We recently welcomed David Southwood, the new Chair of the UK Space Agency Steering Board. Read about his first thoughts in this week's guest blog.
Being appointed Steering Board chair just as we hit the high of public interest in UK space activities with Tim Peake’s triumphal return to Earth seemed a great time to take up the job. There was a lot to look forward to. The first ExoMars landing on Mars would be in the next months; we were in the run-up to an ESA Council of Ministers in December and preparations were well under way for UK to play an important role there.
The last few weeks have raised questions about the future of the UK in space. We now have a new government and a commitment to leave the European Union. While the European Space Agency (ESA) is not part of the European Union, European cooperation is a fact of life in many of the United Kingdom’s space activities. There are suddenly new challenges.
The space industry in UK is very good, often very creative and contributing to steady year-on-year economic growth. Our science capabilities are also in the front rank. However also, we do things differently than many of our partners in ESA. I'll never forget what I was told by colleagues from elsewhere in Europe that I had taken for a tour to show how industry and academia could and did work together in UK - "Our space agency would never allow that," they said. We need to make sure the contributions of both scientists and industry to our country can continue to be effective in the changing environment and to make sure the UK Space Agency facilitates that work as best we can.
It is not going to be simple but it is certainly going to be interesting. UK’s membership in European Space Agency (ESA) and European Organisation for Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) is not directly affected by withdrawal from EU. However, the organisations have been increasingly working together and sharing goals. This will not change. We will need to find ways to be part of the technical delivery and make our contribution to European space as good and reliable partners despite the changed political relationship.
We also need to look outward. We export space hardware and services globally and that must continue. The UK needs to be at the forefront of exploiting what space can bring in excitement, science, and a better life here on Earth. We need to keep surprising the rest of the world with our technical capabilities. Let's get to work!