November 9, 2012 / 4:40 PM / in 5 years

Britain to pump millions into ESA as part of space drive

* Britain to increase ESA contribution

* Targets 30 bln pound space industry

* Govt spared science budget austerity cuts

By Chris Wickham

LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Britain will pump an extra 300 million pounds into the European Space Agency (ESA) over the next five years, it said on Friday, securing a bigger role in ESA’s operations as Britain aims to triple the size of its space industry.

As part of the funding deal, the Paris-based agency will transfer its telecoms satellite headquarters to Harwell, Oxfordshire, with the creation of around 100 jobs.

Science Minister David Willetts said the increased annual contribution of around 240 million pounds marked a step change in British space funding.

“It will drive growth, create extra skilled jobs and help the UK to realise its ambition to have a 30 billion pound space industry by 2030,” he said.

Britain’s space sector has an estimated turnover of 9 billion pounds a year and has seen annual growth of about 7.5 percent in the last few years.

The investment is aimed squarely at securing a direct economic benefit and UK Space Agency chief David Williams said the new money would “ensure that UK industry continues to win lucrative space contracts over the next five to 10 years.”

The extra cash was announced by finance minister George Osborne in a speech on Friday at The Royal Society, Britain’s national science academy.

Aside from space, Osborne said the government wanted to focus scientific research in areas it believes Britain can lead the world: computing, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agricultural science, energy storage technology, advanced materials and nanotechnology and robotics.

Paul Nurse, president of The Royal Society, welcomed Osborne’s backing for science but said: “Please remember to put your money where your mouth is”.

Science has been spared the severe funding cuts seen in other spending areas, though flat research budgets have been eroded by inflation and capital spending on equipment and the maintenance of laboratories has been cut sharply.

Imran Khan, Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, urged the government to make a sustainable, long-term commitment to science and tackle the cuts imposed by the below-inflation cash settlement.

European science ministers meet in the Italian port of Naples on Nov. 20 to set the ESA’s annual budget over the next few years. Its funding could come under pressure as EU governments cut spending to reduce big deficits in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Its current budget of just over 4 billion euros is about a quarter of the U.S. civil space budget.

Despite the increase, Britain will likely remain the fourth biggest contributor to the ESA behind Germany, France and Italy.

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