The British space programme is the UK government's work to develop British space capabilities. The objectives of the current civil programme are to "win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens."
The first official British space programme began in 1952. In 1959, the first satellite programme was started, with the Ariel series of British satellites, built in the United States and the UK and launched using American rockets. The first British satellite, Ariel 1, was launched in 1962. The British space programme has always emphasized unmanned space research and commercial initiatives. It has never been government policy to create a British astronaut corps. The British government did not provide funding for the International Space Station until 2011.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of efforts were made to develop a British satellite launch capability. A British rocket named Black Arrow did succeed in placing a single British satellite, Prospero, into orbit from a launch site in Australia in 1971. Prospero remains the only British satellite to be put into orbit using a British vehicle.
The British National Space Centre was established in 1985 to co-ordinate British government agencies and other interested bodies in the promotion of British participation in the international market for satellite launches, satellite construction and other space endeavours.
In 2010, many of the various separate sources of space-related funding were combined and allocated to the Centre's replacement, the UK Space Agency. Among other projects, the agency is funding a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane concept called Skylon.
Scientific interest in space travel existed in the United Kingdom prior to World War II, particularly amongst members of the British Interplanetary Society (founded in 1933) whose members included Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author and conceiver of the geostationary telecommunications satellite, who joined the BIS before World War II.
As with the other post-war space-faring nations, the British government's initial interest in space was primarily military. Early programmes reflected this interest. As with other nations, much of the rocketry knowledge was obtained from captured German scientists who were persuaded to work for the British. The British performed the earliest post-war tests of captured V-2 rockets in Operation Backfire, less than six months after the end of the war in Europe. In 1946 a proposal was made by Ralph A. Smith to fund a British manned suborbital launch in a modified V-2 called Megaroc; this was, however, rejected by the government.
From 1957, British space astronomy used Skylark suborbital sounding rockets, launched from Woomera, Australia, which at first reached heights of 200 km (124 mi). Development of air-to-surface missiles such as Blue Steel contributed to progress towards launches of larger orbit-capable rockets.
In 1971, the last Black Arrow (R3) launched Prospero X-3, the only British satellite to be launched using a British rocket. Ground contact with Prospero ended in 1996.
Skynet provides strategic communication services to the three branches of the British Armed Forces and to NATO forces engaged on coalition tasks. The first satellite was launched in 1969, and the most recent in 2012.
Skynet is the most expensive single UK space project, although as a military initiative it is not part of the civil space programme.
Zircon was the codename for a British signals intelligence satellite, intended to be launched in 1988, before being cancelled. During the Cold War, the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was very reliant on America's National Security Agency (NSA) for communications interception from space. GCHQ therefore decided to produce a UK-designed-and-built signals intelligence satellite, to be named Zircon, a code-name derived from zirconium silicate, a diamond substitute.
Zircon's function was to intercept radio and other signals from the USSR, Europe and other areas. The satellite was to be built by Marconi Space and Defence Systems at Portsmouth Airport, in which a new high security building had been built.
It was to be launched on a NASA Space Shuttle under the guise of Skynet IV. Launch on the Shuttle would have entitled a British National to fly as a Payload Specialist and a group of military pilots were presented to the press as candidates for 'Britain's first man in space'.
On 30 November 2018, it was announced that UK satellites will not be affiliated with the European Space Agency's Galileo satellite system after Britain completes its withdrawal from the European Union. Instead, the UK Space Agency will operate an independent satellite system.
The UK developed and launched several space rockets, as well as developing space planes. During this period, the launcher programmes were administered in succession by the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Aviation, the Ministry of Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Development of a British launch system to carry a nuclear device occurred from 1950 onwards.
A major satellite launch vehicle was proposed in 1957 based on Blue Streak and Black Knight technology. This was named Black Prince, but the project was cancelled in 1960 due to lack of funding. Blue Streak rockets continued to be launched as the first stage of the European Europa carrier rocket until Europa's cancellation in 1972.
The smaller Black Arrow launcher was developed from Black Knight and was first launched in 1969 from Woomera. In 1971, the last Black Arrow (R3) launched Prospero X-3, the only British satellite to be launched using a British rocket.
By 1972, UK government funding of both Blue Streak (missile) and Black Arrow had ceased, and no further government-backed British space rockets were developed. Other space agencies, notably NASA, were used for subsequent launches of UK satellites. Communication with the Prospero X-3 was terminated in 1996.
Falstaff, a British hypersonic test rocket, was launched from Woomera between 1969 and 1979.
