WASHINGTON — The first British astronaut to visit the international space station will launch on a six-month mission to the orbital outpost in November 2015, the U.K. Space Agency announced May 20.

Tim Peake, a former Apache helicopter pilot, joined the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut corps in 2009. He will be the first British astronaut in more than two decades whose spaceflight did not depend on having U.S. citizenship, the U.K. Space Agency said in the press release.

The United Kingdom, not traditionally a big spender in the realm of crewed spaceflight, has been pouring more money into such efforts recently.

Back in November, the U.K. Space Agency announced it would increase its total ESA spending to approximately $1.7 billion for the next five years, making Britain the third-biggest ESA contributor behind Germany and France, which have pledged about twice that amount during the same period. Britain’s contribution, announced during ESA’s latest ministerial conference, marks about a 25 percent increase from what the country offered at the 2008 ministerial.

Included in the latest U.K. pledge is an approximately $26 million contribution to ESA’s nearly $600 million Orion service module project. ESA’s 20 member nations decided at their ministerial conference in November they would satisfy a debt incurred to NASA for use of international space station resources by building a service and propulsion module for the deep-space capsule the U.S. space agency is working on for exploration beyond Earth orbit.  

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...