UK Space Agency proudly grows

The United Kingdom Space Agency today announced that it is opening four new offices in four different cities, giving it a brand new headquarters as well as a total of five regional offices.

The new HQ at Harwell is due to open in June, while offices at William Morgan House in Cardiff and Space Park Leicester will open in April, with the office at Queen Elizabeth House, in Edinburgh, opening later in the summer.

In addition, the agency will retain its offices in London and Swindon.

Will this expansion alleviate the serious red-tape issues in the United Kingdom that killed Virgin Orbit and have delayed launches at its two new spaceports in Scotland? I have my doubts. The licensing problems in the UK have centered on the number of different agencies and offices that must issue approvals to private space companies. While it might make sense for the UK Space Agency to hire more people, if anything it should be streamlining its operations to one central place.

It appears instead that this bureaucracy is doing what all government bureaucracies do, expanding and growing at the cost of private enterprise. I don’t see how opening many different small offices can possibly help make the licensing procedure faster or easier.

Axiom signs deal with the United Kingdom to fly all British mission

The space agency of the United Kingdom today announced that it has signed a deal with Axiom to fly an manned mission in space, with four astronauts spending up to two weeks in space (likely in a SpaceX Dragon capsule).

The flight, estimated to cost around £200 million, is being organized in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), though all the astronauts will be British. The announced commander, Tim Peake, spent six months on ISS in 2015, and has come out of retirement to do the flight.

It is also unclear at this moment whether it will fly to ISS, or simply remain in orbit. In fact, few specific details have yet been released.

The bottom line however is that the new American space industry is going to make money from Britain’s desire to be a space power. Seems like a good deal to me.

Virgin Orbit gets $9.5 million from UK space agency

The space agency of the United Kingdom yesterday awarded $9.5 million to the smallsat rocket company Virgin Orbit

ccording to the statement, the funds will be used “to develop launch operations support systems and manufacture them in the U.K.” in addition to conducting “mission planning, and to further ready the facility for satellite launches from Cornwall”.

This award is part of a larger funding package of $26 million (£20 million) from Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, while Virgin Orbit have also said they will contribute about $3.2 million (£2.5 million) to the Spaceport Cornwall project. The hope is that Cornwall could become a hub for European launches to space in the future.

Essentially this is an effort by the UK to bring Virgin Orbit’s launches to Cornwall spaceport. Why Virgin Orbit has got this money is puzzling however. Launched from a 747 which can take off from almost all airports, Virgin Orbit doesn’t necessarily need to launch from a spaceport. That fact is probably why the company got this “pay-off”, using somewhat more blunt words.

Great Britain space agency calls for an increased space effort

The competition heats up: The United Kingdom’s space agency has issued its proposed future strategy, focusing on a renewed involvement with ISS and the European Space Agency.

Following a public consultation and lengthy discussions across government, the new strategy, published today, concludes that continued involvement in the ISS and other programs via ESA membership is the best way to involve U.K. scientists and industry in human spaceflight. The document says the government will consider bilateral projects with other space agencies but fears always being the junior partner since the United Kingdom has no launchers or space stations. It does not think that the commercial launch industry is sufficiently mature for the United Kingdom to buy services commercially. The report also states: “The Agency will also consider its role in human exploration missions beyond Earth orbit, especially where this complements science and technology goals for robotic exploration.”

I wonder if the newly elected conservative British government agrees with this strategy. It appears to me that it was researched and written prior to the election.