Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 33

Submission from EADS Astrium

  I have pleasure in enclosing the EADS Astrium Ltd. written submission to your inquiry on investigating the Oceans and the important role they play in understanding climate change. Measurements of the oceans by satellites have long been a major contribution to scientific understanding, due to their ability to provide data over large areas of otherwise inaccessible locations.

  We are convinced that a strong relationship between suppliers of Spaceborne sensors and the scientific communities ensures a virtuous circle of mutual benefit and growth through effective knowledge transfer. We have seen this in past years in the fields of Sea Surface Temperature and sea ice measurements—developing a UK lead through combining scientific and technological capabilities. Recently, this benefit has been recognised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and DTI in the establishment of their Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI)—bringing together scientists, technology researchers and industrial implementers. The CEOI offers opportunities to augment the UK international lead in climate change at policy, science and technology levels.

  However, it is the evolution from scientific missions to the long-term provision of satellite systems where we are encountering difficulties. The "handing over" of responsibility from NERC to user departments within government is problematic. Currently, the UK positioning within the European Earth observation programme that will shape the future of ocean monitoring and climate change understanding is being severely compromised by a lack of coordination across Government departments.

  It is within this context of opportunity and threat, set against the closing window of the Comprehensive Spending Review, that I welcome the opportunity presented by the Inquiry to highlight importance of space to the task of investigating the oceans and the related climate change issues. I would be delighted for the opportunity to give oral evidence before the Committee to elaborate on these issues.


  1.  The UK has long been one of the leading European nations in developing spaceborne technologies to meet scientific needs. Indeed, the UK contribution to the ESA Earth Explorer programme is handled by NERC to ensure that the scientific goals are at the highest priority. This has proved to be a success in terms of mission selection. However, the lack of a supporting national programme has gradually allowed the science, technology and industrial communities to drift apart. This has been recognised by NERC and DTI through the recent establishment of the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI) which will bring these communities together to ensure science-led technology developments.

  2.  There is, however, a more serious underlying concern about the UK approach to evolving scientific missions into long-term, sustainable monitoring systems. The change of leadership between Earth science missions (NERC) and operational missions (user departments) is proving difficult. The most recent example of this is the European flagship environmental monitoring programme, GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). Previously, ERS-1/2 and ENVISAT had strong UK scientific and industrial involvement, specifically in ocean and climate related areas. Their evolution to the next generation operational systems under GMES means that the job of coordinating the user-led response has passed to DEFRA. The minimal contribution to the first phase of the programme made by DEFRA at the ESA Ministerial Council in 2005, in the face of a significant over-subscription across the rest of Europe, demonstrates the problem.

  3.  Without long-term, consistent monitoring on a global scale the challenges to continued investigation and understanding of the oceans and of climate change will not be met. The UK policy to allow other nations to foot the bill of implementing the necessary monitoring systems needs to be reversed. In the middle of 2007, European countries will need to subscribe to the second phase of the programme, covering the period to 2013. Without proper investment, British industry will be effectively locked out from complementary EC funding of €1 billion. World leading capabilities built up over the last 25 years will move overseas with consequent impacts on jobs. The UK will also lose the chance to shape the programme to maximise its value to climate change policies.


2.1  Focus of EADS Astrium's submission

  4.  EADS Astrium does not claim to be expert in oceanographic or climate change science. We rely on partnerships and relationships with organisations in NERC and other relevant institutions for such expertise. As a result, our submission is focused on the current situation in the UK for maintaining and growing the space-based capability to support the ocean science and user communities. Some background information is drawn from the recent "Case for Space" studies undertaken in light of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Currently, the situation is crystallised through the UK Government position in the future European Earth observation system, GMES.

