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Astronauts set for first all-UK space mission after deal which could 'inspire millions'

British astronauts could get the chance to blast into the cosmos thanks to a new deal between the UK and a US space company.

The UK Space Agency has signed an agreement with Axiom Space, a Texas-based firm working on what it says will become the first-ever commercial space station.

It has previously sent crewed missions into Earth’s orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) with SpaceX rockets.

A future flight carrying British astronauts would see them spend up to two weeks in orbit to carry out scientific experiments and participate in educational activities.

It would be a commercially sponsored trip, supported by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Britain has only had two astronauts in space before – Helen Sharman in 1989 and Tim Peake 27 years later.

Rosemary Coogan, a Northern Irish astrophysicist, hopes to make it three after being selected to join the ESA’s training programme last year.

Peake is said to be an “obvious candidate” to lead future UK missions, as very few British citizens are experienced astronauts – and NASA would likely insist on one for any mission to the ISS.

British astronaut Tim Peake is shown during his first spacewalk at the International Space Station in this NASA image tweeted on January 15, 2015. Peake became the first astronaut representing Britain to walk in space when he left the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday to fix a power station problem, generating huge interest back in his homeland. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY
Image:
Tim Peake is one of only two British astronauts to have gone into space

Dr Alice Bunn, president of industry trade body UKspace, hailed the deal as “incredibly exciting”.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, added it paved the way for more British astronauts to venture into orbit and “inspire millions of us here on Earth”.

Alongside the deal’s announcement, the agency is inviting British universities, research institutions and industry to share ideas for experiments that could be carried out during the two-week trip.

It’s also exploring the possibility of a national space education and public engagement programme.

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It comes as Shetland-based SaxaVord Spaceport awaits permission to host the UK’s first vertical rocket launch.

It still needs its licence from the Civil Aviation Authority, having submitted an application last year.

Spaceport Cornwall is the only British site to have attempted an orbital launch so far, but the much-anticipated January mission ended in failure.

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