivals France and Germany.
In 2007, during a consultation on future space plans, the Royal Society recommended that Britain should form its own space agency to better coordinate activities. Speaking today at a space conference at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, Drayson noted that the U.K. space industry had grown 9% per year throughout this decade, more than three times that of the rest of the economy. “The new space agency is about making sure that the U.K. fully exploits its competitive advantage in satellites, robotics and related technologies," Drayson said.
A new bureaucracy is one thing, but researchers will be eagerly waiting to hear whether there will be extra funding for new activities and whether all current funding will be channeled through this new specialist body.