UK Space Agency: British astronauts set for first all-UK space missions which could 'inspire millions'

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Britain has only two astronauts in space before, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake

A new deal between the UK and a US space company means British astronauts could get the chance to blast into space. In a deal with Axiom Space, the UK Space Agency has signed an agreement to work on what will become the first-ever commercial space station.

The flight, which will carry British astronauts, will spend two weeks in orbit to carry out scientific experiments and participate in educational activities. Axiom has previously sent crewed missions into Earth's orbit and to the International Space Station (ISS) using SpaceX rockets.

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The trip will be commercially sponsored by the European Space Agency. Previously only two British astronauts have been in space, Helen Sharman in 1989 and Tim Peake 27 years later.

Tejpaul Bhatia, Chief Revenue Officer at Axiom Space (left) and Dr Paul Bate, Chief Exectuive of the UK Space Agency (Image: UK Space Agency)Tejpaul Bhatia, Chief Revenue Officer at Axiom Space (left) and Dr Paul Bate, Chief Exectuive of the UK Space Agency (Image: UK Space Agency)
Tejpaul Bhatia, Chief Revenue Officer at Axiom Space (left) and Dr Paul Bate, Chief Exectuive of the UK Space Agency (Image: UK Space Agency) | UK Space Agency

Rosemary Coogan, a Northern Irish astrophysicist, hopes to be the third after being selected to join the ESA's training programme last year.

Peake is the "obvious candidate" to lead future UK missions, as very few British citizens are experienced astronauts and NASA would likely insist on one for any mission to the ISS.

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This agreement paves the way for UK astronauts to conduct scientific research in orbit, and to inspire millions of us here on Earth. It takes thousands of people to complete a crewed space mission and return the astronauts safely home, highlighting the huge variety of careers available in the UK space sector right now.

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"There is much to do, and this agreement is the springboard for the UK Space Agency, Axiom Space and the mission sponsors to assess how we best push forward the frontiers of knowledge and innovation, and showcase the power of space to improve lives on Earth.”

The UK Space Agency is also inviting British universities, research institutions and industry to share ideas for experiments that could be carried out during the two-week trip, as well as exploring the possibility of a national space education and public engagement programme.

The mission would build on the UK government’s National Space Strategy and the UK Science and Technology Framework, which highlights the important contribution of international relationships to the UK’s capabilities and identifies five critical technologies; Artificial Intelligence, engineering biology, future telecommunications, semiconductors and quantum technologies.

Michael Suffredini, Axiom Space CEO, added: “Axiom Space is looking forward to working with the UK Space Agency on a future human spaceflight mission. With this agreement as the initial foundation, we will build a comprehensive mission plan in support of the UK’s national and agency objectives to advance its capabilities in space exploration and discovery. Together, we will look to harness the benefits of microgravity and help push the boundaries of innovation to advance our civilization.”

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