Space agency needed to drive, if not fund, work, professor says

July 30, 2009

A stand-alone space agency should be set up in the UK whether or not there is significant new funding for such a project, a leading astrophysicist has said.

The Government has launched a consultation on plans to establish a national space agency, and Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, has already said he supports the idea.

However, Phil Willis, chairman of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, has expressed concern that "unless significant resources are put into a UK space agency, it will be a space agency in name only".

Now Martin Barstow, head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Leicester and professor of astrophysics and space science, has spoken in support of the project, regardless of whether or not new funding can be secured.

He said: "There is a lot of support for something (with) a higher profile than the way we're doing things at the moment.

"That doesn't necessarily have to mean more funding."

Professor Barstow said that although money was a problem for those studying space, simply bringing existing projects under one roof would have many benefits.

Not having a space agency has impeded international collaborations because other countries have not known which UK institutions to approach, he said.

"It's good that the Government has asked the question, 'Do we need a UK space agency?' My view is that we do. We have missed out on a lot of organisation and direction by not having an organisation that can give leadership to the whole of our space activity," he said.

Despite his support for the project, Professor Barstow warned against a major reorganisation of space research.

The continuity of the Science and Technology Facilities Council as the primary funder would give academics confidence, he said. "People are always going to be nervous about whether the grants we have in this university (and others) are going to be somehow siphoned off."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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