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British Space Agencies

During the 1960's the UK was an early and active participant in space activities, fielding its first national satellite in 1962 and conducting its first (and only) space launch in 1971. However, for a variety of reasons, support for space programs in the UK has waned steadily for the past two decades, and current funding is concentrated on Earth observation science and data processing. Since 1986 the UK has ranked fourth in its participation level within ESA and was the only ESA member to withhold support for both the Ariane 5 and the Hermes spaceplane projects.

The British National Space Center (BNSC) was established in 1985 as a coordinating agency among government departments and research councils to help for mulate and manage national space policy. The ENS works directly with the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defense, the Meteorological Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of the Environment, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Department of Education and Science to this end. The title UK Space Minister falls within the portfolio of the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Technology, a post which changed hands twice during 1993-1994 with Ian Taylor assuming the reigns in July, 1994. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council were formed in 1994 from the former Science and Engineering Research Council. Likewise, the Defense Research Agency's Space and Communications Department recently assumed the responsibilities of the Royal Aerospace Establishment and the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment for both civilian and military programs in the fields of space technology, mission analysis, and remote sensing.

With a staff of only approximately 250, BNSC primarily concentrates on advising government agencies and coordinating approved programs, with emphasis in Earth observation, satellite communications, technology and transportation, and space science. SNSC specifically supports programs which will help (Britain) understand our changing Earth, open up commercial and operational systems for the future, bring commercial returns, and support uniquely valuable space science" (Reference 120).

The founding Director General of BNSC, Arthur Pryor, was replaced in May, 1993, by Derek Davis. A reorganization of BNSC was completed the next year when the original four directorates were expanded into six: Earth Observations; Space Science; Technology; Industry and Exports; Satellite Communica tions, Applications, and Launchers; Policy, ESA, and European Union; and Finance. Four technical centers are aligned with BNSC, including the recently created Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which is the principal UK organization responsible for space science programs with ESA and bilateral partners.

The most significant aerospace firms in the UK have been British Aerospace and Matra Marconi Space UK. British Aerospace Space Systems Ltd. specialized in scientific spacecraft, communications, and satellite subsystems, while Matra Marconi Space UK, formed in 1990 along with Matra Marconi Space France during the merger of Matra Espace and Marconi Space Systems, is a complete space system and ground station design and manufacturing firm. In July, 1994, Matra Marconi Space acquired British Aerospace Space Systems Ltd. to create Europe's (then) leading space company and largest satellite manufacturer. A relative newcomer is Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of the University of Surrey which has already acquired an international reputation for the manufacture of miniature (<50 kg) satellites.

The annual (April through March) civilian space budgets for the UK were 171.31 million Pounds for 1993-1994 and 180.54 million Pounds for 1994-1995. Approximately two thirds of this amount constitutes the UK donation to ESA.


120. UK Space Activities 1993-1994, BNSC, 1993, p. 4.

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