Today marks an historic day for British science, innovation and space investment. It is the day that Tim Peake blasts off to the International Space Station – the first British astronaut from the European Space Agency to do so.
This remarkable feat is the pinnacle of the UK’s growing global capability in space innovation and research – a sector that has almost doubled in value to £11.8bn in just seven years and already employs more than 37,000 people in Britain.
It is why this week we set out, for the first time, our long-term commitment to supporting the continued growth of the UK space industry through the National Space Policy – a commitment by some 26 government organisations and partners to strengthen the UK’s capability to capitalise on the social and economic advantages that flow from space science and satellite technology.
This will help us to meet our ambition to grow the sector to £40bn by 2030, create an extra 100,000 jobs and secure the UK’s status as a global science leader.
The opportunities offered are also why we are protecting the science budget in real terms throughout this Parliament along with a record £6.9bn investment in science infrastructure – making certain our world-leading science base can live long and prosper.
I am passionate about space and the great science that is behind our thriving space sector, but even as a fan of Star Trek, I know that science fact is more incredible than science fiction.
This is not just about one mission, or about generating new jobs and business. This is about the UK taking our place as a world leader, where our expertise in space technology plays a crucial role – from generating emergency response solutions to flooding, to modernising our communications infrastructure. UK-built telecoms satellites already make-up 25 per cent of the world market, but our ambition is to create our own national launch capability for satellites here in the UK by 2020.
This exciting prospect means UK-built satellites will be sent up from UK soil using a UK launch platform, with UK scientists and developers using the data to create new services and applications.
British scientists and academics are behind some of the most cutting edge research projects using satellite technology that will shape our world’s future.
University of Sheffield professor Shaun Quegan is the scientific lead on a mission which will accurately map forest canopies worldwide for the first time – data that will enable scientists to calculate how much carbon they store and support efforts to tackle climate change.
And innovative British businesses such as Avanti Communications are working with partners in Africa to deliver a crucial air navigation project powered by satellite technology to improve flight safety, reduce traffic accidents and support economic development.
This government also invests around £400m a year in civil space projects, supporting our membership of the European Space Agency – which is putting Tim Peake into orbit and opening up the unique orbiting laboratory of the International Space Station to UK researchers.
The returns of this investment are clear, not just in supporting UK businesses in growing global markets or our long-term economic security, but also in inspiring our young people to take up a career in science and help shape our future.
As Tim Peake this morning prepares for his mission at Baikonur Cosmodrome, just as Yuri Gagarin prepared to become the first person in space 54 years ago, today the government is making sure Britain has the capability to play a key role in the space projects of the 21st century and beyond. So our British scientists and innovators can reach for the stars and boldly go where no one has gone before.