2.2  About EADS Astrium

  5.  EADS Astrium is Britain and Europe's leading Space company providing a full range of space products from civil and military telecommunications to Earth observation, science, exploration and navigation programmes. In Britain, Astrium directly employs more than 2,500 people in its key sites in Portsmouth, Poynton and Stevenage, representing more than half of the total direct manufacturing workforce in UK Space, and the largest national workforce in Astrium's worldwide satellite operations. EADS Astrium has a strong history of working well within partnerships with other UK companies, notably SMEs.


  6.  Space contributes to both ocean and climate change understanding and monitoring by the provision of regular information on regional, national, European and global scales. The UK has taken a leading role in the developing space-based Earth observation systems within Europe over the past 25 years. The European Space Agency (ESA) environmental satellite series started with ERS-1, launched in 1991, and went onto ERS-2 in 1995 and ENVISAT in 2002. EADS Astrium in the UK delivered sensors for these missions enabling sea ice monitoring (Synthetic Aperture Radar, SAR) and Sea Surface Temperature (Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer, AATSR), in partnership with other UK companies, research organisations and academia. These sensors have played a major role in understanding and monitoring the oceans and related impacts on climate change.

3.1  Case Study of UK Space Contribution to Ocean Science

  7.  Sea Surface Temperature, (SST) is an important physical property that strongly influences the transfer of heat energy, momentum, water vapour and gases between the ocean and the atmosphere. The Earth's oceans act as an enormous reservoir of heat and the top two metres of ocean alone store the equivalent energy of all the energy contained in the atmosphere.

  8.  Measuring sea surface temperature from space on a long-term basis is the most reliable way to establish the rate of global warming.

  9.  As an example, ESA's Medspiration project is currently obtaining SST data for the Mediterranean where to obtain the same levels of data, the equivalent ground-based map would need almost 1.5 million thermometers placed into the water simultaneously. Combining data from multiple satellite systems permits the production of robust models forecasting sea surface temperature change.

3.2  Space in Support of Climate Change Science

  10.  For Climate Change adaptation to be effective, governments as well as the private sector need information about past and current climate conditions, their variability and extremes, as well as sound projections of future conditions, not only on a yearly basis but for many decades into the future. The global carbon cycle connects oceans with the other two major components of the earth system—atmosphere and land—each storing large pools of exchangeable carbon which for many centuries prior to the industrial revolution were more or less in equilibrium. Data from Earth observation satellites provide the only global, synoptic view of key measures of the carbon cycle and form an essential and central part of any integrated observation strategy. Satellite contributions to the understanding of the carbon cycle include:

    —    Global mapping of land cover use, land cover change, and vegetation cover characteristics that are important to full carbon accounting—using sensors such as AATSR, AVHRR, Landsat and MODIS.

    —    Seasonal growth characteristics generated on a global scale using sensors such as AVHRR, MODIS, MERIS, and SPOT VEGETATION.

    —    Fire detection and burn scar mapping, detected and mapped from space using thermal and optical sensors (radar sensors also show promise for burn mapping).

    —    Combinations of satellite measurements of parameters such as ocean chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, and pigment composition.

    —    Physical measurements from satellite of ocean waves, winds, and temperature used to derive three main contributions for the study of ocean carbon:

    —  quantifying upper ocean biomass and ocean primary productivity;

    —  providing a synoptic link between the ocean ecosystem and physical processes; and

    —  quantifying air-sea CO2 flux.

  11.  As part of the measurements of the global carbon cycle, sea level rises and sea surface temperature rises are both good indicators of rates of global warming. Space based technology is being used to monitor these indicators and the associated changing global weather patterns, including establishing sea level rise data, ice sheet thickness data, precipitation measurements, and sea surface temperature (SST) data.

3.3  New Sensors for Future Oceanographic Applications

  12.  According to the recent evaluation by the GMES Marine Services Implementation group, two of the key challenges for future development are wide swath altimetry (for mesoscale ocean height measurements) and geostationary ocean colour. The first of these could be addressed by the current UK-led development of the PARIS sensor. The development is likely to stop, or be passed to other European countries, due to the lack of clear UK funding policy. This will mean that the oceanographic science community in the UK will miss out on the opportunity to establish a leading position in this exciting opportunity.


