Shropshire astronaut Tim Peake hints he may come out of retirement over all-UK space mission
Shropshire's very own astronaut Tim Peake has hinted that he could come out of retirement as he hailed the possibility of an all-UK mission to space as a “very exciting development” and “something we should really celebrate”.
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has signed an agreement with US-based company Axiom Space which could see the first all-UK mission to space.
The mission would see UK astronauts launched into space, spending up to two weeks in orbit to carry out scientific research, demonstrate new technologies and participate in education and outreach activities.
At the start of the year it was announced that Major Peake - who became a qualified helicopter pilot and pilot instructor at RAF Shawbury in the 1990s - would be retiring from his role as a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut but would remain in the space industry as an ambassador.
But when asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he would come out of retirement for any future UK mission, he hinted at a possible return, saying: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in retirement.”
Commenting on the announcement, Maj Peake, added: “It is a very exciting development – there is a lot happening in the space sector right now and I think for the UK to be at the forefront of this new era of exploring commercial opportunities is a fantastic thing.”
He acknowledged there were several hurdles to overcome before the idea is finalised, including crew selection and training and getting approval from Nasa, but said it was hugely encouraging that the UKSA had “started the ball rolling”.
Maj Peake continued: “The International Space Station will come to its retirement at the end of this decade and new commercial space stations will take over, so for us to be involved at this level at this early stage is something that we should really celebrate.”
UK universities, research institutions and industry are being called on to share their ideas for experiments and technology demonstrators which could be conducted during a two-week period.
The announcement came as science minister George Freeman was due to open the London Stock Exchange and speak about opportunities to bring further investment into the UK space sector.
Mr Freeman said: “The prospect of a historic UK mission with Axiom Space has the potential to inspire a whole new generation to reach for the stars, while supporting our efforts to build one of the most innovative and attractive space economies in the world, so I look forward to seeing the next stage of this exploratory work develop.
“We want to put the UK at the forefront of the global race for commercial space investment, continue to support scientists and engineers to test new technologies and carry out important research and, ultimately, bring the benefits back to people and businesses across the country.”
Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This agreement paves the way for UK astronauts to conduct scientific research in orbit, and to inspire millions of us here on Earth.
“It takes thousands of people to complete a crewed space mission and return the astronauts safely home, highlighting the huge variety of careers available in the UK space sector right now.
“There is much to do, and this agreement is the springboard for the UK Space Agency, Axiom Space and the mission sponsors to assess how we best push forward the frontiers of knowledge and innovation, and showcase the power of space to improve lives on Earth.”
The UK Space Agency is working with Axiom – which provides full-service orbital missions, conducting end-to-end crewed missions to the International Space Station – on plans for a commercial mission with the full support of the European Space Agency.