Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Friday, 26 June 2009 11:28 UK

UK 'space jewel' set for polish

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

British technologies have become a leading choice for space missions

An expert panel has been asked to lay out the challenges and opportunities facing the British space industry.

The group will deliver its assessment in six months and make recommendations on how it thinks government can help maintain the sector's competitiveness.

The industry turns over £6bn annually and supports some 70,000 jobs.

Science minister Lord Drayson called the sector a "hidden jewel" of UK PLC because of its huge - but largely unrecognised - impact on daily life.

So much of what people do, from watching TV to finding their way in a car, is now dependent on space-borne services - many of which are just taken for granted.

Known as the Space Innovation Growth Team (Space IGT), the new panel will be chaired by Andy Green, the chief executive officer of Logica.

His IT company provides software and systems support to other space firms and so is in a good position to survey the entire industry, from hardware manufacturing to end-user applications.

The IGT will take soundings from across the sector, and from interests that rely on space technology such as entertainment, navigation and climate change.

Next generation

The aim of Mr Green's panel is to define a 20-year strategy for the British space business.

It will attempt to identify the key trends and then list the actions industry and government need to take if they want to fully exploit the changes that are coming.

Major Tim (BBC)
"Major Tim" will be an ambassador for science and technology

"We're clearly not going to outspend the Americans or the Indians; that's not the answer. What we're going to have to do is work smarter," Mr Green told BBC News.

"We have to think through very carefully what it is that is going to drive wealth creation, and begin to build the skills and the investment that will make that happen."

And he added: "It is technology-driven businesses like the space industry which will provide an absolutely fundamental lever for economic growth in the UK going forward.

"I am particularly concerned to see that we get more young people interested in technology careers, and I think space has a tremendous opportunity to excite people about what technology can do."

This is just the latest IGT established by government. Previous panels have been set up to examine the potential for wealth creation in areas such as biotechnology and the auto industry.

The Space IGT is expected to come forward with some preliminary findings by the end of the year, and then deliver its full report in early 2010.

Esa investment

Lord Drayson already has a report on his desk detailing how the UK can play its part in the changing goals of space exploration.

Soon, he is also likely to call for a consultation on the issue of whether Britain should have a dedicated space agency to co-ordinate government policy; at the moment policy is driven by a collection of "users" comprising the research councils and the various government departments with an interest in space.

British space activity was given a huge boost in May with the appointment of the first UK citizen to the European Space Agency (Esa) Astronaut Corps. Major Tim Peake will become a significant ambassador for science and technology.

Esa will also formally open its new technical centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire, next month.

"Space is a bit of a hidden jewel in the UK," Lord Drayson told BBC News.

"We have a number of hooks to raise its profile - Major Tim, the Harwell centre, the big Herschel launch that we've had recently.

"But what the IGT will do, I think, is give us a great platform to say more about the commercial opportunities and how space can really contribute to the UK economy and jobs in the future."

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