British National Space Centre
Official logo of the British National Space Centre
Agency overview
Formed1985; 39 years ago (1985)
TypeSpace agency
JurisdictionUnited Kingdom
HeadquartersPolaris House, Swindon
AdministratorDavid Williams[1]
Primary spaceportNone
Annual budget£268 million (US$438 million) (2008/09)[1]

The British National Space Centre (BNSC) was an agency of the Government of the United Kingdom, organised in 1985, that coordinated civil space activities for the United Kingdom. It was replaced on 1 April 2010 by the UK Space Agency.[2]


BNSC operated as a voluntary partnership of ten British government departments and agencies and Research Councils. The civil portion of the British space programme focused on space science, Earth observation, satellite telecommunications, and global navigation (for example GPS and Galileo). The latest version of the UK civil space strategy which defined the goals of BNSC was published in February 2008.[3] Notably the BNSC had a policy against human spaceflight,[4] and did not contribute to the International Space Station.[5]

Staffing arrangements

Rather than being a full space agency as maintained by some other countries, BNSC HQ comprised about thirty civil servants on rotation from the partners. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was the 'host' department and provided the central policy staff including the Director General. The last DG, Dr. David Williams, was the first to have been externally appointed. Much of Britain's yearly civil space budget of £268 million was contributed by the Department of Trade and Industry (until the DTI was broken up in 2007) or controlled by the partnership rather than the BNSC, and about three-quarters of that budget flows directly to the European Space Agency.[6] BNSC staff represented the UK at the various programme boards of ESA and also its governing Council. In 2004, the budget for BNSC headquarters was approximately £500,000 (US$1 million).[7]

From January 2009, the BNSC was headquartered in Swindon, Wiltshire, in the same building as the Science and Technology Facilities Council (Research Councils) and the Technology Strategy Board. BNSC was directed by the Minister for Science and Innovation, Paul Drayson.[8][9]

Projects funded through BNSC


The BNSC was the third largest financial contributor to the General Budget of the European Space Agency, contributing 17.4%,[10] to its Science Programme and to its robotic exploration initiative the Aurora programme. Investments were also made in the ESA telecommunications programme 'ARTES' in order to develop payload technology used, for example, in the satellites of Inmarsat, the UK based mobile satellite operator. The BNSC partnership co-funded a private sector project led by Avanti Communications [2] to build a satellite called HYLAS[11] to provide broadband communications to rural and remote users.

Current projects in the field of space science include LISA Pathfinder, for which UK industry is the prime contractor and UK universities are building major payload elements; the astrometry Gaia mission, for which UK industry is supplying the detectors, avionics, software and data processing electronics; and the James Webb Space Telescope, for which a UK consortium led by the UK Astronomy Technology Centre is building the European part of the Mid Infra Red Instrument (MIRI)[3]. The UK has contributed the SPIRE instrument for the Herschel Space Observatory and detector and cooling system technology for the Planck cosmic microwave background mission. In the field of Earth observation, projects include the ESA ADM-Aeolus wind profiling mission, for which UK industry is the prime contractor and CryoSat-2 which is directed by UK scientist Professor Duncan Wingham of University College London. Recent BNSC activities include the Mosaic small satellite programme, which led to the launch of the TopSat high resolution EO mission and also the Disaster Monitoring Constellation.


In November 2008, BNSC announced new contributions to ESA and an agreement in principle to establish an ESA centre at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.[12] The ESA facility at Harwell was opened officially on 22 July 2009.[13] The name of the ESA centre is the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications. In February 2009, BNSC, ESA and Reaction Engines Limited announced a public–private partnership funding scheme to demonstrate key technologies of the SABRE engine for the proposed Skylon spaceplane.[14]


BNSC Partners:[15]

See also


  1. ^ "New Director General for British National Space Centre". 2 February 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2022.
  2. ^ Amos, Jonathan (23 March 2010). "'Muscular' UK Space Agency launched". BBC News. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  3. ^ "UK Civil Space Strategy 2008 - 2012" Archived 21 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "UK vision to stay at the forefront of space sector published". Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2009.
  5. ^ "European Participation, ISS Participating States". Retrieved 29 May 2009.
  6. ^ BNSC - How we work Archived 6 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine, BNSC website. Retrieved 15 July 2009: "In the year 2008-9, BNSC's partners spent £268 million on space programmes - about 76% of which was the UK's contribution to European Space Agency"
  7. ^ de Selding, Peter. "British Audit Finds Strengths, Needs in Space Program". Space News. Archived from the original on 10 February 2005. Retrieved 9 March 2007.
  8. ^ BNSC press release, 28 June 2007 "Machinery of Government Changes" Archived 3 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 31 October 2007.
  9. ^ BNSC website, "Space Minister" Archived 17 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  10. ^ "BNSC and ESA". Archived from the original on 20 April 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2009.
  11. ^ 'Our satellite HYLAS' Archived 10 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Deal struck on UK-ESA Research Centre and GMES" Archived 15 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine BNSC press release, 26 November 2008.
  13. ^ "European Space Agency touches down in UK" BNSC press release, 22 July 2009
  14. ^ "The rocket that thinks it's a jet" Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine BNSC press release, 19 February 2009
  15. ^ BNSC website, "BNSC Partners" Archived 16 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 31 October 2007.

Video clips

51°34′02″N 1°47′08″W / 51.5672°N 1.7855°W / 51.5672; -1.7855