In 1960 the British Space Development Company, a consortium of thirteen large industrial companies, was set up by Robert Renwick, 1st Baron Renwick to plan the world's first commercial communication satellite company, Renwick becoming the Executive Director. With Blue Streak, Britain had the technology to make it possible, but the idea was rejected by the British government on the grounds that such a system could not be envisaged in the next 20 years (1961–81). (The United States set up COMSAT in 1963, resulting in Intelsat, a large fleet of commercial satellites; the first of Intelsat's fleet, Intelsat I (Early Bird) was launched in April 1965. )
In the mid-1980s, Britain was the only main Western country not to have one, even though the Chairman of the European Space Agency, from 1984-7, was Britain's Dr (later Professor) Harry Atkinson.
The official national space programme was revived in 1982 when the British government funded the HOTOL project, an ambitious attempt at a re-usable space plane using air-breathing rocket engines designed by Alan Bond. Work was begun by British Aerospace. However, having classified the engine design as 'top secret' the government then ended funding for the project, terminating it.
The BNSC was the third largest financial contributor to the General Budget of the European Space Agency, contributing 17.4%, to its Science Programme and to its robotic exploration initiative the Aurora programme.
The UK decided not to contribute funds for the International Space Station, on the basis that it did not represent value for money. The British government did not take part in any manned space endeavours during this period.
The United Kingdom continued to contribute scientific elements to satellite launches and space projects. The British probe Beagle 2, sent as part of the ESA's Mars Express to study the planet Mars, was lost when it failed to respond but has recently been found by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and it has been concluded while it did land successfully, one of the solar arrays failed to deploy blocking communication antenna.
On 1 April 2010, the government established the UK Space Agency, an agency responsible for the British space programme. It replaced the British National Space Centre and now has responsibility for government policy and key budgets for space, as well as representing the UK in all negotiations on space matters.
The UK Space Agency provides 9.9% of the European Space Agency budget.
The British government partnered with the ESA in 2010 to promote a single-stage to orbit spaceplane concept called Skylon. This design was developed by Reaction Engines Limited, a company founded by Alan Bond after HOTOL was cancelled. The Skylon spaceplane has been positively received by the British government, and the British Interplanetary Society. Successful tests of the engine precooler and "SABRE" engine design were carried out in 2012, although full funding for development of the spacecraft itself had not been confirmed.
The UK government proposed reform to the 1986 Outer Space Act in several areas, including the liabilities that cover space operations, in order to enable British companies' space endeavours to better compete with international competitors. There was also a proposal of a £10 million boost in capital investment, to be matched by industry.
In July 2014, the government announced that it would build a British commercial spaceport. It planned to select a site, build the facilities, and have the spaceport in operation by 2018. Six sites were shortlisted, but the competition was ended in May 2016 with no selection made. However, in July 2018 UKSA announced that the UK government would back the development of a spaceport at A' Mhòine, in Sutherland, Scotland. Launch operations at Sutherland spaceport will be developed by Lockheed Martin with financial support from the UK government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with the aim of commencing operations in 2020.
In June 2017, the government introduced a bill which will create a regulatory framework for the expansion of commercial space activities and the development of a UK spaceport, covering both orbital and sub-orbital activities.
The first Briton in space, cosmonaut-researcher Helen Sharman, was funded by a private consortium without UK government assistance. Interest in space continues in the UK's private sector, including satellite design and manufacture, developing designs for space planes and catering to the new market in space tourism.
Project Juno was a private space programme, which selected Helen Sharman to be the first Briton in space. A private consortium was formed to raise money to pay the USSR for a seat on a Soyuz mission to the Mir space station. The USSR had recently flown Toyohiro Akiyama, a Japanese journalist, by a similar arrangement.
A call for applicants was publicized in the UK resulting in the selection of four astronauts: Helen Sharman, Major Timothy Mace, Clive Smith and Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Gordon Brooks. Sharman was eventually chosen for the first of what was hoped to be a number of flights with Major Timothy Mace as her backup. The cost of the flight was to be funded by various innovative schemes, including sponsoring by private British companies and a lottery system. Corporate sponsors included British Aerospace, Memorex, and Interflora, and television rights were sold to ITV.
Ultimately the Juno consortium failed to raise the entire sum, and the USSR considered canceling the mission. It is believed that Mikhail Gorbachev directed the mission to proceed at Soviet cost.
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) is a large spin-off company of the University of Surrey, now fully owned by Airbus Defence & Space, that builds and operates small satellites. SSTL works with the UK Space Agency and takes on a number of tasks for the UKSA that would be done in-house by a traditional large government space agency.
Virgin Galactic, a US company within the British-based Virgin Group owned by Sir Richard Branson, is taking reservations for suborbital space flights from the general public. Its operations will use SpaceShipTwo space planes designed by Scaled Composites, which has previously developed the Ansari X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne.
