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The U.K. finally gets its own space agency


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

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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