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Celebrating 50 Years of the UK in Space


On 26 April 1962, Britain became the third space-faring nation with the launch of Ariel-1, the first satellite to be developed and operated by the UK. Fifty years on, the UK space sector is a world leader in space science, innovative technology and applications development.

UK 50 header (JPG, 33 Kb) 

To commemorate the launch of Ariel-1 and to celebrate the continued excellence of UK space activities, the UK Space Agency is proud to announce a year of celebrations to mark the UK space sector’s golden anniversary.

On the anniversary of the launch, 26 April 2012, the UK Space Agency and the Science Museum are co-hosting a two-day conference celebrating 50 years of the UK in space. It will bring together those who started the UK on the road to being a world-renowned centre for space technology and research with the scientists and engineers of the next fifty years.

Ariel-1 was the world’s first international satellite. Britain stepped up to an offer from NASA to launch scientific satellites at an international meeting on space research in 1959. From this point, the UK took the lead in satellite technology as well as beginning the UK’s long history of international collaboration.

As part of the programme on the 26th, there will be personal insights from scientists and engineers involved in the original design and build of the Ariel series of satellites, as well as those teams developing the flagship programmes of today and tomorrow. The Science Museum will be highlighting historic milestones in the UK space sector over the course of the week.

The future is set to be as innovative and inspirational as the last 50 years. There is a vast potential for space technology. From the growing need for Earth observation satellites to monitor urgent social and environmental issues; to the emerging reality of space tourism; to our ever-improving capability to see deep into the Universe, the UK space sector is at the forefront of facing up to these challenges.

Now the UK is home to a dynamic, budding space sector, worth £7.5 billion and supporting 60,000 jobs across a variety of industries. The UK Space Agency, set up to provide strategic direction for the sector, is now a year old, working with a variety of partners, including industry, universities, the International Space Innovation Centre, the Technology Strategy Board and the Research Councils.

We have some of the best scientists and engineers in a world which is increasingly reliant on space systems. In addition to the UK’s collaborative work with the European Space Agency, the Agency administers a £10 million National Space Technology Programme, helping to support the development of British technology as well as services and applications using space data.

This year’s anniversary marks a legacy of fifty years of knowledge and innovation in the UK space sector, and will herald a new direction for space in Britain over the next fifty years.

To register for the upcoming conference celebrating the anniversary of Ariel-1, please visit the conference website.

To view the latest programme.

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I work in space

Ian Whittaker I work as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Otago.