Communication and tracking of rockets and satellites in orbit is achieved using stations such as Jodrell Bank. During the Space Race, Jodrell Bank and other stations were used to track several satellites and probes including Sputnik and Pioneer 5.
As well as providing tracking facilities for other nations, scientists from the United Kingdom have participated in other nation's space programmes, notably contributing to the development of NASA's early space programmes, and co-operation with Australian launches.
Farnborough invented carbon fibre composite material. The SR53 Rocketplane invented the silver peroxide catalyst rocket engine.
Because the UK government has never developed a manned spaceflight programme and initially did not contribute funding to the manned space flight part of ESA's activities, the first six British astronauts launched with either the American or Soviet/Russian space programmes. Despite this, on 9 October 2008, UK Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson spoke favourably of the idea of a British astronaut. In 2015, Tim Peake became the first UK-government funded British astronaut.
|Name||Birthplace||Missions||First launch date||Nationality/ies|
|Helen Sharman||Grenoside, Sheffield, South Yorkshire||Soyuz TM-12/11||18 May 1991|
|First Briton in space. Funded partially by private UK citizens as Project Juno and by the Soviet Union.|
|Michael Foale||Louth, Lincolnshire||STS-45 (Atlantis)
|24 March 1992||/|
|Born and grew up in the UK with dual UK/US citizenship, his mother being American. First British spacewalker. First Briton to both Mir and International Space Station.|
|Mark Shuttleworth||Welkom, Orange Free State, South Africa||Soyuz TM-34/33||27 April 2002||/|
|Self-funded space tourist to the International Space Station. Born a South African, he also holds UK citizenship.|
|Piers Sellers||Crowborough, Sussex||STS-112 (Atlantis)
|7 October 2002||/|
|NASA astronaut. Born and grew up in the UK, US citizen after 1991, died (cancer) 23 December 2016.|
|Nicholas Patrick||Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire||STS-116 (Discovery)
|9 December 2006||/|
|NASA astronaut. Born and grew up in the UK, US citizen since 1994.|
|Richard Garriott||Cambridge, Cambridgeshire||Soyuz TMA-13/12||12 October 2008||/|
|Self-funded space tourist to the International Space Station. Born in UK to US parents (son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott).|
|Timothy Peake||Chichester, West Sussex||Soyuz TMA-19M||15 December 2015|
|First government funded Briton to live aboard the International Space Station.|
Gregory H. Johnson served as pilot on two Endeavour missions (STS-123 and STS-134). Although born in the UK, while his father was stationed at a US Air Force base, he does not hold British citizenship.
Army Lieutenants-Colonel Anthony Boyle (born in Kidderminster) and Richard Farrimond (born in Birkenhead, Cheshire), MoD employee Christopher Holmes (born in London), Royal Navy Commander Peter Longhurst (born in Staines, Middlesex) and RAF Squadron Leader Nigel Wood (born in York) were selected in February 1984 as payload specialists for the Skynet 4 Programme, intended for launch using the Space Shuttle. Boyle resigned from the programme in July 1984 due to Army commitments. Prior to the cancellation of the missions after the Challenger disaster, Wood was due to fly aboard Shuttle mission STS-61-H in 1986 (with Farrimond serving as his back-up) and Longhurst was due to fly aboard Shuttle mission STS-71-C in 1987 (with Holmes serving as back-up). All resigned in 1986, having not flown.
Army Air Corps Major Timothy Mace (born in Catterick, Yorkshire) served as back-up to Helen Sharman for the Soyuz TM-12 / Project Juno mission in 1991. He resigned in 1991, having not flown. Clive Smith and Royal Navy Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Gordon Brooks, also served for a year as back-up astronauts for the Juno flight, learning Russian and preparing the scientific programme. Sharman, Mace and Brooks were subsequently put forward by the BNSC for the European Space Corps.
Singer/songwriter and actress Sarah Brightman announced on 10 October 2012 her intention to purchase a Soyuz seat to the International Space Station as a self-funded space tourist in partnership with Space Adventures. She underwent cosmonaut training with the aim of flying on Soyuz TMA-18M, but stated on 13 May 2015 that she was withdrawing "for family reasons". It is not known whether she intends to fly at a later date.
On 20 May 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that Major Timothy Peake, an Army Air Corps test pilot from Chichester, West Sussex, had been accepted as a member of the European Astronaut Corps. In May, 2013, the ESA announced that Peake would fly to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Peake's mission was launched on Soyuz TMA-19M on 15 December 2015.
