SWINDON is to be the home of the newly-announced UK Space Agency.

It will also have tens of millions of pounds in funding from two Swindon organisations.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) jointly contributed £83m to the European Space Agency (ESA) in the 2008-09 financial year – the last for which figures are available.

The UK Space Agency, Britain’s mini-version of Nasa, will take overall responsibility for UK space from next month, replacing the British National Space Centre (BNSC).

It will operate initially from the BNSC’s headquarters in North Star, and no announcement has been made of any planned change of location.

The agency will for the first time allow all aspects of civilian space policy to be handled under one roof.

The UK Space Agency took off with the help of British astronaut Major Timothy Peake, but the accent at the launch in London was on the dry realities of economics rather than Dan Dare.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson was on hand to keep proceedings firmly grounded, despite Science Minister Lord Drayson confessing that he would “like to see human beings living on Mars”.

The Business Secretary said: “I think it is important to remember that although it is cutting edge, this stuff is not sci-fi.

“It may start in space, but it comes down to Earth very quickly and is directly relevant to all our daily lives.”

In Swindon, STFC spokesman Peter Barratt said: “We believe that the establishment of the agency is good for the UK because it’s important for both the scientific and industrial sectors, and the UK’s research base as a whole.”

The STFC is also one of the major funding bodies behind a new £40m International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) at Harwell in Oxfordshire, which is at the heart of Government plans to support Britain’s growing space sector.

Lord Mandelson and Lord Drayson announced the creation of the ISIC at the launch of the UK Space Agency.

The centre, to be sited with the European Space Agency facility opened last July, will provide a central hub for British space activity and ensure the UK maintains its world-leading space capability.

Funded through both public and industry investment, the ISIC will establish centres of excellence in the UK.