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Scientists urged to send their experiments into orbit with Tim Peake

Astronaut Major Tim Peake is expected to lead a partnership between the UK Space Agency and Axiom Space
Astronaut Major Tim Peake is expected to lead a partnership between the UK Space Agency and Axiom Space

Scientists are being urged to come forward with experiments and technology to send into orbit on board the first all-British space mission, expected to be led by Tim Peake.

The mission, which is a partnership between the UK Space Agency and Axiom Space, is expected to involve Maj Peake and three other British astronauts, and is likely to fly to the International Space Station (ISS).

Although details are yet to be finalised, the Government is offering up to £15 million in funding – through commercial sponsorship – to get scientific projects off the ground.

The ISS is a useful environment for studying science because microgravity causes changes in biological systems, which can help experts understand the impact of space travel on humans, and test new technology in the extreme conditions of space.

Recent Axiom missions have included research into cancer prevention and studies of plasma physics.

Maj Peake, who spent six months on board the ISS in 2015 and 2016 said: “It’s fantastic to see the UK Space Agency taking advantage of this new era of commercial human spaceflight and working with Axiom Space and the European Space Agency to put a real focus on high-quality science and innovative technology for the potential UK mission.”

The mission is likely to spend two weeks on board the ISS conducting scientific research, demonstrating new technologies and taking part in outreach activities.

It will be the first time Britain has carried out an independent mission, although it will be supported by ESA.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on May 21, 2023 in Cape Canaveral, Florida en route to the International Space Station
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on May 21, 2023 in Cape Canaveral, Florida en route to the International Space Station - JOE RAEDLE/GETTY

Andrew Griffith MP, the minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “There is huge potential for UK businesses to play an increasingly important role in space exploration and the development of new technologies.

“I urge the UK science and technology community to use this opportunity  to drive forward discovery and unleash innovation in critical technologies.”

Axiom Space has already sent three private astronaut missions to the ISS.

The company launches from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.

The ISS crew members representing Expedition 70 (red shirts) and Axiom Space 3 (dark blue) gather for a farewell ceremony calling down to mission controllers on Earth on Feb 2. Front row are Italy's Walter Villadei, Turkey's Alper Gezeravci and Sweden's Marcus Wandt. Above them hanging upside down in blue is Axiom Space's Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former Nasa astronaut

The launch cost is likely to be around $55 million (£45 million) per astronaut, and the UKSA has not yet said how it will be funding the mission. It is likely the space agency will be relying largely on private investors who are looking to conduct research in microgravity.

Axiom Space missions fly with three crew members and must be accompanied by an experienced commander, which is believed to be why Maj Peake is being brought out of retirement.

Dr Lucie Low, the chief scientist for microgravity research at Axiom Space, said: “Axiom Space is delighted to support the UK Space Agency in its efforts to solicit impactful scientific and technological development projects that can advance the goals of human exploration of space, as well as bring benefit to citizens on Earth.

“Our Axiom Space missions to date have enabled researchers from across the globe to utilise the microgravity environment for national research and technology development priorities, and we continue to work together to secure sponsorship for this exciting mission.”