Notable fictional depictions of British spacecraft or Britons in space include:
reforms are designed to lower the sector's insurance costs and to make it easier for future space tourism companies to operate out of the UK. The government says it has recognised the success the British space sector has achieved in recent years and wants to offer it further support to maintain and grow its global market position.
Professor Bernard Quatermass is a fictional scientist, originally created by the writer Nigel Kneale for BBC Television. An intelligent and highly moral British scientist, Quatermass is a pioneer of the British space programme, heading the British Experimental Rocket Group. He continually finds himself confronting sinister alien forces that threaten to destroy humanity.
The role of Quatermass was featured in three influential BBC science fiction serials of the 1950s, and again in a final serial for Thames Television in 1979. A remake of the first serial appeared on BBC Four in 2005. The character also appeared in films, on the radio and in print over a fifty-year period. Kneale picked the character's unusual surname from a London telephone directory, while the first name was in honour of the astronomer Bernard Lovell.
The character of Quatermass has been described by BBC News Online as Britain's first television hero, and by The Independent newspaper as "A brilliantly conceived and finely crafted creation ... [He] remained a modern 'Mr Standfast', the one fixed point in an increasingly dreadful and ever-shifting universe." In 2005, an article in The Daily Telegraph suggested, "You can see a line running through him and many other British heroes. He shares elements with Sherlock Holmes and Ellen MacArthur."British Interplanetary Society
The British Interplanetary Society (BIS), founded in Liverpool in 1933 by Philip E. Cleator, is the oldest space advocacy organisation in the world. Its aim is exclusively to support and promote astronautics and space exploration.British Mass Spectrometry Society
The British Mass Spectrometry Society is a registered charity founded in 1964 that encourages participation in every aspect of mass spectrometry. In 2015, the Society announced they would be funding 6-10 summer studentship projects.The society awards the Aston Medal.British National Space Centre
The British National Space Centre (BNSC) was an agency of the Government of the United Kingdom, organised in 1985, that coordinated civil space activities for the UK. It was replaced on 1 April 2010 by the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA).Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence
The Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK's Ministry of Defence is responsible for providing strategic management of science and technology issues in the MOD, most directly through the MOD research budget of well over £1 billion, and sits as a full member of the Defence Management Board and the Defence Council, the two most senior management boards within the MOD. There is also a Chief Scientific Adviser (Nuclear), responsible for the MOD’s nuclear science and technology programme, currently held by Professor Robin Grimes.Council for Science and Technology
The Council for Science and Technology (CST) is an advisory non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom government. Its role is to give advice on issues that cut across government departments to the Prime Minister, the First Minister of Scotland and the First Minister for Wales. It was established in 1993 and relaunched in 2003. It is based in London.
The Council has 17 independent members and two co-chairs. Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell chairs meetings where advice is being developed.
Sir Mark Walport, the Chief Scientific Adviser and head of the Government Office for Science, chairs meetings reporting its advice to government.
The advisory functions of the CST had previously been performed by the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development (ACARD), from 1976 to 1987, and the Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACOST) from 1987 to 1993.DESG
The Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG) is a community of 9,000 engineers and scientists working within the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence Civil Service to equip and support the UK Armed Forces with military hardware.Doctor Who (season 7)
The seventh season of British science fiction television series Doctor Who began on 3 January 1970 with Jon Pertwee's first story Spearhead from Space and ended with Inferno.Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is a British Research Council that provides government funding for grants to undertake research and postgraduate degrees in engineering and the physical sciences (including mathematics, artificial intelligence and computer science), mainly to universities in the United Kingdom. The head office is in Swindon, Wiltshire in the same building (Polaris House) that houses the AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC, MRC, Natural Environment Research Council, Science and Technology Facilities Council, TSB, Research Councils UK and the UK Space Agency.Government Chief Scientific Adviser (United Kingdom)
The UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) is the personal adviser on science and technology-related activities and policies to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet; and head of the Government Office for Science.
The Chief Scientific Adviser has a significant public role as the government's most visible scientific expert. They are also head of the Science and Engineering Profession in government.
