To boldly go where (nearly) no Brit has gone before

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When I met Major Tim Peake two years ago he was pretty unsure about his chances of getting to the International Space Station. While Britain contributes to the European Space Agency’s €4,000,000,000 budget we’ve never poured money into its manned spaceflight programme and the countries that do haven’t exactly been keen for us to get time in space for free.

Nevertheless a monumental lobbying effort on behalf of the UK Space Agency appears to have paid off. And the fact that there will be a Brit on board the Space Station for five months in 2015 is literally one of the most important things to happen to British space science for years.

Contrary to popular belief we Brits do ‘do space’. We have a growing small satellite industry, plans for a revolutionary launch system and our space industry contributes around £9billion to the UK economy. But nothing has the power to capture the general public like seeing someone like us floating about up there.

Someone suffering from #Britishastronautproblems, no tea bags till the next supply ship arrives, lending another astronaut some change for the space vending machine and being too awkward to ask for it back before, or having the entire plot of his favourite American drama spoiled by Twitter before someone can beam it up to space.

On a serious note though, if Tim Peake could be half as successful as the recently landed Commander Chris Hadfield he could inspire a whole generation of Brits to take up a science, or consider going into engineering or even just realise that the International Space Station exists, and people live there and it’s so big you can see it with your own eyes if you look in the right direction at the right time. I’ve heard he can play the guitar, so that’s a start.

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Today is just the start to Tim’s journey, so do yourself a favour and follow him on Twitter. Live his journey from today’s press conference in the Science Museum; to the moment he climbs into a rocket in a freezing desert in the middle of Kazakhstan and long after he lands back on earth almost half a year later. He’s soon to become a member of a very select club, but as the first Brit to do it, he’s going to be taking us all with him.

The interview i did with Tim Peake two years ago (here if you’re on a mobile):

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An update on a UK Astronaut’s training

With all the talk over the last few weeks being about the end of the Space Shuttle I thought i’d instil a bit of hope to the future of the space industry here in the UK.

Major Tim Peake could become the first Astronaut to go into space solely on a British passport and without private funding. I caught up with him a couple of weeks ago at the UK Space Conference to find out if he was any closer to a journey to the stars…

Currently he is yet to be assigned to a specific flight, and apparently ‘bilateral’ discussions between Jean-Jacques Dordain (Director General of the European Space Agency) and David Willetts MP (UK Science and Universities Minister) got quite heated when the subject of Major Tim’s flight was mentioned. Mainly because the UK doesn’t pay into ESA’s human spaceflight programme, but would still like to enjoy its benefits.

 

UK Space Conference: The Keynote

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Day one of the UK Space Conference and the announcements are well on the way. The proceedings were opened by Dr Phillip Lee MP, the Exec Vice Chair, Education, skills and inspiration, on the Parliamentary Space Committee. In his opening speech he said when he gave his introductory speech to parliament many thought he was mad for doing it about the UK Space Industry. That’s the kind of thing this conference is hoping to combat.

Moving onto the first speaker. David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science had some interesting points to make…

He said the Outer Space Act would be amended in order to level the playing field for spacecraft wanting to take off from the UK. Currently a craft launching from the UK requires unlimited damage liability. This is going to be scrapped.

Launches also require insurance up to £100million. This will be reduced to £60million, the amount most launch companies already cover you for. This removes the need for extra cover to be purchased and seemed like a policy change that was welcomed by the audience.

He also announced that the world famous Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has won the contract to build the world’s first live streaming space camera within a year.

The camera will be flown up to the ISS and people (that means you) will be able to look at the camera’s view using the Internet to a resolution down to 1meter (pretty much like google maps…..but live and better!)

I spoke to the people at the lab before the announcement and they were a little wary of the time scale, but hugely enthusiastic about the project.

The final speaker of note was Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director General of the European Space Agency. He said he was glad the UK was becoming more involved with the European Space Agency (although there were glances between him and the minister when talking about finances). He also came out with the quote of the keynote.

“space is so user friendly, people just don’t know they use it.”

The conference breaks for lunch shortly, and will split into parallel sessions after that. Networking of cause continues throughout. If you want to be nosey, @jackdearlove is the place to be.

UK Space Conference: Preview

Monday sees day one of the UK Space Conference 2011. And the start of a pretty important week for space in general.

The conference aims to get the UK Space Industry talking and better at shouting about what it does. I’m doing some reporting for the BBC in the morning, broadcasting across at least 13 local radio stations at the time of blogging (that number will rise in the morning) and as part of that coverage i caught up with David Williams, the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency…

Expect a good few blogs throughout this week. Because i’m off to Florida on Wednesday for the launch of a certain Spaceship

Mission Day 10: Nasa’s not the only one with new toys

Day ten contains the third spacewalk of the mission, one that contains the usual list of random maintenance issues these tent to include. At the time of blogging the astronauts are a little behind schedule (nothing unusual there) and have only encountered a couple of problems, primarily this…

but also one the more mundane…

Because of delays on previous spacewalks there was some talk moving some of the left over jobs into this EVA, that’s now looking less likely…

Back on the ground and around 24 hours since a Soyuz capsule landed another one is getting ready to take off, well the crew are anyway.

These guys make up the final three members of Expedition 28 and they’ll blast off for the Space Station on June 7th, but before they leave the planet, they have to leave Star City. If you think Britain is full of pomp and circumstance, do a bit of Googleing and find some of the ceremonies those flying a Soyuz have to go through, whoever said spaceflight was simple.

So we’ve done what’s happening in space and Russia, back here in the UK you may have seen pictures of our latest ‘spaceplane’…

I apply the same criteria to that artist’s impression that I do to NASA’s ‘multi-purpose crew vehicle’. I’ll believe it when I see it. (mission animation below, more info can be found here).