- Press Release
- Feb 8, 2023
Astrobiology – A New Science for the New Millenium
British National Space Centre
13th December 1999
ASTROBIOLOGY — A NEW SCIENCE FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
The search in the UK for life in the Universe is on. Astrobiology — a new science to search for life across the
Universe — is launched in Britain today and the excellence of UK scientists puts us in a strong world position.
A panel of experts in the field has spent the last year investigating work currently underway in the UK. Today it
has presented its findings to the British National Space Centre, saying Astrobiology is poised to take the step
from a number of separate disciplines to being an integrated science.
Key findings include:
* Astrobiology is a science in which the UK already has significant expertise across the board.
* There is great potential for the UK to develop its expertise further
* Collaboration between the different strands will improve the science
* Disciplines and organisations need to join up to meet the potential of Astrobiology
* A UK Astrobiology Panel should be set up to focus scientific endeavours.
Panel chair Dr Don Cowan said:
“This is a really exciting time in Astrobiology. In our investigations we found many British scientists who were
Astrobiologists without knowing it; biologists were studying how life survives in the harsh environment of
Antarctica, astronomers were developing new missions to find
new planets, chemists were developing new techniques to identify biochemical markers, geologists were studying
the way life transforms the properties of our planet. Brought together they make a powerful force in
Astrobiology which will enable us to find out still more about where we come from and what other life might
exist or have existed in the universe.
“I firmly believe we have the potential to find another evolutionary experiment like the one on earth.”
The range of science available in the UK is being presented at a seminar at the Natural History Museum on the
13th December (starting at 1pm) with a press briefing at 11am.
Notes for Editors:
1. The report “Astrobiology in the UK” is available from BNSC on 0207 215 0807.
2. Chair of the panel is Dr Don Cowan of University College London. Other key contributors are Dr Monica Grady
(Natural History Museum), Dr Alan Penny (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory), Dr Ray Wolstencroft (Royal
Observatory, Edinburgh), Dr David Wynn-Williams (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge) and Professor
Geoffrey Eglinton (University of Bristol).
3. Astrobiology has otherwise been known as Exobiology.
4. BNSC has taken the lead in commissioning this report, as Britain’s interdisciplinary space partnership.
5. Images relating to astrobiology can be downloaded from the following website:
For further information contact BNSC Press Office on 0207 215 0806.
British National Space Centre
13th December 1999
Science Minister Announces Funding for Small Satellites, Microgravity, Astrobiology and Launchers
A £15M investment in the UK small satellite sector was announced today by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury.
The funding is intended to help transfer the UK’s world-leading capability in small satellites from the academic
into the scientific and commercial markets.
Lord Sainsbury said: “I hope this initiative will stimulate industry to invest in small satellite missions,
particularly for satellite communications, the largest and most rapidly expanding market for space products.
He also announced that:
Research into microgravity and astrobiology is to get a £1.4M boost from UK Government.
Welcoming a report from a panel of experts, seeking to establish astrobiology as a new science for the
millennium, Lord Sainsbury announced that the UK is to invest in the research opportunities offered by the
European Space Agency’s EMIR-2 programme.
He said: “EMIR-2 will offer our scientists experimental and research opportunities in astrobiology and
“UK teams will be able to lead challenging research designed to improve our development and preparation of
important new drugs, smart fluids and high performance sensors”. Their initial results will allow us to evaluate
the relevance of the International Space Station to achieving UK priorities”
“We will accelerate our involvement in a new science that will exploit our lead role in the Mars Lander, Beagle
Lord Sainsbury went on to say that the UK would not enter ESA’s Future Launch Technology Programme (FLTP),
preferring instead to press ahead with more immediate national measures in partnership with UK firms that are
already having success exporting to European and International builders of launch vehicles. He confirmed that
the National Space Technology programme would be extended to provide specific
opportunities to support innovative ideas at the equipment and
component level, rather than at the vehicle level.
“My decision supports the priorities set out in the UK Space Strategy published in August”, the Minister said.
“The Strategy confirmed major investments in space science, remote sensing, satellite communications,
technology and navigation.”
“We gave relatively low priority to launch vehicles. After careful consideration, I have decided that the high
costs of FLTP in the longer term would have an unacceptable effect on other, higher priorities. To enter Phase 1
and then to withdraw later on would have confused our partners in ESA and those firms seeking a consistent
approach from Government in the high priority sectors”.
Notes to Editors
1. The UK has an enviable reputation for supplying low cost and capable micro and mini satellites to the Space
agencies and universities of other governments. These small satellites are particularly effective when flying
optical sensors that do not require a lot of electrical power. They have substantial potential for meeting some of
needs of scientific and commercial users.
2. Collaborative space missions have frequently been large and rather expensive in order to meet the research
needs of many partners. Through the use of small satellites, governments and commerce may launch smaller,
lower cost satellites and constellations in response to market needs for which a space based solution would have
previously been too expensive.
3. Scientists and engineers remain uncertain about the eventual value of the International Space Station. By
joining EMIR-2, UK teams will have opportunities to evaluate its importance and to influence public and
commercial opinion about its relevance to achieving UK priorities.
4. By extending the National Technology Programme to include
opportunities for equipment suppliers in the launch sector, he
recognises that many innovative UK firms are already supplying
leading edge products into the launch services market that is becoming more cost conscious and commercially