UK & World News

  • 15 December 2013, 9:27

British 'Space City' Stevenage 'Not A Luxury'

Britain's space industry isn't just 'some luxury' and deserves better backing and support, according to Science Minister David Willetts.

Mr Willetts said more public money and recognition is needed to give the already hugely successful space sector the boost it deserves.

He told Sky News: "Space is not some luxury. Space is creating the technologies that will make everyday life in Britain better and will mean that Britain can pay its way in the world by exporting high quality services.

"We've already got an industry that is worth £9bn a year, it employs 30,000 people but it's got fantastic opportunities for growth."

An £80m space cooperation fund was announced in the Autumn Statement, and speaking to journalists last week Mr Willetts even compared Stevenage in Hertfordshire to Nasa's base at Cape Canaveral in Florida, saying in the future Britain will be at the heart of the global space effort.

The town of Stevenage, which plays host to a number of space-related companies including Astrium, the third largest space company in the world, has been nicknamed "Space City".

They make a quarter of the world's satellites, from telecommunications satellites to others monitoring weather patterns and gravitational waves.

As part of the European Space Programme, they're developing a Mars Rover which should be exploring the surface of the Red Planet by 2019.

And their latest starring role is helping create Gaia, the largest ever camera to be sent into space, designed to map a billion stars, due for launch this week.

Dr Ralph Cordey, Astrium's head of science, told Sky News: "Some of the things that we're actually doing today might be considered to be science fiction.

"Whether the future will be about colonies on the moon or colonies on Mars I can't say right now, but I know the future will be exciting and what we're doing right now is forming a part of that."

The Government hopes added investment will help forge potentially lucrative partnerships with the likes of India, China and even America, as the international space race continues.

At the National Space Centre in Leicester they welcome the extra financial backing, believing it will provide a great opportunity to showcase what the British space industry has to offer.

Its director of education†Anu Ojha said: "In so many areas we are world leaders - in robotics, telecommunications, but in typical British style we don't make a song and dance about it.

"Within the global sector it is well known about our expertise, but among the general public, people are saying, 'UK space programme, what space programme?' and we as a community are on a mission to change that perception."

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