Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report



Space is a highly significant area of science policy and it is necessary for the Government to take a strategic approach to space activities such as robotic exploration, satellite navigation and Earth observation. The forthcoming civil space strategy should inspire and motivate the UK space sector and emphasise the UK Government's commitment to space. The strategy is an opportunity for the British National Space Centre to outline clearly its vision and ambition for space.

We support the UK's user-driven approach to space, which focuses on activities which will enhance scientific knowledge and bring benefits to the UK economy and society. There are problems with the current partnership arrangement but if existing levels of expenditure persist, the Government should not establish a space agency but should continue its current approach to space. The partnership should be strengthened by improving its profile, leadership, co-ordination and perhaps a change of name. We recommend that the wider space community be involved through a space forum and that the British National Space Centre Headquarters be provided with a small budget of its own.

The space sector has great economic potential. The UK space industry is ambitious and focused. Despite its health state, the industry relied upon Government seedcorn funding. We recommend that the Government review its subscriptions to ESA programmes that support industry through seedcorn funding and establish mechanisms to increase support for SMEs. The space industry is high tech and requires highly skilled workers. We are concerned that there is a skills shortage in the space industry and a broad programme of incentives may be necessary to ensure a continued flow of people into the industry.

The UK has world-leading space scientists and technologists. Space science both depends on technology and can drive technology developments. The current lack of a domestic programme to support early stage technology development places the UK at a disadvantage. The proposed National Space Technology Programme could fill this funding gap and we urge the Government to provide appropriate funding for this initiative. We welcome the creation of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and recommend that it ensure that there are no gaps in funding for research in space science.

Approximately two thirds of UK investment in space is channelled through the European Space Agency. The UK's involvement in ESA is worthwhile and the establishment of an ESA centre in the UK would be beneficial. ESA and the EU have been developing two projects: Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), and Galileo for satellite navigation. The Government has concerns that the GMES programme does not meet user objectives and policy requirements. If these concerns are addressed by the European Space Agency, the Government should consult industry regarding the level of subscription to the programme. There are currently problems in the Galileo programme and we urge the Government to work at a European level to clarify the situation.

The UK does not fund launchers to any significant level or participate in human spaceflight programmes. Exploration is crucial to improve knowledge and understanding of space. The Government's stance should be flexible enough to ensure that the best science can be funded, whether that be undertaken by manned or robotic exploration. Funding for space medicine should be provided by the Medical Research Council and not through a special funding stream. The space tourism industry should be supported by appropriate regulation and there should also be no "in principle" block on funding the development of launchers in future.

We suspect that unfortunately the public is still unaware of the variety, breadth and importance that space activities play in their everyday lives. We welcome the plans for the establishment of a European Space Education Resource Office contact point in the UK and hope that this will be the start of a truly national education project. Although there are weaknesses in the organisational structures, funding and co-ordination of space activities, the sector is characterised by an enthusiasm for discovery, research and experimentation. A strong political lead is essential for the UK research and industrial sectors. There are opportunities for the UK to lead developments in areas such as exploration, satellite navigation and Earth observation. It is crucial that the Government increases funding for space programmes now in order to benefit future generations.

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Prepared 17 July 2007