  13.  There are two phases in the lifecycle of a space-based measurement system. Firstly, the scientific experimental phase—establishing requirements and understanding of the associated Earth processes—and secondly, the operational phase, when the need for the continued monitoring of observables is established. It is in the evolution between these two phases that the failure occurs.

4.1  Co-ordinating Science and Industrial Communities

  14.  In delivering the first phase of the lifecycle, there has been a drifting apart of the scientific and industrial communities over the last 10 years, leading to a loss of effectiveness in developing new sensors able to meet the emerging science challenges.

  15.  A recent initiative by NERC and DTI to establish the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI) aims to address the drifting apart of the science and industrial communities. The CEOI has a clear remit to collect the emerging science needs and translate those into relevant space technology and instruments. Through this, we expect to see an improvement in UK coordination which will only be turned into delivery of high quality science if the supporting UK Space policy is better coordinated than at present.

4.2.  Delivery of long-term public good

  16.  In the second phase of the lifecycle, the UKs "centrifugal" space policy is based on laudable aims of engaging with user departments to ensure that, in the first instance, funding is directed at those space programmes with the greatest policy benefits, and secondly that these departments are then best placed to shape and benefit from them. However, the reality of space-based programmes is that they invariably benefit a number of departments. Other countries recognise this fact by investing in a funded central space agency with dedicated expertise in space applications, which can then make informed decisions for the whole of Government. The UK's British National Space Centre is more of a secretariat, comprising around 30 highly-skilled staff compared to, say 1,500 in its French equivalent, CNES. It therefore relies heavily on the engagement of user departments.

  17.  However, the history of decision-making under the UK's user-driven space strategy demonstrates clearly that user departments, when given the lead responsibility, find it difficult to consider broader benefits outside their own departmental remits. Space decision-making therefore works best in Britain when the benefits clearly fit within the remit and expertise of the lead agencies within Government. For example, in the field of Earth observation, NERC's commitment to scientific environmental research.

  18.  At the policy level, environmental monitoring is supported by strong words. Both the Prime Minister's Natural Hazards Working Group and the UKs 2005 G8 Summit both committed strong UK support to strengthening environmental monitoring to tackle climate change and natural disasters. Europe's flagship environmental monitoring programme, GMES, should therefore have topped the UK's space policy agenda, given the happy coincidence of policy support for tackling Climate Change; recognition of the role of environmental monitoring; and the UKs undisputed world leadership in environmental space science and technology. However, in December 2005, the UK opted to commit the minimal (1/4 GDP) funding allowed into GMES—the UK's investment of £4 million per annum compares with £20 million per annum from France and £24 million per annum from Germany.

  19.  The UK decision over GMES was caused by three main factors: firstly, the lead Department, Defra, did not significantly value those benefits from GMES outside its own departmental remit, specifically the socio-economic benefits. Secondly, Defra lacked the in-house expertise in Earth observation that would have allowed it to make an informed decision on behalf of the UK; and thirdly, there was an inadequate structure in place to coordinate decision-making across Government departments.

4.3  Recommendations

  20.  To maximise public benefits from space, and to improve policy coordination across Government, EADS Astrium Ltd. recommends:

    —    Continued successful lead in the UK of NERC for the Earth Explorer programme at ESA.

    —    Long-term commitment of NERC and DTI to the Centre for EO Instrumentation, ensuring that the virtuous circle between science, technology and instrumentation is effective in all spheres of Earth science—including the oceans.

    —    An urgent reassessment by Government of the UK's approach to GMES—including the roles and responsibilities of the lead department, DEFRA, in coordinating with the other stakeholders: NERC, DTI, MOD and possible DfID. EADS Astrium remains seriously concerned that, when the second phase of GMES requires funding later this year, the UK could remain under-prepared.

January 2007

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