British astronauts could get the chance to blast into the cosmos thanks to a new deal between the UK and a US space company.
The UK Space Agency has signed an agreement with Axiom Space, a Texas-based firm working on what it says will become the first ever commercial space station.
It has previously sent crewed missions into Earth’s orbit and the International Space Station with SpaceX rockets.
A future flight carrying British astronauts would see them spend up to two weeks in orbit to carry out scientific experiments and participate in education activities.
It would be a commercially sponsored trip, supported by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Britain has only had two astronauts in space before: Helen Sharman in 1989 and Tim Peake 27 years later.
Rosemary Coogan, a Northern Irish astrophysicist, hopes to make it three after being selected to join the ESA’s training programme last year.
Dr Alice Bunn, president of industry trade body UKspace, hailed the deal as the “incredibly exciting”.
Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, added that it paved the way for more British astronauts to venture into orbit and “inspire millions of us here on Earth”.
Alongside the deal’s announcement, the agency is inviting British universities, research institutions and industry to share ideas for experiments that could be carried out during the two-week trip.
It’s also exploring the possibility of a national space education and public engagement programme.
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It comes as Shetland-based SaxaVord Spaceport awaits permission to host the UK’s first vertical rocket launch.
It still needs its licence from the Civil Aviation Authority, having submitted an application last year.
Spaceport Cornwall is the only British site to have attempted an orbital launch so far, but the much-anticipated January mission ended in failure.