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ESA approves new research centre in the UK

The ESA Ministerial Council meeting at The Hague. Credits: ESA

PARIS (BNS): Agreeing that space is a strategic asset and important for the independence, security and prosperity of Europe, the ministers in charge of space activities in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) 18 Member States and Canada have mainly adopted four resolutions and decided to set up a research centre in the UK.

The resolutions were passed on Wednesday at the end of the two-day ESA ministerial council meeting held at The Hague, Netherlands. The space ministers met to discuss Europe's 10bn-euro space vision spread over a period of three years.

In a historic break from the past, the space agency said it was ready to establish a research centre in the UK. The facility, which will be based on the Harwell innovation campus in Oxfordshire, will concentrate on space robotics and climate change science. Britain will completely bear the cost of constructing the new research centre.

Currently, Britain is the only major member ESA state which does not host any technical centre.

Speaking to an electronic channel, ESA senior executive Daniel Sacotte said it was an important decision to set up a centre in the UK. "It shows renewed interest for Britain to be part of the ESA, to be involved in space activity; and we welcome that”.

The ESA expressed its opinion that UK being a major player in the space robot programme, the ExoMars rover, the new centre should focus on that issue. "We have been identifying a few sectors of possible activity, including robotics of course; because in the development of the ExoMars programme, the industrial role of Great Britain is to develop the robot that will be going and searching for life on the planet Mars," Sacotte said.

"There is a centre dedicated to Earth observation in Italy, but Britain has clear expertise in climate science and the agency is keen to exploit that," an ESA official said.

According to the space agency, the Harwell campus is a major hub for science and technology businesses. It is owned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Health Protection Agency. Britain's largest contribution to science in the last three decades has been the giant Diamond synchrotron light source, which helps probe the structure of materials on the finest scales using X-rays.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) 18 Member States and Canada adopted the following four resolutions:
* The role of Space in delivering Europe's global objectives, covering the political and programmatic highlights of the Council;
* Establishing the Level of Resources for the Agency to cater for Space Science programmes and basic activities in the period 2009-2013;
* Renewal of the contribution of ESA Member States to the running costs of the Guiana Space Centre - Europe's spaceport in French Guiana (South America); and
*Outlining the future evolution of the Agency, spanning its financial management reform, decision-making processes, industrial and procurement policies and further development of site infrastructures for ESA programmes.

Other major decisions taken at the meeting include the funding of various resources covering the Scientific Programme and basic activities. Also continuation of the ongoing programmes, including funding of the Guiana Space Centre, Ariane 5 and Vega accompaniment technology programmes, Ariane 5 evolution and the future launchers preparatory programme.

The various centres in the European Member States perform the following tasks --
* The European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, is the largest ESA centre and all spacecraft are tested before the launch.
* The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, tracks the missions after the launch.
* Esrin in Frascati, Italy, observes the Earth.
* The European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) dedicated to space science and astronomy is based in Villanueva de la Canada, Spain.
* The European Astronaut Centre (EAC) which trains Europe's astronauts is situated in Cologne, Germany.
* France does not have a research centre, but hosts the ESA headquarters in Paris.

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