The UK will help fund and build a new spacecraft that will help scientists monitor the climate crisis and natural disasters.
The new pathfinder satellite will be funded with £3m from the UK Space Agency, joining Spain and Portugal in the €80m (£70m) Atlantic Constellation project. Co-funding will be provided by Open Cosmos, based on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire.
The project is developing a group of satellites to monitor the Earth and it is hoped it will provide “valuable and regularly updated data” to help detect, monitor and reduce the risk of natural disasters.
Andrew Griffith, a minister in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “Earth observation will play an absolutely vital role in tackling global challenges like climate change and disaster relief, providing the data we need at speed, while supporting key UK industries like agriculture and energy.
“By working with Open Cosmos on a new satellite and supporting our Atlantic partners, Spain and Portugal, we can harness space tech for our shared goals, while creating new skills opportunities and jobs for the future to grow the UK economy.”
The announcement comes on the opening day of the UK Space Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland and four weeks after Tim Peake, the last British astronaut to go into space, said he would come out of retirement to lead the UK’s first astronaut mission. Peake, 51, last flew to the International Space Station as a European Space Agency astronaut in 2015.
The mission will entail four British astronauts going to space. The UK Space Agency is undertaking it in a deal with Axiom Space, an American company that organises visits to the International Space Station. The project is expected to cost £200m, although there will be no contribution by the British taxpayer.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last month, Peake said: “It’s a very exciting development; there’s a lot happening in the space sector right now and I think for the UK to be at the forefront of this new era of exploring commercial opportunities is a fantastic thing.
He added: “There are several hurdles to overcome, the financial model needs to be secured, crew selection and training, and Nasa needs to approve the mission and they need to identify a slot if it is to go to the International Space Station.”