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UK joins International Space Station in ‘historic event’

The UK has decided to back the European Space Agency’s participation in the International Space Station by paying for a European service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

The decision follows negotiations at ESA’s ministerial meeting in Italy this week and was described as an “historical event” by ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Research Fortnight understands that the UK will invest around €20 million (£16m) in the Orion module, which is Europe’s “barter element” with NASA to cover ISS costs.

According to a tweet by BBC reporter Jonathan Amos, science minister David Willetts believes the service module funding will see industrial returns for UK companies working in the fields of telecoms and propulsion.

Dordain told a media briefing on 21 November that the overall ESA budget would be €10.1 billion, corresponding to a flat-cash settlement over the coming five years.

Of this, he added, €4.2bn is for basic science or what he called “knowledge” and €3.7bn for the “competitiveness of European industry”.

Last month, Dordain called for investments in the order of €5bn and €4.5bn respectively for these two areas. However, at today’s briefing he argued the outcome was still good considering Europe’s financial situation. “We shall manage,” he said.

Dordain also praised UK Chancellor George Osborne for his recent announcement that the UK will increase its ESA contribution by 25 per cent to £240 million per year. He described the figure as “not bad” and said it was unusual for a finance minister to make such announcements.

In addition, the BBC has reported that the UK will join the European Space Agency’s microgravity research programme Elips, contributing about €15m over four years.

Earlier this month, David Williams, the outgoing chief executive of the UK Space Agency, told Research Fortnight that there would be no move to join the space station, manned space missions or launcher projects.