UK astronauts could take part in the first all-UK mission to space after the UK Space Agency (UKSA) signed an agreement with an America-based space company.
The deal between the agency and Axiom Space sets out plans for the two organisations to work together.
The mission would see UK astronauts launched into space, spending up to two weeks in orbit to carry out scientific research, demonstrate new technologies and participate in education and outreach activities.
UK universities, research institutions and industry are being called on to share their ideas for experiments and technology demonstrators which could be conducted during a two-week period.
Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This agreement paves the way for UK astronauts to conduct scientific research in orbit, and to inspire millions of us here on Earth.
“It takes thousands of people to complete a crewed space mission and return the astronauts safely home, highlighting the huge variety of careers available in the UK space sector right now.
“There is much to do, and this agreement is the springboard for the UK Space Agency, Axiom Space and the mission sponsors to assess how we best push forward the frontiers of knowledge and innovation, and showcase the power of space to improve lives on Earth.”
The UK Space Agency is working with Axiom on plans for a commercial mission with the full support of the European Space Agency.
UKspace president Dr Alice Bunn said: “Since the first astronauts landed on the moon over 50 years ago, human spaceflight has captured the imagination of billions of people.
“But space is no longer for the privileged few; we have witnessed incredible growth in the application of space technology and data to everyday lives, and we recognise the immense and specific value of humans being able to push the boundaries of science and technology operating within the unique conditions of space.”
She added that the agreement is an “incredibly exciting one”.
The announcement comes as science minister George Freeman is due to open the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday where he will speak about opportunities to bring further investment into the UK space sector.
Axiom Space provides full-service orbital missions, conducting end-to-end crewed missions to the International Space Station.