Missions and programmes
The UK Space Science and Exploration Programme is divided into three areas:
Artist's impression of the Planck satellite.
Space Science Programme
The majority of this programme is delivered through the European Space Agency (ESA) with complementary collaborations on missions run by other space agencies e.g. NASA and Japanese Space Agency. This programme delivers innovative technology and is about understanding the Universe around us, the laws that govern it, its birth and how it developed through cosmic time. At present, there are 17 European space science spacecraft in operation. Europe aims to continue these achievements through ESA’s Cosmic Vision a long-term plan to deliver cutting edge science in the time-frame 2015-2025.
This programme is to explore destinations in the solar system that humans might visit in the future. The ESA exploration programme (also known as Aurora) is an optional programme and the UK chose to be a key participant because it underpins government objectives delivering innovative engineering and world leading science. The UK participation is focused on robotic exploration of Mars.
The UK Space Agency enables UK scientists to undertake experiments in microgravity or ‘space envronments’ facilities through its subscription to ESA’s ELIPS (European Life and Physical Sciences) programme. The Agency does not fund the research itself, but assists the relevant research communities to develop a coherent view through organising meetings, facilitating research networks and liaising with other research funders and ESA.
Microgravity/space environments experiments have very broad potential applications on Earth and are relevant to many disciplines e.g. materials, fluid physics, and biology. Gravity affects many physical processes: by using microgravity facilities, scientists can study effects which are usually masked by the dominant effect of gravity. Other effects associated with the extreme environment of space – such as radiation, vacuum, exposure and isolation – are also exploited by researchers and can be used by a host of traditionally ‘terrestrial’ and ‘space-based’ sciences.
Looking further ahead, if mankind is to spend long periods in space then we need to understand what effects this will have on our bodies. Human physiology has adapted to the environment around it and there are many unusual, and as yet unexplained, side-effects of leaving the planet.