The two nations are already working together under the UK-China Joint Laboratory Programme in Space Science and Technology, which was established in 2007 and is led by the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) with support from the China National Space Administration and the UK Space Agency.
As part of the programme the UK National Space Academy with its partners STFC, the British Embassy in Beijing and the Universities of Nottingham and Leicester, held a series of intensive masterclasses in 2016 for hundreds of Chinese students and teachers selected from across the country.
The programme has been so successful that a Memorandum of Understanding has now been signed by both nations, which sets out the intentions to establish a new Virtual Centre to lead on space education and space culture activities between the UK and China. The Virtual Centre will build on the success of the existing programme, and expand the network of partners from research and education, and include cultural organisations such as science museums.
Professor Anu Ojha OBE, Director of the UK National Space Academy, said: “This new Centre will develop new innovative space partnerships between the UK and China in education, research and cultural awareness and will give UK teachers, students and researchers new opportunities to work in partnership with one of the world's most ambitious space programmes – through student masterclasses and teacher programmes held in China and the UK, through dedicated programmes conducted at the heart of China's space programme and through the opportunity for us to develop new teaching experiments that will be conducted on China's planned Space Station."
The aim for the new Virtual Centre is to develop new relationships in the UK and China space sectors in education, research and cultural awareness, by inspiring the next generation of scientists, facilitating closer international collaboration, and bringing together the best minds from the UK with the best in China.
And while the joint Centre will help to spread space education across China, UK students and teachers will be offered the chance to participate in joint summer school programmes including visits to China astronaut training and launch centres and, for the first time, joint UK-China education experiments will be developed to fly in China's space programme. The Centre will be led by The Consortium of Chinese Laboratories (CCL) and the UK National Space Academy.
STFC RAL Space is one of the UK's closest collaborators with China's national space programme co-founding the Joint Space Laboratory with the Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics. Since 2005, RAL has led the formation of annual UK-China workshops which have brought together over 2000 space scientists, technologists and industrialists from more than 90 organisations.
RAL Space Director Chris Mutlow said: “This is an exciting new extension of our successful UK-China Space Science Joint Laboratory which for over a decade has brought together scientists, industrialists, engineers and policy makers from the UK and China to share expertise and collaborate. So far this has included an international research programme based on the use of space to aid agriculture and 12 joint research projects. But the success of the global space sector depends on new ideas and the enthusiasm of the next generation. This is why this MoU is such an important part of what the Joint Laboratory sets out to achieve - ongoing collaboration between our two countries' brightest and best."
In the areas of culture and also in some education programmes, the Centre will be supported by the University of Nottingham through its Knowledge Exchange Asia programme.
Min Rose, Deputy Director of Knowledge Exchange Asia, said: “The University of Nottingham is delighted to partner with the National Space Academy to support the cultural and educational programmes of this expanded new Virtual Centre. The combined expertise of our China Cultural Visiting Hub across geospatial science, astronomy, archaeology, architecture and digital humanities will contribute to a dynamic and sustained science and cultural engagement programme between China and the UK."
Once the partnership is established, it is hoped that it could be expanded to include other international space agencies.