The UK is aiming to broker a deal between the US and China to support a multinational manned mission to Mars, British Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts said.
“One of the advantages of the challenge of getting a manned mission to Mars is that it is such a big project that it probably requires global cooperation,” Willetts told reporters traveling back from British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to China on Wednesday last week, in comments that were embargoed until yesterday. “We’re in a very good position. We’ve got a very nimble and effective space industry. We’re trusted partners of America. We’re active players in the European Space Agency and we’re now opening up a new relationship with China.”
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s Autumn Statement to Parliament on Thursday last week included a commitment to spend ￡80 million (US$130 million) over five years to fund a global collaborative space program, helping British scientists and companies build links with emerging space powers.
Willetts said the UK’s decision more than two decades ago to stop launching its own satellites and instead buy slots on others’ rockets had led its scientists to become experts in compact, lightweight space technology. He said British expertise in robotics, centered around Stevenage, north of London, may provide opportunities to sell technology to others’ space missions.
“A lot of the technology for the Mars rover vehicle, which the European Space Agency will launch in a couple of years’ time, was developed in Stevenage,” Willetts said.
“In the old days it was Cape Canaveral; in the future it will be Stevenage at the heart of the global space effort,” he said.