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Britain Announces New Space Agency

The government says a space agency could boost the country’s economy and science.

The UK government has announced a new national space agency that will start up on April 1 with the opening of a $60 million facility called the International Space Innovation Center located in Oxfordshire, England. The new agency will oversee all of the county’s space endeavors, which includes earth-monitoring satellites for climate change and future human space exploration.

Credit: ESA/BIS/BNSC

The country’s current space program has been scattered between government departments and science councils, and its activity has been mostly focused on building satellites and associated electronic equipment. The space and satellite industry currently supports 68,000 jobs and contributes $9 billion annually to the economy, according to Space.com. It wasn’t until 2007 that the British National Space Center set up the Space Exploration Working Group and proposed plans for human space missions, citing the fact that two British astronauts could travel to space by 2015. (UK-born astronauts have had to become United States citizens in order to fly in space.)

UK officials said the new agency could grow to a $60 billion a year industry and create over 100,000 jobs over the next two decades. A few of its main goals would be to boost the country’s role in climate change science with new earth-monitoring satellites and create space-based systems for both security and communications in hopes of becoming one of the top ten space nations. UK officials are also deciding whether they should establish their own Earth observation network; right now the UK gives majority of its space budget to ESA for satellite projects and robotic missions. (ESA’s press release about the announcement is here.)

According to parts of the British media, it’s about raising the country’s bottom line. In the Guardian theUK business secretary, Lord Mandelson, says the space agency will help Britain out of recession. New Scientist magazine says the agency is more about revitalizing the manufacturing industry than the science.

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