Tim Peake's return highlights strategic value of space to UK
On Saturday the UK welcomed Tim Peake – the UK's first European Space Agency astronaut – back to Earth, following the successful conclusion of his six month Principia mission on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Above: Tim Peake, the UK’s first European Space Agency astronaut has returned to Earth following the successful conclusion of his six month mission.
Since captivating the nation when he blasted-off from Kazakhstan on 15 December 2015, Tim Peake was on board the ISS for a total of 186 days. Through Tim Peake’s mission and government investment in the European Space Agency, the UK has played a full part in scientific research aboard the International Space Station. Whilst there Tim conducted over 250 scientific experiments and underwent regular testing to record the effect of space and zero-gravity on his bones, muscles and organs – research which will help inform manned space missions in the future, including possibly to Mars.
The UK government has also provided over £3 million for educational programmes around Tim Peake’s mission to inspire young people to pursue STEM subjects and careers – and Tim helped provide 10,000 British schools with plant seeds that experienced life on board the ISS so they can monitor any changes.
During his mission, Tim also found time in April 2016 to set a world record time for running a marathon in space and mesmerised children and adults around the world with his breath-taking photos on Twitter. He was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work in space research and scientific education - receiving the first ever appointment to the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George for extraordinary service beyond our planet.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Tim has inspired millions of children and adults alike to take an interest in space exploration and the solar system. Even when he was busy conducting important scientific research for the benefit of us all, he shared every step of his out of this world experience and ran a marathon. He has broken countless records and was rightly recognised for his extraordinary achievements beyond our planet."
Science Minister Jo Johnson said: "Throughout his mission as the UK’s first European Space Agency astronaut, Tim Peake embodied the very best of British scientific endeavour and exploration.
"With one marathon run, hundreds of experiments conducted and millions of people inspired, Tim has set new heights for British research."
Support for Tim’s Principia mission, underlines the government’s recognition of the strategic value of space to the UK’s future. Last year the UK government published its first National Space Policy, which supported industry ambitions to grow the UK’s share of the global space market to 10% by 2030 – worth £40 billion to the UK and supporting 100,000 new jobs. This set out the government’s ambition to establish a spaceport in the UK and in the Queen’s Speech it was confirmed we will be putting in place primary legislative and regulatory framework to enable a broad range of safe, commercial spaceflight operations and small satellite launch capabilities from the UK.
Recently, the Commons Science and Technology Committee identified a buoyant UK satellite and space sector as being poised for greater economic success. It warns, however, that Major Peake’s Principia mission must be a call to action and a catalyst to drive the UK’s development of a national space programme and spaceport.
The UK is recognised as a world leader in small satellites but a lack of ‘flight heritage’, due to a dearth of flight opportunities, risks holding back development.
The MPs recommend that the UK government swiftly addresses the missing piece in the UK’s space ambitions and establishes a national space programme, sitting alongside the UK’s existing contributions to the European Space Agency (ESA).
Nicola Blackwood MP, Chair of the Science & Technology Committee, said: “For the last six months, attention has rightly been focused on Major Tim Peake and Britain’s role in human space flight. But it’s important to remember that our space and satellite SMEs also need to access space, usually via unmanned missions, in order to test the innovative products they’ve been developing, like the small satellites used to observe the changing biology of the oceans. Without this ‘flight heritage’, space SME’s struggle to get their ideas out of the lab and successfully commercialised.
"The UK has, so far, only taken small steps towards launching a national space programme that would enable our innovative space and satellite industries to get the ‘flight heritage’ they need. Now is the time to take a confident leap towards that goal and build on the foundations of the National Space Technology Programme.
“The government’s plans for a UK spaceport will help keep the UK at the forefront of developments in spaceplane technology. It is a bold ambition but it now needs solid action.
"The government’s technical requirements for the spaceport have focused on establishing a horizontal launch capacity for suborbital flights, without a vertical launch capacity. These narrow parameters risk limiting the use, and value, of the spaceport to the space and satellite industry. The government must urgently set out the rationale, and evidence, for its spaceport proposals.”
Despite a distinguished history, excellence in R&D and innovation and impressive economic growth figures, the Committee heard that awareness of the UK’s space and satellite sector was worryingly low.
While the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was singled out as a ‘trail-blazer’ for using satellite data to assist with flood modelling and response, other Departments were lagging behind. It recommends that the government does more to stimulate awareness – especially among business – through using satellite data - and other ‘space-enabled services’ - to help it achieve more effective and efficient, policy delivery.
Nicola Blackwood MP said: “Over the last decade, the UK has built on its internationally-excellent space science research base, and its industrial expertise, to deliver impressive economic growth figures across the space sector, outstripping the economy as a whole.
"The target to grow the UK’s share of the global space market to 10% by 2030 highlights the continuing drive and ambition running through the industry.
"Further growth, however, risks being undermined by the worrying lack of awareness of this success story. Businesses that sit outside of the traditional space sector could benefit from using space services and satellite data, yet they don’t know these opportunities exist.
"The space and satellite industry must become more outward looking and engage with other sectors. The government should to lead the way by ensuring that satellite data is applied much more widely to help it achieve effective, and efficient, policy delivery.”