UK space sector set to benefit from new European Space Agency contracts

5 July 2018

UK industry will design a future Mars rover and benefit from a new commercial model for space exploration, Science Minister Sam Gyimah announced today on a visit, along with ESA astronaut Tim Peake, to the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire.

A new rover set to visit Mars and collect the first ever samples from the planet to be brought back safely to Earth, will be designed in Stevenage by Airbus following the award of a £3.9 million contract by the European Space Agency (ESA).

STFC RAL Space’s Autonomous Systems Group are also contributing to this ESA Mars rover mission and during the visit to Harwell the Minister, joined by British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, spent time at the RAL Space facility which is to be the home of the UK’s National Satellite Test Facility.

The ‘sample fetch rover’ will retrieve samples left by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and transfer them to an ascent vehicle. This will put them into orbit about the planet, where they will then be brought back to Earth by a separate spacecraft.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said:

“This remarkable new project, which will see samples brought back from Mars to Earth for the first time ever, demonstrates Britain’s world-leading scientific and engineering innovation.

“Winning this contract builds on the UK’s world-renowned expertise in space and robotics which the government is supporting through the UK Space Agency and the major investments in our modern Industrial Strategy.

“One rover bound for Mars in 2020 is already under construction by Airbus in Stevenage and the knowledge and expertise honed there will now be applied to designing this new mission, which aims to safely deliver – for the first time – material to Earth from another planet.”

Dr Chris Mutlow, Director of STFC RAL Space, said: “I was delighted that the Minister was able to visit RAL Space for the first time and to welcome Tim Peake back to Harwell. Especially now when RAL Space and companies across the space cluster are involved in some truly cutting edge space projects and partnerships, from Mars sample return to our very own National Satellite Test Facility. We’re proud to be the hub for UK space technology development.”

The UK is a founding member of ESA, which is independent of the European Union. This means the UK’s membership will continue after we leave the EU, delivering economic benefits and ensuring British companies, universities and other organisations continue to be at the forefront of space exploration, satellite manufacture and technology applications.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake said: “It’s the dawn of an exciting new era where businesses and space agencies are working closer than ever before on ambitious missions to explore our solar system and deliver real benefits people’s lives. I’m excited to see what the future holds for collaborations between the UK and ESA, which will see us reach for the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

Tim Peake joined the science minister at the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications, which employs 103 staff at Harwell and has supported hundreds of UK companies. As the leading funder of ESA’s ARTES programme into telecommunications research the UK sees one in four commercial telecommunications satellites substantially built in the UK.

The UK space sector is growing, worth £13.7 billion to the economy and employing more than 38,000 people across the country. The UK is a world-leader in small satellite technology, telecommunications, robotics and earth observation, while British universities are some of the best in the world for space science. As technology evolves and reduces the cost of access to space, there is an exciting opportunity for the UK to thrive in the commercial space age.


Media contact

Melissa Warren


Notes to Editors

STFC RAL Space is an integral part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). RAL Space carries out world-class space research and technology development with involvement in over 210 space missions to date.

Harwell Science and Innovation Campus
With a heritage of 75 years at the forefront of UK innovation and discovery, Harwell Campus continues to drive scientific advancements to the benefit of the UK economy and to improve the human condition, centred around an open innovation community and culture.

The Space Cluster at Harwell has grown from two to 80 organisations over the past eight years and is testament to the power of Space to drive national growth and support the UK Space Sector as it aims for a 10% share of the global Space market by 2030.

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