The UK is missing out on international space contracts because it lacks a national space programme, the chairman of the UK Space Board says.
Professor Keith Mason told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that a central budget for research was needed.
Compared with every other major European country, "the UK is alone in not having a national programme and that's what puts us at a disadvantage," he said.
The British National Space Centre co-ordinates UK space efforts.
It is funded by its 11 partners, with a £207m budget during 2005/2006, spent mainly on the UK contribution to the European Space Agency (Esa).
It's that early stage investment nationally that positions us to win international contracts
Prof Keith Mason
UK Space Board
The Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport and the Department for Trade and Industry contribute funds.
"Every other major European country in addition to supporting space through Esa has a large domestic programme which feeds the Esa programme and also develops capabilities which Esa does not," Prof Mason said.
"It's that early stage investment nationally that positions us to win international contracts.
"We need a dedicated funding stream for technology development - which is essentially a national space programme."
He was backed by Professor Richard Holdaway, from the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), who said investment was needed now to gain benefits in 10 to 20 years.
"What's happened in the last 20 years is that the funding for the very primordial science - and technology in particular - has fallen, and partly because we have next to no national space programme."
The government will set multi-year departmental expenditure limits in the summer in its Comprehensive Spending Review.
The UK space sector is lobbying for more money to be directed at innovation - to be put into funds that would drive new technologies. This extra investment would reap huge returns, industry believes, by putting companies in a better position to win contracts.
It cites the example of Artes (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems), a European programme that puts money into basic research and product development.
Artes is credited with generating an average of 7:1 economic return for the UK in the last five years.
The head of the British National Space Centre, David Williams, told the committee that space exploration in the UK was focused on using robotics and saw no reason to participate in manned space flights.
Britain's astronomy funding agency, PParc, is considering concepts for British-led missions to the Moon using robotics.
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