All-UK space mission planned after UK Space Agency signs agreement with commercial firm
Astronaut Tim Peake has hailed the possibility of an all-UK mission to space as a “very exciting development” as the UK Space Agency said it had signed an agreement with an American company for a British launch.
The memorandum of understanding signed with commercial firm Axiom Space could see a mission comprised entirely of UK astronauts launched into space.
No crew – or destination – has yet been chosen. The mission would be funded commercially and will not be paid for by the UK tax payer.
Mr Peake, the last British person to go into orbit in 2015, said: “It is a very exciting development – there is a lot happening in the space sector right now and I think for the UK to be at the forefront of this new era of exploring commercial opportunities is a fantastic thing.”
Mr Peake acknowledged there were several hurdles to overcome before the idea is finalised, including crew selection and training and getting approval from Nasa, but said it was hugely encouraging the UKSA had “started the ball rolling”.
Axiom will soon begin attaching modules to the ISS that will eventually then separate to form a commercial station when the space station is decommissioned at the end of the 2020s.
Mr Peake added: “The International Space Station will come to its retirement at the end of this decade and new commercial space stations will take over, so for us to be involved at this level at this early stage is something that we should really celebrate.”
Were the mission to visit the International Space Station, the US space agency (Nasa) would require certain conditions, one of which would be the inclusion in the crew of an experienced astronaut. Very few UK passport-holders meet this criterion, with Mr Peake himself being one of few obvious candidates for commander.
Asked if he would come out of retirement to join any potential mission, Mr Peake added: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in retirement!”
UKSA chief executive Paul Bate said: "It's a really complex endeavour to plan a space mission, to make sure that the crew are well selected and well trained, and that everything of course is safe. We will have a core role in this, along with Esa where some of the training will be done."
"There's also the science we want to see done on the mission itself, and we have a lot of expertise in selecting microgravity experiments, looking at signs of ageing for example.
"But what I really like about this approach is it's got the commercial nature to it, which is at the heart of what the UK Space Agency does."
Hungary, Sweden, Poland and Italy are all working with Axiom as an option for their own space missions, however, unlike the proposed UK mission, these nations will use public money to finance the trips.
Axiom's chief revenue officer, Tejpaul Bhatia, said: "The UK is in a very unique position right now and in a leadership position for this transition to the commercialisation of space,"
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