The last British astronaut to go into space is to come out of retirement to lead the UK’s first astronaut mission.
Tim Peake, 51, who will be leading the mission, last flew to the International Space Station (ISS) as a European Space Agency astronaut in 2015.
The mission will entail four British astronauts going to space. The UK Space Agency is undertaking it in a deal with Axiom, an American company that organises visits to the ISS. The project is expected to cost £200m, although there will be no contribution by the British taxpayer.
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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Peake said: “It’s a very exciting development, there’s 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 added: “There are several hurdles to overcome, the financial model needs to be secured, crew selection and training, and Nasa needs to approve the mission and they need to identify a slot if it is to go to the International Space Station.
“So it’s early days and there are several steps to go through, but it is fantastic that we have started the ball rolling with these exploratory discussions.”
George Freeman MP, a minister at the science department, 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.”
Although the three crew members who will accompany Peake on the mission are yet to be formally announced, the Telegraph reports that they are expected to be the British paralympian John McFall, who is the world’s first disabled astronaut, the astronomer Rosemary Coogan, and the industrial chemist Meganne Christian.
Michael Suffredini, the chief executive of Axiom Space, said: “Axiom Space is looking forward to working with the UK Space Agency on a future human spaceflight mission. With this agreement as the initial foundation, we will build a comprehensive mission plan in support of the UK’s national and agency objectives to advance its capabilities in space exploration and discovery.
“Together, we will look to harness the benefits of microgravity and help push the boundaries of innovation to advance our civilisation.”