Most individual government departments have their own departmental Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA). The GCSA has no formal management responsibility for departmental CSAs and is free to provide advice to all departments, including those that have their own chief scientific adviser. The advisor also usually serves as chair of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).Government Office for Science
The Government Office for Science is part of the British government. This organisation advises the UK Government on policy and decision-making based on robust scientific evidence and long-term thinking. It is led by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), Patrick Vallance who reports to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The office is based in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy where it works with other parts of the Department, including the Science and Research Group, which funds research through Research Councils.Innovate UK
Innovate UK is the operating name of the Technology Strategy Board, the United Kingdom's innovation agency. It is a non-departmental public body operating at arm's length from the Government as part of the United Kingdom Research and Innovation organisation.Juno
Juno may refer to:
Juno (mythology), the Roman goddess of marriage and queen of the godsList of UK government scientific research institutes
This page contains a list of scientific research institutes in the United Kingdom that are owned by the government.Ministry of Space
Ministry of Space is a three-part alternate history mini-series written by Warren Ellis, published by American company Image Comics in 2001-2004. The book's art is by Chris Weston, and depicts retro technology in "British" style.
The story is set in an alternate history where soldiers and operatives of the United Kingdom reached the German rocket installations at Peenemünde ahead of the U.S. Army and the Soviets, and brought all the key personnel and technology to Britain, in a mirror of the real world's Operation Paperclip. Thus is created the Ministry of Space, whose mission is to develop British space technology and establish a firm foothold in space for Queen and Empire.
Elements of social commentary are present throughout the book, as is typical of Ellis' work, while the drama of the story is found in the lives of the first pioneers of space exploration (as in The Right Stuff). This social commentary is disguised in a snippet of dialogue here and a background detail in the art elsewhere, relying upon the readers' own observations to bring it to light.Project Juno
Project Juno was a private British space programme which selected Helen Sharman to be the first Briton in space.
As the United Kingdom did, at that time, not have a human spaceflight programme (until the UK joined the human spaceflight elements of ESA's exploration programme in December 2012, which led to Tim Peake's ESA mission in 2015), a private consortium was formed to raise money to pay the Soviet Union for a seat on a Soyuz mission to the Mir space station. The Soviet Union had recently flown Toyohiro Akiyama, a Japanese journalist, under a similar arrangement.Space Oddity
"Space Oddity" is a song written and recorded by David Bowie. It was first released as a 7-inch single on 11 July 1969. It was also the opening track of his second studio album, David Bowie. It became one of Bowie's signature songs and one of four of his songs to be included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.Inspired by Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the song is about the launch of Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, and was released during a period of great interest in space flight. The United States' Apollo 11 mission would launch five days later and would become the first manned moon landing another five days after that. The lyrics have also been seen to lampoon the British space programme, which was and still is an unmanned project. Bowie would later revisit his Major Tom character in the songs "Ashes to Ashes", "Hallo Spaceboy" and possibly the music video for "Blackstar".
"Space Oddity" was David Bowie's first single to chart in the UK. It reached the top five on its initial release and received the 1970 Ivor Novello Special Award for Originality. His second album, originally released as David Bowie in the UK, was renamed after the track for its 1972 re-release by RCA Records and became known by this name. In 1975, upon re-release as part of a maxi-single, the song became Bowie's first UK No. 1 single.In 2013, the song gained renewed popularity after it was recorded 44 years after Bowie by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who performed the song (with slighly revised lyrics) while aboard the International Space Station, and therefore became the first music video shot in space. In January 2016, the song re-entered singles charts around the world following Bowie's death, which included becoming Bowie's first single to top the French Singles Chart. The song also ranked as third on iTunes on 12 January 2016.The Quatermass Experiment
The Quatermass Experiment is a British science-fiction serial broadcast by BBC Television during the summer of 1953 and re-staged by BBC Four in 2005. Set in the near future against the background of a British space programme, it tells the story of the first manned flight into space, supervised by Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group.
When the spaceship that carried the first successful crew returns to Earth, two of the three astronauts are missing, and the third – Victor Carroon – is behaving strangely. It becomes apparent that an alien presence entered the ship during its flight, and Quatermass and his associates must prevent the alien from destroying the world.
Originally comprising six half-hour episodes, it was the first science-fiction production to be written especially for an adult television audience in Britain. Previous written-for-television efforts such as Stranger from Space (1951–52) were aimed at children, whereas adult entries into the genre were adapted from literary sources, such as R.U.R. (1938 and again in 1948) and The Time Machine (1949). The serial was the first of four Quatermass productions to be screened on British television between 1953 and 1979, and was transmitted live from the BBC's original television studios at Alexandra Palace in London, one of the final productions before BBC television drama moved to west London.
As well as spawning various remakes and sequels, The Quatermass Experiment inspired much of the television science fiction that succeeded it, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it influenced successful series such as Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel. It also influenced successful Hollywood films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien.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; it represents the United Kingdom in all negotiations on space matters. The Agency "[brings] together all UK civil space activities under one single management". It is based at the former BNSC headquarters in Swindon, Wiltshire. On 30 November 2018, it was announced that the Agency will manage British satellites following Britain's departure from the EU.