As the curtain finally came down on one of the most successful and publically engaging space projects of all time, the Rosetta mission has thrust not only exploration, but also the importance and value of the European Space Agency (ESA), firmly into the spotlight.

The agency was set up back in 1975, but over the last decade has significantly increased its European footprint and investment to become a global leader in space exploration. With World Space Week beginning today, ESA’s previous success and already long list of future missions are vital as we seek to learn and understand more about our universe. Following Rosetta, other projects include the ExoMars mission, the Solar Orbiter mission to observe the surface of the moon, and JUICE, the ‘Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer’.

And like Rosetta, the UK has a critical role to play in these future missions. Although the UK only contributes about 9.9% of the total ESA budget, the Rosetta Mission had 10 UK industrial partners, which made up 20% of the total number of companies involved across Europe. For the ExoMars project in particular, Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage are leading the rover’s construction, meaning that the first rover of the mission launched in 2020 will have been developed, built and tested in the UK. The UK’s membership of the ESA, is integral to the future success of these missions, but also helps to leverage greater involvement and investment for our businesses. In the latest call for space projects under FP7 around 80% of successful bids include a UK partner and around 24% are led by one. The total investment secured by these partners is approximately €29 million, or 23% of the available budget for the call.

Such involvement in ESA projects is an important part of the UK’s own space sector development. The Space Innovation & Growth Strategy (SIGS) brings together the UK Space Agency, industry and academics to help plan and grow the spacer sector here in the UK. So far, it has helped launch the first UK National Space policy from a UK government, as well as introduced measures such as an insurance tax waiver for UK spacecraft operators. The strategy itself sets a bold and ambitious goal of growing the UK space sector to £40bn of annual turnover by 2030, representing 10% of the global market.

For the UK Space industry, the future is clear. Growing a currently £11.8bn industry to around £40bn by 2030 depends on greater involvement in European Space Agency projects, the commitment to long term industrial growth through the SIGS, and continued global investment to showcase our unique capabilities and help lead the next generation of commercial and scientific space projects.