Naples – The U.K. hopes to contribute roughly €15 million ($20 million) over four years to the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Program for Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS), with investments targeted at two key areas of research that could be conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS): Scientific understanding of how the body ages in space and advanced-materials research conducted in zero-gravity conditions that could have applications for the aerospace and automotive industries.

The funding, part of an unprecedented 25% increase in Britain’s total contribution to ESA programs announced Nov. 9, would give Britain more access to the ISS than it has had in the past.

“I am a believer in cutting-edge science,” said David Willetts, U.K. Minister of Universities and Science , who is leading a British delegation during a two-day meeting of ESA ministers here to decide the agency’s forthcoming multiyear budget. “These are two really interesting and important areas of scientific experiment.”

Willett’s, who spoke to reporters midway through the ESA budget meeting, said Britain is also keen to make big commitments in ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programs, including development of a next-generation telecom platform dubbed NeoSat.

Outgoing ESA Council President David Williams, who is leaving his post as head of the U.K. Space Agency this week, said Britain is likely to be second only to France in supporting the next-generation platform.

“France and the U.K. are the two big supporters, though France is talking a little bit more [ funding ] than us at moment,” Williams said. “On ARTES, we’re going in at a level industry will be happy with in terms of the work share they foresee, and the next-generation satellite platform is the biggest one among those.”

Willetts also lauded a planned U.K. investment that will establish a new ESA facility in the U.K. Located at Harwell, Oxford, the center will focus on data applications, climate-change modeling and the development of novel power sources and innovative robotic technologies for space exploration.

“I’ve told the council that it’s a source of regret for me that we’ve not had a major ESA presence in Britain,” Willetts said. “I am pleased that Harwell is happening. We want it to be one of Europe’s most innovative centers for the use and analysis of satellite data.”