Science and Exploration

The UK Celebrates its Fifth Annual Space Day

By Keith Cowing
May 5, 2023
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The UK Celebrates its Fifth Annual Space Day
UK from space
Image credit: UNOOSA

On Friday, May 5, the United Kingdom will celebrate its version of Space Day. The original Space Day was created in the United States by Lockheed Martin in 1997 and has expanded and evolved ever since.

Space Day has since become a global moment, held annually on the first Friday of May, to pause and think about the exploration of space and the benefits that space activities have for all of us (still) living on Earth. As Space Day has evolved, the educational aspects of space have entered into the overall theme of the day’s events.

The U.K. is not a newcomer to the exploration of space. The impact of space on the U.K. started in the 1930s, when it was the province of a small group of enthusiasts until weapons began to fall from space in the 1940s (Nazi V-2 rockets to be exact). After that, the U.K., along with the U.S. and other World War II victors, used that technology to begin their own reach into space. An early launch vehicle program produced the Black Knight and Blue Streak rockets, which faced with limited success. The U.K. then began to leverage its interests with other nations such as the U.S. and European countries.

While the U.K. had a hand in virtually every aspect of space exploration and utilization, it never had its own equivalent of NASA. In 2010 the U.K. established the U.K. Space Agency. As it grew, the agency’s budget was increased and it now provides just under 10 percent of the overall European Space Agency’s budget. Since these activities are outside of the EU, Brexit has not had a direct impact.

Around 2014, interest in the U.K. Space Agency began to grow, and spaceport initiatives began to appear. A regulatory framework approved in 2017 expanded the structure within which the agency operated as these spaceport activities continued.

Now, in 2023, the U.K. Space Agency has truly come into its own and can be considered a fully diversified space effort with a wide range of space science, commercial, and human spaceflight activities as well as weather, earth resources, and technology satellite programs. The agency first published its regulatory framework, the Space Industry Act, in 2018, setting the stage for domestic launches through a program called LaunchUK. And finally, earlier this year, the U.K. conducted its first orbital launch attempt, during which a Virgin Orbit rocket took off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall in England. The rocket reached space, but fell short of its orbital goals. As the U.K. joins in the celebration of Space Day in 2023 it does so at the forefront of space exploration.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.