New UK Science Minister Makes Space a Priority

With the launch of a new UK government comes a change at the top for the UK space effort. Science Minister Lord Drayson, who drove the creation of the UK Space Agency, is gone. He has been replaced by David Willetts, who has promised to pick up where his predecessor left off.

Good luck with that….

Willetts told the BBC that the space agency is little more than a “shell” at the moment, without funding, a full staff, or the ability to oversee various government agencies that currently control space activities.

Britain has laid  out an ambitious effort for its space sector over the next 20 years, with the goal of creating 100,000 new high-tech jobs. The nation wants to build upon its strengths in satellite construction, among other areas.

Willetts has limited room to maneuver on the fiscal front, with an economic downturn, tight budgets, a history of relatively low spending on aerospace, and a coalition government worried about the UK’s debt. The BBC reports:

Mr Willetts promised to tackle regulation issues, such as the access to spectrum that enabled companies to develop new satellite services.

He highlighted the role satellites could play in climate monitoring, and in providing universal access to broadband internet. And he said he wanted to see the UK take part in the emerging global space tourism business.

This is currently being led by a British company – the Virgin Group – but the firm will be operating first out of the US, and it will need legislative assistance before it can work from home shores.

“I personally would love to see Virgin Galactic being launched from the UK,” Mr Willetts said.

A couple of pieces of advice on this last goal:

  • A $200 million, taxpayer funded spaceport would probably help;
  • You might also want to do something about the weather. People who are paying $200,000 for a trip into space don’t want to be looking down at clouds.