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Major space spending boost agreed

A major boost in space spending by the UK has been agreed at a meeting of European Space Agency (ESA) leaders.

Britain has pledged to contribute around 1.2 billion to European space projects over the next five years.

The payments to the ESA are increasing from around 170 million per year to 240 million.

Part will go into the general ESA pot that all member states commit to. But about half the funding is to be shared between 10 "optional" programmes chosen to benefit the UK.

They include 161 million for new research into satellite telecommunications, which is at the heart of the 9 billion per year UK space industry.

A further 166 million will be spent on Earth observation, 81 million on weather satellites, and 18 million on nuclear power sources for future robotic Mars missions.

Although Britain has consistently avoided manned space programmes, it is also making a one-off 16 million contribution to ESA's participation in the International Space Station.

This will focus on telecommunications and propulsion technology for the American space agency Nasa's new multi-purpose manned spacecraft, Orion.

The increased space investment is expected to secure orders worth 1 billion per year for British businesses.

Science minister David Willetts, who finalised negotiations for the UK at the ESA ministerial council meeting in Naples, said: "Space is big business for the UK so it is important for us to make strategic investments that will continue the growth of this thriving industry."

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