A study into UK astronaut missions in the next decade is expected to be given the go-head by Ian Pearson MP, the UK government’s minister of state for science and innovation, in a speech at noon local time today.
If the study then recommends UK involvement in human spaceflight, a ministerial decision to endorse that would overturn decades of government policy.
Pearson’s green light for the study follows the UK Space Exploration Working Group (SEWG) report’s recommendation on 13 September for such an analysis. SEWG was set up by the government’s civil space co-ordinating body, the British National Space Centre (BNSC).
The BNSC told Flight: "The minister will be making a statement today giving the go-ahead." On 13 September SEWG chairman Frank Close said: "We recommend that the UK engages in preparatory human spaceflight activites".
Government policy in the UK has always been against human spaceflight. The only exception was the training of a mission specialist for the planned 1986 NASA Space Shuttle flight that would have launched one of the UK’s military Skynet communication satellites.
The Shuttle Challenger disaster in January of that year saw the UK payload switched to an unmanned rocket launch and the mission specialist training end. Only one Briton has flown under the UK’s Union flag and that was Helen Sharman on the Soviet funded Project Juno mission in 1991.
Pearson will announce the decision at the Space 50 event being held by the UK government’s Science and Technology Facilities Council at The University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in north east England.
At 0900h GMT in London on 4 October the British Interplanetary Society is revealing its science and media personality supporters for its UK human spaceflight campaign, which is demanding the the UK government fund astronaut missions to the International Space Station in the next decade.