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Blighty's official Space Agency starts up on 1 April

Glorious, insignificant future begins today

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The UK finally acquired an official government space agency last week, with the formal announcement of its operational status issued on April Fools Day.

The new and excitingly named UK Space Agency is an executive agency of the Department for Business, Industry and Skills.

"The UK space industry is worth an estimated £7.5bn [in annual turnover] and is an important driver for economic growth," says David Willetts, minister for universities and science. "This is why we've earmarked £10m in the Budget to start a national space technology programme and committed to reducing the regulatory burden on industry."

In particular the Coalition intends to revise the Space Act to introduce an upper ceiling on third-party losses to British satellite operators.

Formerly the nearest thing the UK government had to a space agency was the British National Space Centre, a sort of forum in which government bodies active in space could liaise with one another. Total UK spending on space spread across the departments has run at between £200m and £300m annually in the past, coming primarily from UK science-funding bodies the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and now the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

Blighty's multibillion-pound private sector space industry is a major modern success story, though much smaller public-sector efforts have been a little more erratic. Perhaps the most famous British government space project of recent times was the ill-fated "Beagle" Mars lander, which disappeared towards the red planet's surface after release from its ESA mothership and has never been heard from again. The UK government has also previously provided funding for the "Emdrive" antigravity technology - dubbed a "crackpot" notion by physicists.

It's certainly a gutsy call to officially kick off the new UKSA on April Fools' Day, though one might note that the fabulous soaraway Royal Air Force was stood up on the same date in 1918.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, annual government space spending stands at $18.7bn (£11.5bn at today's rates) for NASA alone – forget about all the other US government space spending, which at least doubles this. The UK's economy is roughly one-seventh the size of the USA's: so if we cared about space as much as Americans do, the new UKSA would have dedicated funding to the tune of £1.65bn at an absolute minimum. Instead it has loose oversight of about £220-250m, so we can see that in effect Blighty makes very little effort in space at all.

Unsurprisingly, as this is published NASA has not noticed the UKSA's formation. ®

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