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UK stakes its claim on space with draft Bill

February 21, 2017

Satellite launches and commercial spaceflight from spaceports dotted around the country. That's the future for UK space activities. The government has presented its plans in a Draft Spaceflight Bill.

ISS Tim Peake Selfie
Image: ESA/NASA/Tim Peake

It's no secret the UK is keen to take a significant slice of the growing space industries pie. And on Tuesday, the government set out its plans for the future.

If brought into law, the Draft Spaceflight Bill would allow horizontal flights to the edge of space from spaceports across the UK. Scientists will be able to "conduct vital medical experiments" in zero gravity.

The draft legislation also seeks to encourage commercial space businesses and the creation of a "space launch market" in the UK. The aim is to start commercial spaceflight from a UK spaceport by 2020.

British astronaut Tim Peake, who spent six months at the International Space Station in 2016, has done much to invigorate the British space community.

"With millions inspired by Tim Peake's mission last year, and ambitious plans underway to study and explore the Solar System, our future in space is bright," write the authors of the draft bill.

Space: the Europe that works

It is also one way for the UK to remain part of European operations. The European Space Agency (ESA), of which the UK is a member, is sometimes referred to as the Europe that works.

Some within ESA say that's because the UK gets a better rate of return for its investments in European space activities than it thinks it does with the European Union. The ESA and the EU are separate bodies.

The UK space industry is worth about 16.5 billion euros (£13.7 billion). It employs more than 38,500 people directly. The government says the UK is "a world-leader in satellite technology and services."

And with companies like Reaction Engines it is fast being recognized as a leading innovator in rocket propulsion technology too.

"The UK has always prioritized the full range of scientific activities, commercial activities and using space to support the development of the economy and give value to citizens," says David Parker, a former head of the UK Space Agency and now ESA's head of human spaceflight. "So if you think about the weather forecast or using satellite communications in disasters, those humanitarian uses of space have always been high on the UK's agenda. And it's a commercially important sector of the economy."

It's a sentiment echoed clearly in the draft bill: "As we prepare to leave the European Union, we must ensure that the decisions we take now put the UK in a position to build a strong, resilient, well balanced economy that works for everyone."

And that also means "capturing a portion" of global space market worth a potential 30 billion euros ($31.6 billion).

DW Zulfikar Abbany
Zulfikar Abbany Senior editor fascinated by space, AI and the mind, and how science touches people