UK Space Agency

The United Kingdom Space Agency (commonly known as the UK Space Agency or UKSA) is an executive agency of the Government of the United Kingdom, responsible for the United Kingdom's civil space programme. It was established on 1 April 2010 to replace the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and took over responsibility for government policy and key budgets for space exploration;[2][3] it represents the United Kingdom in all negotiations on space matters.[4][5] The Agency "[brings] together all UK civil space activities under one single management".[2] It is based at the former BNSC headquarters in Swindon, Wiltshire.[4][6][7][8]

UK Space Agency
Formation1 April 2010 (2010-04-01)
Legal statusExecutive agency of Her Majesty's Government
HeadquartersPolaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN2 1SZ
OwnerUnited Kingdom
Minister responsible
Chief Executive
Graham Turnock
Parent organization
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
£371 million (2016/2017)[1]

Creation and aims

The establishment of the UK Space Agency was announced by Lord Mandelson, Lord Drayson and astronaut Major Timothy Peake at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on 23 March 2010.

Around £230 million of funding and management functions were merged into the UK Space Agency from other organisations.[4] "Improving co-ordination of UK efforts in fields such as Earth science, telecoms and space exploration" will form part of its remit, according to Lord Drayson.[9]

Prior to the creation of the Agency, the space and satellite industry in the UK was valued at £6 billion and supported 68,000 jobs. The 20-year aim of the Agency is to increase the industry to £40 billion and 100,000 jobs,[2] and to represent 10% of worldwide space products and services (increasing from the current 6%). This plan arises from the "Space Innovation and Growth Strategy" (Space-IGS) report, published by the Space Innovation and Growth Team in February 2010.[4]

Dr David Williams was appointed Acting Chief Executive on 1 April 2010 and he was confirmed as the first CEO on 1 April 2011. At the ESA Council at Ministerial level in November 2012 the UK budget for space was significantly increased. Alice Bunn is the International Director.[10]

Although Space-IGS called for the UK to double European Space Agency (ESA) contributions and to initiate and lead at least three missions between now and 2030, this has not been committed to, with Lord Drayson stating that "We will require a compelling business case for each proposal or mission".[4]

Transfers of authority

The UK Space Agency took over the following responsibilities from other government organisations:

UK Space Gateway

The UK Space Gateway at Harwell, Oxfordshire is a focal point for growth in the UK's space sector. Harwell is home to a growing number of space organisations including start-ups, inward investors, corporate offices, the Satellite Applications Catapult, RAL Space and ESA's ECSAT Facility. As of April 2016, the site is estimated to host over 600 space-related employees working in circa 60 organisations.

The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT)

ESA’s UK facility, ECSAT, has been developing steadily since 2008, following the UK government’s decision to increase its contribution to ESA. Named after the ESA’s first British Director General, Roy Gibson, ECSAT’s building hosts 100+ jobs including teams in telecommunications and integrated applications. Special emphasis is put on the development of new markets for satellite-based services and applications. In addition, new satellite, ground infrastructure and product developments are being initiated through original schemes of public–private partnerships with world-class operators. The building also houses the Earth Observation Climate Office, Science and Exploration teams and Technology and Quality Management teams supporting ESA research and development programmes in the UK, focusing on ‘game-changing’ technologies and capabilities.

The Satellite Applications Catapult

The Satellite Applications Catapult is an independent innovation and technology company, created as part of the Catapult centres programme to foster growth across the economy through the exploitation of space.[12] The Catapult helps organisations make use of and benefit from satellite technologies, and bring together multi-disciplinary teams to generate ideas and solutions in an open innovation environment. It was established in May 2013 by Innovate UK (formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board) as one of a network of centres to accelerate the take-up of emerging technologies and drive economic growth. It is a not-for-profit research organisation which is registered as a private company limited by guarantee and controlled by its Board.

International Space Innovation Centre

A £40m International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) was created in 2011 at Harwell[2] alongside the research facility for ESA. Some of its tasks were to investigate climate change, and the security of space systems. £24m of the cost of the centre was to be funded by the government, with the remainder from industry.[13] In April 2013, ISIC merged into the newly formed Satellite Applications Catapult.

Independent satellite navigation system

On 30 November 2018, it was announced that the UK Space Agency will abandon ties to the EU's Galileo satellite system following Brexit. Instead, the Agency will manage the United Kingdom's own system of navigation satellites.[14] In November 2019, a trade association estimated the cost of this programme at £5bn.[15]

Other UK bodies

RAL Space, based at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, carries out space research and technology development.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, headquartered at Porton Down, Wiltshire, began a five-year programme of defence-related space research in 2017.[16]

See also


  1. UK Space Agency Annual Report and Accounts 2016 to 2017 (pdf), retrieved 22 November 2017
  2. "New space agency and new international space centre for UK". BNSC. 23 March 2010. Archived from the original on 27 March 2010.
  3. "The United Kingdom Space Agency (Transfer of Property etc.) Order 2011". National Archives, via Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  4. Amos, Jonathan (23 March 2010). "'Muscular' UK Space Agency launched". BBC News. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  5. esa. "UK Space Agency announced". European Space Agency.
  6. "The Press Association: UK's space agency to be revealed". UKPA, via Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  7. David Derbyshire (24 March 2010). "British space centre to be revealed ... but will it be called Her Majesty's Space Agency (MASA) | Mail Online". London: Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  8. "UK Space Agency launched in London". Telegraph. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  9. "Science Minister launches the UK Space Agency". Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  10. "Dr Alice Bunn – TEDxLondon". TEDxLondon. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  11. "News from Council – March 2010". STFC. 26 March 2010. Archived from the original on 16 May 2013.
  12. "The Satellite Applications Catapult". Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  13. "Oxfordshire to get £40m space centre". BBC. 23 March 2010.
  14. "Minister quits over 'naive' Brexit deal". BBC News. 1 December 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  15. "UKspace 2020 Manifesto". UKspace. 21 November 2019. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  16. "Three...two…one…blast off! Dstl launches £50 million Space Programme". GOV.UK. 4 October 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2018.

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