Earlier this month — at the start of British Science Week — Science Minister Chris Skidmore announced new national space funding worth £7 million, which will ensure that UK scientists play a leading role in a new space weather mission.
The Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission will study how the solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, which can affect satellites, power grids and communications networks that are integral to our modern lives.
The new funding from the UK Space Agency brings the total UK investment in the SMILE instruments to £10 million, building on the expertise found in universities around the country in the design and development of cutting-edge space science.
The Science Minister also announced the UK’s agreement with partners including the European Space Agency (ESA) for a second mission, called Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), which will search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars.
The UK Space Agency has invested £25 million in innovative science for the PLATO mission, scientifically led by the University of Warwick.
Mr Skidmore said: “These two exciting space missions are brilliant examples of the UK space industry’s innovation and expertise.
Space weather — such as solar wind — is a potential threat to our communications systems here on Earth, so this research examining how the wind interacts with our planet’s electromagnetic system is important.
"Meanwhile, work to discover Earth-like planets around other stars may eventually lead to us answering the question of whether extra-terrestrial life exists.
"This £35 million of space science funding is part of our ambitious Industrial Strategy, boosting research investment and helping the UK’s space sector to thrive.”
National funding for these missions is in addition to the UK’s regular contributions to the ESA’s science programme.
Chris Lee, UK Space Agency chief scientist, said: “The UK’s involvement in the instruments onboard both of these missions underpins our separate industrial investment in SMILE and PLATO through our on-going membership of ESA.
“SMILE is a prime example of scientific innovation underpinning the broader economy with real-world applications, while PLATO’s innovative design is a game changer in exoplanet science, and our investment will ensure that UK scientists and engineers will be leading participants in all aspects of the mission.”