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‘Exciting’ deal paves way for more UK astronauts to head into space | Science & Tech News

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.

British astronaut Tim Peake is shown during his first spacewalk at the International Space Station in this NASA image tweeted on January 15, 2015. Peake became the first astronaut representing Britain to walk in space when he left the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday to fix a power station problem, generating huge interest back in his homeland. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY
Tim Peake is one of only two British astronauts to have gone into space

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.

Cosmic Girl jumbo jet lands back in Cornwall as UK’s historic space mission suffers setback | Science & Tech News

LauncherOne has suffered an “anomaly” and has failed to reach orbit – after being blasted into space in an historic launch from UK soil.

Carrying nine satellites for deployment in Earth’s lower orbit, LauncherOne shot off towards the stars from around 35,000ft above the Atlantic, having been carried skyward by a converted jumbo jet dubbed Cosmic Girl.

But shortly afterwards, Virgin Orbit, the operator of the launch, said: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.”

UK’s historic space launch – live updates

The former Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 took off from Spaceport Cornwall, at the site of Newquay Airport, at just gone 10pm on Monday night, sparking wild cheers and applause from the 2,000 members of the public who were lucky enough to snag tickets.

Sky News’s science correspondent Thomas Moore said that although the rocket did seem to reach space successfully, “it does seem that at the last moment, the actual deployment of the satellites hasn’t worked”.

Cosmic Girl has since successfully landed back here at Spaceport Cornwall.

It set off from Newquay shortly after 10pm, and reached the drop point for LauncherOne – the 21 metre-long rocket that was nestled under its left wing – just before 11.15pm.

The plane touched down back on the southwest coast of England less than two hours after its departure.

Cosmic Girl
Cosmic Girl has returned back to Cornwall

LauncherOne was due to reach the other side of the world, ready to release the satellites another hour or so later.

Despite news of LauncherOne running into problems, Cosmic Girl was greeted by raucous applause from the hundreds of members of the public watching at the spaceport.

Read more:
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A man and a child watch Britain's first satellite launch on a screen, at Cornwall Airport Newquay, in Cornwall, Britain January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Thousands of people were at the spaceport for the launch

What kind of satellites were being deployed?

Unlike the large satellites taken into space by vertical rocket launches, like those carried out by NASA and SpaceX, Virgin Orbit – the operator of Monday’s Start Me Up mission – was dealing with far smaller hardware.

Only about the size of a cereal box, the newly-launched satellites were set to perform a range of tasks in space, such as maritime research and detecting illegal fishing and piracy, as well as national security.

They are also used for climate change observation.

Slowly but surely, Earth’s lower orbit is becoming much more crowded, as companies from Amazon to UK-based satellite company Iridium all holding a presence.

So too does Elon Musk’s satellite broadband company Starlink.