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The U.K. finally gets its own space agency

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UKSAThe United Kingdom has firmed up its position within the ranks of the space-faring, announcing on March 23 the creation of a new space center and an impending consolidated national space agency. The U.K. Space Agency (UKSA), which officially launches April 1, will take over from the British National Space Center, a hodgepodge organization operated by 10 governmental agencies. Preliminary plans for a national space agency had been announced in December.

The U.K. has not been entirely absent from space activity—it is a member state of the European Space Agency (ESA)—but Britain has been relatively quiet and frugal in its operations. The country has yet to send one of its own to space and spends only about $400 million annually on space programs—roughly 2 percent of NASA’s budget. (Even adjusting for the much larger U.S. economy, NASA’s outlay is six or seven times the U.K.’s space expenditures as a fraction of GDP.)

Whether the formation of a dedicated space agency and the development of the $60-million space facility in Harwell, England, signal a shift in the U.K.’s interest in exploring space remains to be seen. The 2009 selection of Englishman Timothy Peake as an ESA astronaut couldn’t hurt, a fact apparently not lost on ESA brass. At the time that Peake’s astronaut class was announced, ESA’s director general was quoted as saying, "It is clear that I hope that this will stimulate the British government" to start allocating funds to the space agency’s manned spaceflight fund, to which contributions are voluntary.

Until the impact of the consolidated UKSA becomes clear, the more immediate question is, how does one pronounce the new agency’s name? The acronym is a bit clumsy, so perhaps UKSA will go the way of NASA—and to a lesser extent ESA—in becoming a word unto itself. But what would that word sound like? UCK-sah? You-KAY-sah? Feel free to chime in below in the comments.

ESA astronaut Timothy Peake (center) and U.K. minister for science and innovation Lord Drayson (right) meet with youngsters modeling new UKSA gear: ESA/BIS/BNSC

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  1. 1. jrbooker03 9:09 pm 03/25/2010

    A backdoor way for the U.S. to influence the space race without the political and financial liabilities of using NASA? The Brits have always supported the U.S. goals of space exploration, whilst maintaining a clear and independant reasoning capacity about it’s methods and goals. Same as almost every other policy venture. Does this amount to the same?

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  2. 2. mbuderer 9:57 pm 03/25/2010

    I believe that Britain flew a female astronaut, Helen Sharman, in the ’80 s or early ’90 s..

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  3. 3. OpenSourceSpaceColonization 7:22 am 03/26/2010

    How about "OOk-Sah"? Terry Pratchett’s librarian would be proud…

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  4. 4. JustJack 3:37 pm 03/26/2010

    Following (NASA) NA-sah and (ESA) EE-sah, I guess UKSA would be yoo-KAY-sah?

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  5. 5. ennui 1:12 am 03/27/2010

    If Britain is interested in taking over Nasa’s rejected Technology ( That one of the Flying Saucer) they should contact: vliegschotel@yahoo.com

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  6. 6. Dimitris 6:39 pm 03/27/2010

    If only Tony Blair hadn’t left the office of Prime Minister, the UK could have used some of his magnificent spin doctors for some far more bombastic. Now we have to settle with yoo-ksah (which is how most brits I know have pronounced it so far).

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  7. 7. Enrgdjcam 5:09 am 04/20/2010

    To ‘OpenSourceSpaceColonization’
    Haha YES and they could use the illustrations of the librarian in space from ‘The Last Hero’ fable for fundraising and sponsorship events!

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  8. 8. Dea Parkin 11:32 am 05/4/2010

    Nice article, thank you; but I think UK astronaut Helen Sharman might be a bit cross about your sentence saying Britain is yet to send its own astronaut into space. It’s true, Project Juno was funded partly by British companies and mainly by Soviet Russia, but nevertheless, she made it into space in 1991 and is renowned as Britain’s first astronaut. I agree, it’s very sad she’s still the only. Good luck to Tim Peake.

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