UK and NASA state intent to work on future Moon missions

UK and NASA state intent to work on future Moon missions
Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

The UK and US space agencies have signed a joint statement of intent, which “paves the way for UK commercial satellite communication and navigation services to be used by future NASA missions to the Moon”, the UK space agency said on 16 July, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.

The agreement was announced by the UK’s science minister, Chris Skidmore, at the Policy Exchange in London on ‘Embracing the New Space Age’. According to the UK Space Agency, the statement of intent on Lunar Research and Exploration “highlights the common interests of the UK and US in space, and the role that both nations can play in addressing major scientific questions”.

The agency said that it recognised “the scientific benefits of missions to the Moon and the important role that the growing commercial space sector will play in providing services on the lunar surface and in orbit”.

NASA and the UK Space Agency will establish a working group to coordinate joint scientific research and identify future opportunities to work together later this year.

“As the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 shows, NASA is an organisation steeped in history but also one which is constantly looking to the future and breaking new ground,” Skidmore said in a statement.

“The government is committed to growing the UK space sector, fostering the key capabilities we have in areas such as satellite communications, navigation and robotics, while developing new facilities such as spaceports, as part of our Industrial Strategy,” he added.

He said that there would be “significant opportunities” for the UK and US to collaborate over the next fifty years and welcomed the statement of intent as a “step towards future missions”.

“International collaboration is at the heart of space exploration and we want to work with partners around the world to deliver incredible science, develop innovative technologies and explore the solar system,” Graham Turnock, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said. “[We] are already working on missions [with NASA] such as the Mars InSight lander, but there is so much more we can achieve together in the new space age.”

The UK continues to be a member of the European Space Agency (ESA), playing a major role in missions such as Solar Orbiter and ExoMars, both due to launch in 2020, and hosting the European Centre for Space Applications and Communications in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

“Since human’s first steps on the moon 50 years ago, services from space have become woven into our everyday lives,” Graham Peters, Chair of the UK space trade association, said. “This statement of intent for Lunar Research and Exploration projects between the UK and NASA is welcome news for the UK space industry and, as part of our strategy to continue to grow the sector, we want the UK to establish a National Space Programme to sit alongside our investments in ESA.”

“Amongst other things a national programme will enable us to establish new international partnerships, retain sovereign space capability and harness satellite technologies to help deliver the UK commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” he added.

The UK Space Agency also awarded on the same day £2 million for 10 new projects to develop innovative technologies that “could transform weather forecasting and the study of climate change, through the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation”.

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