News story

UK vision: research in space environments and human spaceflight

The UK Space Agency has published its National Strategy for Space Environments and Human Spaceflight.

International Space Station.
ISS with ATV and Shuttle docked, captured by ESA's Paolo Nespoli. Credit: ESA, NASA, ROSCOSMOS.

The strategy is published ahead of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s maiden voyage, expected in December 2015. This covers a range of scientific and technical disciplines, giving a coherent picture for activities which use the space environment – from fundamental physics and novel materials to healthcare technologies and space science – and sets out the UK’s vision for human spaceflight. A public consultation on the Strategy was conducted in 2014, following which a government response was published and the draft Strategy revised.

Strategy: space environments and human spaceflight

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Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said:

From new advances in healthcare to getting our young people really excited about science, human spaceflight has the potential to deliver a huge range of benefits here on Earth. This strategy outlines our ambition to advance scientific knowledge and create the right environment for human spaceflight and space environment research to boost growth and deliver new technologies that will improve everyday life in the future.

Dr David Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:

Our new national strategy is all about making the most of space: exploiting the unique opportunities for growth which human spaceflight and associated research programmes can offer. I’m immensely proud of British scientists, who really are among the world’s best, as demonstrated by the strong showing in the recent international space life sciences competition. Space and life sciences are two areas where the UK has a proud heritage and the UK Space Agency is committed to helping researchers access unique facilities such as the ISS.

Most of the UK’s involvement in human spaceflight and research in the space environment is through the European Space Agency (ESA). At the 2012 ESA Ministerial the UK Space Agency made its first contribution to the International Space Station and ESA’s European Life and Physical Sciences Programme (ELIPS). In the latest Ministerial (2014) the Agency again pledged money to the ISS and ELIPS. This money - £49.2 million - gives UK researchers access to the $100 billion ISS programme, allowing them to use the unique environment of space to carry out research and make important advances in areas such as materials science, additive manufacturing and medical/biological sciences.

UK success in life science experiments for space

The UK has a strong research base and is rapidly establishing itself as a key player in space environments research. In a recent international call for new life sciences experiments to be flown on the ISS, coordinated by NASA, ESA, and the Japanese and Canadian space agencies, 3 new experiments led by UK research teams were selected by ESA for further definition. Of these, 2 were the top-ranked proposals in Europe in terms of scientific merit, judged to be ‘outstanding’ by the international review panel.

Dr Timothy Etheridge, University of Exeter, will study muscle decline in space, and potential ways of counteracting this. Professor Donna Davies, University of Southampton, will investigate how a lack of gravity affects the respiratory system, using a novel 3D model of human bronchia. Both experiments will improve our understanding of human health here on Earth, as well as the effects of long duration human space travel.

British European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut

The forthcoming flight of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, in November 2015, will be a major milestone for the UK’s involvement in human spaceflight. Tim will be the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station (ISS) and during his 6 month mission will conduct a range of scientific experiments which will increase knowledge, deliver benefits on Earth and test technologies for future missions further afield, such as to the Moon or Mars. He will also help deliver an inspiring range of outreach and educational activities.

Published 6 July 2015