The European Space Agency (ESA) boosts its activities in the UK

Aerial view of the Harwell science and innovation campus (Credits: ESA).

Aerial view of the Harwell science and innovation campus (Credits: ESA).

Following the significant increase of UK’s contribution to the budget of the European Space Agency (ESA) that took place in the fall of 2012, the so far rather modest UK office of ESA in Harwell has been expanded into a fully fledged centre. Present at the inauguration of the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), located at the Harwell Oxford campus, were the UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, and ESA’s Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Speaking during the event, David Willetts noted: “The UK space industry is increasingly important to growth, contributing over £9 billion to the economy every year and supporting thousands of highly skilled jobs. ESA’s decision to locate its high-tech facility in this country shows that we are creating the right environment for innovation and cutting-edge research”.

The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) is ESA’s new facility in the United Kingdom. It is based at the Harwell Science, Innovation and Business Campus in Oxfordshire. A dedicated building will be available by the end of 2015 (Credits: ESA).

The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) is ESA’s new facility in the United Kingdom. It is based at the Harwell Science, Innovation and Business Campus in Oxfordshire. A dedicated building will be available by the end of 2015 (Credits: ESA).

After the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), located in the Netherlands, Germany’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), the European Space Research Institute in Italy, and Spain’s European Space Astronomy Centre, ECSAT has become the fifth major facility of ESA in Europe.

Commenting on the location of the centre, Willet said: “The centre will benefit from working closely with other space scientists and businesses at Harwell, including the Satellite Applications Catapult being officially launched today.”

The main focus of ECSAT will lie within the domain of telecommunications, climate change, technology, science and integrated applications. The latter focuses on combined use of different space and terrestrial technologies, data and infrastructure to create new applications for everyday use. The development of innovative public-private partnerships will be encouraged.

In the current European economic client, most of the member states were hesitant to increase their contributions to ESA’s budget. However, the UK decided to lead by example and scaled up its investment, believing the space sector has an enormous growth potential. Currently, 70% of the output of UK’s space sector is being exported, meaning UK has already established itself as a major player on the global scale.  ECSAT is expected to play a key role in the UK space domain and further facilitate its growth.

“Investing in space is investing in competitiveness and growth, through knowledge, innovation and services,” said ESA’s Director General Jean Jacques Dordain. “The Harwell Oxford campus is already a unique place of competences and the building up of ESA’s presence in this campus will reinforce both ESA and the campus.”

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation with an almost 40 year long tradition. Created in 1975, it aims at shaping the development of Europe’s space capability and ensuring that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

By 2013, 20 European countries joined the agency. By joining forces, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

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