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Space will inspire new generation’s enthusiasm for STEM says minister

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The minister of state for transport Jo Johnson has said that the UK’s burgeoning commercial space flight sector could invigorate interest in engineering and technology amongst the younger generation.

He made his comments at the second reading of the Space Industry Bill in the House of Commons. The bill aims to create a regulatory framework to allow commercial spaceflight activities from UK launch sites. 

“There is nothing like space to generate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) inspiration and we saw it with Tim Peake, when he became one of the first British astronauts, if not the first British astronaut, to the International Space Station last year,” he said.

“We’ve seen it on many occasions, the power that space has to capture the imaginations of young people, and we have every confidence that development of a domestic launch capability will, over time, have comparable effects.”

Johnson said the UK has a 6.5 per cent market share in the space sector, which it hopes to improve to 10 per cent by 2030.

He said satellites support £250bn of UK GDP and that tens of thousands of new, smaller satellites are planned, creating a global launch opportunity worth £10bn over the next 10 years.

“This is an opportunity the UK is well placed to pursue,” said Johnson.

“Our long coastline, aviation heritage, engineering capability, thriving space sector and business-friendly environment all make the UK attractive for new commercial launch services.”

The Bill includes new powers to license a wide range of spaceflight activities and has already been backed in the House of Lords.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “It must be some blessed relief for the frontbench opposite to move their attentions away from their trials and tribulations here on planet Earth and lift their eyes up to the heavens.

“I think much of the country is doing likewise, aghast in sheer disbelief at the continued and appalling judgments being made by this Government about our country’s transport system.”

Speaking later in the debate Tory former minister Edward Vaizey told MPs of the importance of the European Space Agency.

He said: “The European Space Agency is not part of the European Union, so the Brexiteers cannot mess up the European Space Agency, it will survive the carnage of Brexit.

“It employs over 100 people drawn from 17 countries, I hope they’ll be able to remain here and provide support for the development of new products.”

The Bill was given an unopposed second reading and will undergo further scrutiny at a later date.

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