British National Space Centre
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UK celebrates 50 years of spaceflight

UK celebrates 50 years of spaceflight

BRITISH NATIONAL SPACE CENTRE News Release (PN 04/07) issued by The Government News Network on 4 October 2007

Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of spaceflight began in style today. Half a century after the launch of Sputnik-1, Science and Innovation Minister Ian Pearson joined representatives from science and industry at the Jodrell Bank Observatory to highlight the UK's achievements in space.

Space experts looked ahead - detailing plans to adapt space technology to save lives on Earth, new technology to deflect asteroids and a radio telescope array.

Speaking at Jodrell Bank Ian Pearson announced that the British National Space Centre (BNSC) will assess the UK's participation in space exploration, looking at robotic technology and the possible role of humans.

Ian Pearson said: "Space exploration is a global endeavour and is set to move forward at a tremendous pace in the coming years. The UK is already a major player in this great adventure and we are now looking at how best to be involved in the future.

"I am quite certain that in 10, 20 and 50 years time space science, communications and exploration will be even more important than they are today we need to recognise that in Government policy as we all move forward."

BNSC will advise on the UK's involvement in human spaceflight and what benefits it might provide.

The announcement comes in response to the UK Space Exploration Working Group report, which was published on 13 September 2007. The report recommended the UK should be strategically involved in human exploration while maintaining its lead in robotic technology.

BNSC will look at whether the decision to concentrate on robotic exploration and stand aside from human spaceflight, which was taken 20 years ago, will remain valid in the future.

Over the past 50 years the UK space industry has become a world leader in many sectors.

Among other successes, the UK hosts the world's most profitable global mobile communications provider and Europe's most successful satellite-based TV broadcaster. It is the world's leading capital market for satellite and application financing.

The event's host, the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory, is home to the Lovell Telescope, which was the only radio telescope in the world able to track Sputnik-1's carrier rocket.

Jodrell Bank's Director, Professor Phil Diamond, announced the observatory will be the global headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array. This new radio telescope will enable astronomers to explore dark energy, to see the first stars and galaxies, to test Einstein's theories and to study the origin of stars, planets and life.

Professor Diamond said: "It is particularly fitting to announce today that development of the world's next generation radio telescope will be coordinated from Jodrell Bank, which has played a major role in radio astronomy over the past 50 years."

Dr Geraint Morgan of the Open University explained how Rosetta and Beagle 2 instrumentation is to be adapted to test for tuberculosis in poor and inaccessible regions of the world, with funding from the Wellcome Trust.
He said: "We are increasingly seeing the benefits of space research, not just in terms of understanding the Universe but also in developing technology with multiple applications here on Earth.

"The UK's experience on space projects makes it a world leader in developing robust, miniaturised technology that has the potential to impact healthcare and other sectors on a truly global scale."

The Ambassador of the Russian Federation, Yury Fedotov, paid tribute to Jodrell Bank's role in tracking Sputnik's launch vehicle and played a message from the satellite's deputy chief designer Professor Boris Chertok, highlighting the roles of Jodrell Bank and the UK in the dawn of the space age.

The opportunities offered by multiple spacecraft working together in swarms were highlighted in two further presentations. Dr Massimiliano Vasile from the University of Glasgow explained how the Earth could be saved from a catastrophic collision with an asteroid using swarms of tiny mirrors flying in formation. Dr Dave Barnes from the University of Aberystwyth demonstrated how fleets of robotic balloons could investigate planetary surfaces and atmospheres and relay data.

Notes to editors

1. Sputnik-1 was launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on 4 October 1957. The Russian spacecraft was the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth. Sputnik-1 marked the beginning of the space age. Sputnik's mission was largely political - the famous "beep-beep" signal was broadcast at a frequency that amateur radio enthusiasts could pick up, ensuring the widest possible audience - but it was also used to study the physical properties of the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere. The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory was the only radio telescope in the world capable of tracking the carrier rocket of Sputnik-1.

2. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a 1.5bn Euro project involving 17 countries. It will be a set of thousands of antennas, spread over 3,000 km. Half of the antennas located in a central region 5 km across. By connecting these antennas to ultra-fast computing systems, the SKA will be able to look in many different directions at the same time, vastly increasing its power and flexibility. The huge collecting area of the SKA will make it 50 times more sensitive than the current most powerful radio telescopes giving an entirely new view of the invisible universe. Construction is planned to begin in 2012 with the telescope becoming fully operational by 2020.
For more information, see:

3. The Open University's Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, led by Professor Colin Pillinger, developed miniaturised mass spectrometer instruments for both the Rosetta ( and Beagle 2 missions ( The Rosetta instrument was developed jointly with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and was funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (now the Science and Technology Facilities Council). The Wellcome Trust supported the development of the Gas Analysis Package for Beagle 2 and the subsequent translation of the technology to healthcare applications.

4. Simulations show that a beam of sunlight or a laser focused by a swarm of "firefly" satellites could sublimate material (change matter directly from a solid into a gas) from the surface of the asteroid, providing sufficient thrust to nudge the asteroid's orbital path away from the Earth. The technology could be available for use within 10 to 20 years. For further information see:

5. Balloon-based aerobots can provide a missing piece of the planetary exploration jigsaw, acting as a bridge between landers or rovers and orbiters. Whether free-flying, tethered to a rover or operating in a swarm, aerobots could play a vital role in future planetary missions. Recent tests on prototypes of a Martian balloon by the University of Aberystwyth and the European Space Agency have demonstrated the aerobots' capability to navigate over a planet's surface and fly in formation, opening up new opportunities to investigate planetary surfaces and atmospheres and relay data. For further information see:

6. Jodrell Bank Observatory is part of the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester. The Observatory is home to the Lovell Radio Telescope and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility which is operated by the University on behalf of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The Lovell Telescope began operations in the summer of 1957. For further information see:

7. The British National Space Centre (BNSC) is a partnership of ten Government Departments and research councils and is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and exploit space. BNSC co-ordinates UK civil space activities, and represents the UK at the European Space Agency and other international fora.

8. In 1986 the UK decided to stand aside from the European effort on human spaceflight. This included astronaut training, space station, and a man rated Ariane launcher.