Human Spaceflight

In half a century, space exploration has achieved goals that matched the dreams and speculations of us BIS space cadets in the 1930’s! We must rekindle that spirit in a new generation of 21st century astronauts, to seize the opportunities that are now opening up for low cost access to space” – Sir Arthur C. Clarke (September 2007)

As the world’s longest established space exploration society, being formed by British visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke in the 1930’s, the BIS is committed to ensuring that the UK joins with the rest of the industrialised world and takes part in human space activities.

This webpage provides information regarding the current British human space flight campaign. It explains what can be done in terms of lobbying approaches to government, national space policy makers and relevant organisations in the UK.

This campaign has been supported by a host of celebrities and scientists, including Brian Blessed, Myleene Klass, Harriet Scott, private astronaut Richard Garriott de Cayeux, former NASA astronaut Dr. Michael Foale, plus famous astronomers including the late Sir Patrick Moore, Dr. Heather Couper and Prof. Colin Pillinger.


Need for UK astronauts

The word’s space agencies are currently recruiting new astronauts to man the International Space Station (ISS), explore the Moon and eventually go to Mars one day. In 2020 NASA began advertising for new astronauts to join its Artemis lunar landing missions, whilst the European Space Agency (ESA) will soon be seeking a new intake of astronauts to take part in international space projects, including Artemis plus possibly future Chinese and Indian human missions to Earth orbit and beyond.

After years of no official UK interest in human spaceflight and following the BIS’s active UK HSF campaign, all were delighted that in 2008 the then UK Science Minister Lord Drayson reversed government policy and supported ISS research and UK HSF funding. By May 2009 ESA had appointed Major Tim Peake of the UK as a new “European” astronaut. Tim flew joined Expedition 46/47 onboard the ISS in December 2015, via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, returning in 2016 after 6 months in space. Now he is awaiting a future ISS mission allocation, possibly for a 2024 flight.

However, whilst developed countries like Germany, France and Italy maintain a corps of at least 3-4 astronauts, the UK has only ever had Tim Peake as its “official” government astronaut – no funding has been provided for other future national astronauts and it is uncertain that ESA will select another UK candidate.

ESA is hoping to join NASA’s plans for a return to the Moon by the mid-2020’s, with German, French or Italian astronauts getting the chance of a seat onboard the US Orion spacecraft that could travel to the lunar Gateway station, explore the Moon and travel to Mars. But despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, the UK still has no large-scale human space presence or HSF space industry activities. Although the UK does manufacture satellites and robotic probes via companies such as Airbus and SSTL, there is still only a limited support to human space research or its related space infrastructure when compared to other developed nations.

Science benefits

Following a 2006 revue of the perceived scientific and educational value of human spaceflight, the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) resolved that the UK would strongly benefit from an astronaut presence. This view followed the independent report of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in October 2005, where Prof Frank Close and his team drew attention to the wide ranging scientific and cultural benefits of human space flight – they recommended that the UK committed more money to the human exploration of space, at least to a figure in line with the UK’s partners in the European Space Agency (ESA).

Other scientific studies recognised potential human space benefits for the UK. In 2003, the independent Microgravity Review Panel recommended the UK join ELIPS microgravity research on the International Space Station (ISS). In May 2004, the Cross Research Council Report called for the UK to join the manned aspects of ESA’s Aurora programme, one day leading to the human exploration of the Moon, Mars and the solar system.

However, despite the success of Tim Peake’s 2015/16 Principia research mission on the ISS and the clear benefits of human spaceflight, the UK still spends much less than countries like Germany and France on HSF project investment, despite the strong industrial, inspirational and explorational benefits of human spaceflight.

Key facts

  • The UK government’s investment in space is about a half of that of equivalent European nations such as Germany, France and Italy.

  • Whilst Canada, Germany, France and Italy maintain an astronaut corps of 3-4 members, the UK has only one, Tim Peake. NASA has 48 astronauts, Russia 38, ESA 13, India, 12, China 7 and the UAE 3 members.

  • The UK has the second largest aerospace industry, but only 3% is space-related – Europe is 10-15% and the US is 25%.

  • The only other UK astronaut apart from Tim Peake, Helen Sharman, flew into space in 1991 with no government backing – the mission was paid for by the then Soviet Union.

  • NASA astronauts Michael Foale, the late Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick were British born. Michael Foale has joint nationality, but Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick had to become American citizens to fly into space. Space tourist Richard Garriott de Cayeux is a US citizen, though he was born in the UK.

  • During the 2008 ESA astronaut selection, over 850 applicants (10% and the 4th largest of the ESA total) were from the UK.

  • Drug research on the ISS could potentially lead to bone and muscle atrophy treatments for older people on Earth.

  • UK science and technology education desperately needs boosting – physics graduate courses have dropped by 17% in ten years. Human spaceflight is very inspirational for young people. Human spaceflight is very inspirational to young people for science and technology subjects.

Affordable access to space

The world’s astronauts will soon be flying to orbit via relatively cheaper private spacecraft such as Space X’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner and for the future, possibly the Starship spaceship being developed by Space X.

Low-cost sub-orbital flights will soon be possible for microgravity science research using Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne and Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicles.

For the future, an expanded UK astronaut corps could access space via bilateral agreements beyond ESA, directly with NASA , Russia’s Roscosmos or the Indian and Chinese space agencies, In 2019 for example, the UAE bartered a seat on Soyuz for its own national astronaut and plans more flights via this approach.

Campaign actions

The BIS has issued its own Silver Pin award for UK-born astronauts who have been into orbit, generously funded by private astronaut Richard Garriott de Cayeux – more UK astronauts are important for the future.

The following can be done to help boost current UK policy for human spaceflight and its funding:

  • Contact the government and in particular the UK Science Minister , currently (2020) Amanda Solloway MP – [email protected] – and ask that the UK increases its human spaceflight budget, allowing the nation to join the rest of the developed world by boosting its involvement in ISS research and the future international exploration of the Moon and Mars.

  • Ask your MP to lobby on your behalf with the Science Minister and in Parliament. Tell them of your firm support for human space exploration in the UK. Emphasise the urgency of the UK joining the rest of the world with human spaceflight plans.

  • Speak with the UKSA Steering Board Chair, currently (2020) Dr. Sally Howes , plus the UKSA CEO, currently Dr. Graham Turnock –[email protected] – ask that the current low funding of UK human spaceflight be increased in proportional terms by the agency within its government allocation.

  • Speak to the media – via the press, radio and TV- saying how important an increased UK astronaut presence is. Point out the science, exploration, outreach and inspirational benefits of human spaceflight.

  • Tell friends of the BIS campaign and join the Society, giving support to the UK and international human spaceflight activities.

Useful links

BIS: www.bis-space.com, 27/29 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1SZ

UK astronaut’s, future prospects review – “Places to Go”, by Nick Spall. SpaceFlight magazine, Vol. 62, No. 05, May 2020.

UK Space Exploration Working Group (SEWG) report: www.stfc.ac.uk/uksewg

RAS: www.ras.org.uk, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BQ

UKSA: www.ukspaceagency.bis.gov.uk, UK Space Agency, Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN2 1SZ

STFC: www.scitech.ac.uk

ESA: www.esa.int

NASA: www.nasa.gov

The Scientific and Cultural Case for UK Participation in Human Space Exploration” – maintained by Dr Ian Crawford and Dr Kevin Fong: http://zuserver2.star.ucl.ac.uk/~iac/case_for_space.html

 

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