Tim Peake's legacy should be launchpad for UK's own space programme, MPs say


British astronaut Tim Peake's mission should act as the launchpad for a British leap into space, MPs have said.

A report urged the Government to use Major Peake's legacy as the basis of an ambitious expansion of the UK space industry.

Members of the Science and Technology Select Committee wanted to see steps taken towards establishing Britain's own national space programme, independent of the European Space Agency (Esa).

They also backed bolder proposals for a UK spaceport than those already suggested which envisage launch facilities for traditional "vertical" rockets as well as sub-orbital spaceplanes taking off from runways.

Major Peake, who returns to Earth on Saturday at the end of his six month Principia mission on the International Space Station (ISS), took centre stage in the report.

The MPs said the mission should serve as a "call to action" and a catalyst driving development of a national UK space programme and spaceport.

They wrote: "We ask the Government to outline its plans to ensure that the legacy of the Principia mission continues to raise public awareness of the UK's leading role in the global space sector, while also inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers, long after Major Peake returns to Earth."

The report pointed out that the UK space economy generated a turnover of £11.8 billion, directly employed more than 35,000 people, and had delivered year-on-year economic growth rates of around 8% in the past 10 years.

It was hoped that Britain's share of the global space market would grow from 6.5% to 10% by 2030. But this was "highly contingent" on expanding the use of "space-enabled services" by both the private and public sectors.

Progress was being held back by the UK not having sufficient access to space - what the MPs called a lack of "flight heritage". This was something that could be addressed by a national space programme, they said.

Committee chair Nicola Blackwood MP said: "The UK has, so far, only taken small steps towards launching a national space programme that would enable our innovative space and satellite industries to get the 'flight heritage' they need. Now is the time to take a confident leap towards that goal."

The search for a suitable UK spaceport location was launched by the Government in 2014. Several coastal sites were shortlisted as places from where future sub-orbital spaceplanes carrying passengers or satellites could be launched. However, no final selection has been made.

Ms Blackwood said the spaceport plan was a "bold ambition" but now needed "solid action".

Calling for the scope of the proposal to be widened to allow traditional "vertical" rocket launches, she added: "The Government's technical requirements for the spaceport have focused on establishing a horizontal launch capacity for sub-orbital flights, without a vertical launch capacity.

"These narrow parameters risk limiting the use, and value, of the spaceport to the space and satellite industry. The Government must urgently set out the rationale, and evidence, for its spaceport proposals."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis), said: "The UK space industry is booming, almost doubling in size over seven years, and we have backed it all the way. We are continuing to invest through the UK Space Agency and provided over £3 million for educational programmes around Tim Peake's mission to inspire young people to pursue Stem subjects and careers.

"Last year we published our first National Space Policy, which supported industry ambitions to grow the UK's share of the global space market to 10% by 2030 - worth £40bn to the UK and supporting 100,000 new jobs."