Britain will accept a Reagan administration invitation to join in building and financing a permanent space station that would be launched in 1992, a British cabinet official said here yesterday.
Britain, which is expected to contribute $300 million of the $8 billion cost of the space station Columbus, joins West Germany as the first of the noncommunist industrialized nations to participate in the space station program. The Germans said Wednesday they will contribute $900 million to the project.
The British announcement will be made officially within the next two weeks, in conjunction with the Rome meeting of the European space agency, according to Geoffrey Pattie, British minister of state for industry and information technology.
Pattie is visiting Washington to consult with key lawmakers and Reagan administration officials about scientific cooperation, technology transfer and telecommunications policies. He spent the early part of the week in California touring U.S. high-technology companies.
President Reagan invited Australia, Canada, Japan and America's allies in Western Europe to join this country in building and funding the modular space station, which will be permanently manned. If plans to build the complex space station run according to schedule, the satellite will be launched in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World.
France, Italy and Japan are expected to announce soon their intention to join the project.
Like Germany, Pattie said Britain expects to gain access to space technology by joining in the venture. This includes new technologies for designing and building the space stations as well as the fruits of research carried out in its space laboratories. Initially, plans call for two labs -- one for biological sciences, the other for physical sciences, including metallurgy.
While France and Germany are interested in rocketry research, Britain has carved its space niche in the field of data transmission and is looking to the new multinational space venture to enhance its technical capabilities in that area.
But Pattie said his country is concerned that the United States will try to impose export controls on some of this technology, restricting Britain's access to it. The technology transfer questions will have to be resolved in negotiations during the project's first two years, when the space station's feasibility will be determined, he said.
The issue goes beyond the space station to the question of American attempts to restrict the flow of high technology to the Soviet military through export restrictions that many European allies, including Britain, think go too far.
During his visit to Washington, Pattie said, he will raise Britain's concerns over U.S. restrictions on technology transfer with top trade officials, including Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige and U.S. Trade Representative William E. Brock.
Britain, for instance, opposes Pentagon efforts to form a military adjunct at Cocom, the Paris-basedCoordinating Committee for Multilateral Exports that regulates exports to Soviet bloc nations. Pattie is concerned about moves by a number of American technical and scientific organizations banning foreigners from the meetings out of a fear they will be violating export controls on state-of-the-art technologies.
The export control issue, which blossomed last year when Congress was considering an extension of the Export Administration Act, threatens overall relations between the United States and Britain, Pattie said.
"The anxiety that we have is the way regulations are not only interpreted but acted on. You have to keep a close handle on reality and not restrict items which are freely on sale in the Western world," he said.
Pattie said the United States has to fashion "sensible" restrictions "instead of saying no to exports of everything, which is counterproductive to U.S. as well as European interests."