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Spare our blushes, put more cash into space

MPs call for greater government investment

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Britain's space effort is embarrassingly under funded, according to MPs, and unless the funding is increased substantially, the country will lose skills, and will be left behind by the international community.

Britain spends £200m annually on its involvement in space exploration, the BBC reports, compared to £1.9bn spent by France. Even India spends twice as much as does Britain, according to Conservative MP Nigel Evans.

However, DTI minister Malcolm Wicks defended the government, arguing that Britain spent its cash more effectively than other countries did.

The MPs were speaking at a Westminster Hall debate, ahead of a budget allocation meeting with leaders of the European Space Agency. Labour MP Bill Olner led the debate.

"The UK really does need to make its position known. It really does need to put itself in a position where it is a lead country within space. It's no good the government giving warm words and reassurance. That's got to be matched by investment," he said.

Olsen called for the government to put more cash into ESA, to enable the resurrection of projects like CryoSat, and other satellite projects that will shed light on environmental change. He noted that Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) had pledged just £2m to the space effort, an amount his opposition colleague Nigel Evans described as "chicken feed".

Meanwhile, Evans also warned that lack of investment now would see Britain owning a smaller slice of the commercial space pie in years to come:

"Britain will be seen as a country that really isn't interested, that's not committed to the space industry. When there are other collaborations in the future Britain won't even be thought of," he said. "There is a lot of money to be made in space. It is going to need the government to get in there and drive it far harder and faster."

Wicks conceded that the government would spend more on space in an ideal world, and said that the concerns raised by the MPs would be communicated to the science minister, Lord Sainsbury. (Sainsbury sits in the house of Lords, and so is not allowed to speak in Commons debates.) ®

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