Opinion Former Article

Robotic missions key to UK human spaceflight future

Robotic missions have the potential to extract greater value from human spaceflight, according to a new paper by the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Virtual astronautics – involving robotic flight avatars – have an important and cost-effective role to play in providing support for any UK involvement in what comes after the International Space Station (ISS) in the next few decades.

These types of solutions would build on the UK’s world-leading capabilities in computer gaming and related technologies as well as its strong track record in space software.

The Society supports the Government’s approach, through the UK Space Agency, to expand the links between human and robotic missions in the short term and recommends that the Agency should look to promote a lead role for UK industry in the robotic systems and virtual astronautics strands of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) post-ISS activities.

The paper – The future of human spaceflight: A review of UK national strategy – comes two weeks before British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake lifts off on his six-month mission to the ISS, and is being launched today at the RAeS Human Spaceflight Conference where ESA Astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, who flew twice on the Space Shuttle Atlantis and one on the Discovery, will deliver the keynote speech.

Philip Davies, Chair of the Royal Aeronautical Society Space Group, said: “We should be looking at what interventions and investments are needed today in order for the UK to take advantage of the commercial opportunities presented by the future of human spaceflight beyond the ISS era.

“Given the UK’s heritage in robotic space systems, the Government and industry should work together to develop capabilities in areas where the UK is in an ideal position to take the lead. 

“The Society has previously called for exploitation of opportunities provided by closer links between human and robotic spaceflight and we encourage all UK space sector stakeholders to work with the UK Space Agency to take maximum advantage of Tim Peake’s Principia mission to inspire policy makers to prepare for the next generation.”

The paper – and the Conference – involves an evaluation of the human spaceflight aspects of the Government’s July 2015 National Strategy: Space environments and human spaceflight ¬– and identifies actions for both the Government and industry to meet the objectives laid down in the strategy:

  • The UK Space Agency and trade body UKspace to set in place dialogue and governance arrangements to help secure the commercial opportunities available for UK companies from the strategy
  • UK Space Agency to undertake an exercise to flesh out the short-term UK roles to exploit opportunities in international programmes;
  • UK Space Agency to clarify the linkage between research programmes in the Research Councils and human spaceflight to ensure that long-term investments are optimised.

  1. The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) is the world’s only professional body dedicated to the entire aerospace community. The Society promotes the highest professional standards in all aerospace disciplines; provides specialist information; acts as a central forum for the exchange of ideas; and plays a leading role in influencing opinion on aerospace matters.
  2. The RAeS Space Group is charged with promoting the interests of the Society and its members in astronautics and its component scientific and engineering disciplines.  These interests cover the design and manufacture of spacecraft and launch vehicles, plus the application of space techniques in such varied fields as communications, navigation, planetary exploration, astronomy and remote sensing.  The Space Group holds a number of conferences and lectures each year on exciting topics such as space tourism, spy satellites and robotic exploration of other planets.
  3. The RAeS Human Spaceflight Conference is taking place on Tuesday 1 December 2015 at RAeS Headquarters, 4 Hamilton Place, London.
  4. Read the full paper The future of human spaceflight: A review of UK national strategy.
  5. Philip Davies is available for further comment and interview.

For media enquiries contact:

Simon Whalley
Head of Policy and Public Affairs
T: +44 (0)20 7670 4362
M: +44 (0)7919 213 597
E: simon.whalley@aerosociety.com

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