Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Current UK space policy

15. Space policy in the UK is co-ordinated by the British National Space Centre (BNSC). The BNSC is a partnership of Government departments and Research Councils: the Science and Technology Research Council (STFC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), the Met Office, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Department for Transport (DfT), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).[10] The activities of the partnership are overseen by BNSC Headquarters, a group of staff seconded from the various partners.

16. The UK pursues a user-led approach to space in which each partner "considers the merits of using space against other means of achieving its policies, or assesses the relative merits of space-related and other proposals for research funding."[11] The UK consequently invests in space programmes selectively when space activities are the most effective way to meet scientific or commercial objectives. At present the UK does not fund launchers to any significant level or participate in human spaceflight programmes. The expensive nature of space projects means that the UK pursues many of its space activities through the European Space Agency (ESA) or similar bodies such as the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).


Graph 1: UK civil space spend , 2005-06 prices, £million

Source: BNSC

17. In 2005-06, the UK spent £207.61 million on space activities.[12] The UK's investment in space over the past fifteen years has been variable (see graph 1). Spending increased during the early 1990s but has gradually decreased in the last ten years. The then Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks MP told us that "I am not going to sit here and say £207.61 million is absolutely the right figure […] but there should be appropriate investment […] there may well need to be more investment in the future."[13] We will consider the appropriateness of the UK's level of investment throughout this Report.

18. Funding for space activities is split between the BNSC partners as follows:

Table 1: Funding for civil space by BNSC partners/ £ million

Met Office

Source: BNSC

In 2005-06, 67% of the UK's investment in space, or a total of £139.63 million, was channelled through ESA. Of this, £101.9 million was contributed by the Research Councils. In 2005-06, subscriptions to the European Space Agency were the largest area of expenditure by the Research Councils. By comparison, the second largest item of expenditure was the subscription to CERN at £79.1 million.[15] The importance of ESA to UK space policy is demonstrated by Table 2. UK spend through ESA outstrips spend at a national level in all areas.

Table 2: Spending by subject area in 2005-06

Spending at national level /£ million
Spending through ESA/£ million
Earth Observation
General Budget

Source: BNSC

19. This table also illustrates the UK's relatively heavy investment in space science and Earth observation and its minimal investment in transportation such as launchers. The BNSC argues that this selective approach to space projects means that there is greater focus upon the selected areas. David Williams, Director General of BNSC, explained to us that "when you decide how much money you spend on science in general and how much money you spend on space, you have to be selective about what you do, so you do what you do well. The UK has been very, very good at being selective".[16]


20. Current UK space policy is outlined in the UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond.[17] The strategy emphasises that the UK uses space when it is the most appropriate solution, rather than considering the development of space technology as an end in itself. It states that the Government's vision is that "The UK will be the most developed user of space-based systems in Europe for science, enterprise and environment. UK citizens will provide and exploit the advanced space-based systems and services which will stimulate innovation in the knowledge-driven society".[18] Furthermore, the strategy outlines the UK's ambition "to secure world-beating science and the technologies needed to deliver it, and to achieve greater use and market acceptance of all types of space services, addressing regulatory, technical or market issues as appropriate."[19]

21. The UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond articulates three main objectives of the UK's involvement in space:

    i.  Enhancing the UK's standing in astronomy, planetary and environmental sciences;

    ii.  Stimulating increased productivity by promoting the use of space in government, science and commerce; and

    iii.  Developing innovative space systems to deliver sustainable improvement in quality of life.[20]

22. The strategy expands upon these objectives by highlighting areas such as the UK's lead in small satellites, the use of environmental science, support for key technologies, the development of global markets and the UK's involvement in international partnerships. In the strategy the BNSC partnership outlines how it will meet and deliver the three objectives and how activities will develop in the future. Case studies focusing on the satellite Inmarsat 4 and the Martian lander Beagle 2 punctuate the strategy, illustrating what the partnership has already achieved.

23. The space strategy also provides a basis for assessing the BNSC partnership's success in meeting the vision and strategic objectives in the future. It breaks the three main objectives into eight outcomes that the space strategy should deliver (Box 2). These strategic national outcomes give some indication of the breadth of the UK space policy, ranging from space science to satellite services to the provision of space technologies.

Box 2: Space Strategy 2003-06 and beyond: strategic national outcomes

Source: BNSC Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, p 18.

24. These strategic outcomes are then tabulated against performance indicators and broad actions. By illustration, the third strategic outcome is aligned with the following performance indicators and actions:

Box 3: Strategic national outcome 3, associated performance indicators and actions.

Source: BNSC Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, p 45

The Space Strategy 2003-06 and beyond states that the tables "detail high level performance indicators which the Director General of the BNSC headquarters and the Space Strategy Council will rely upon to gauge the progress of the overall Partnership towards achieving the strategy. Management use of these indicators necessitates establishing a baseline of evidence."[21] This approach to performance assessment was recommended by the National Audit Office in its report on civil space policy. It suggested that the BNSC partners should "measure their performance against the objectives laid down in the new Space Strategy, filling the gaps in their information base and building on the framework produced by our consultants."[22]

25. The UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond developed a system of performance indicators. In its report in June 2005 the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts noted that "The partnership has strategic objectives for benefiting from the United Kingdom's space programme, such as improving UK productivity, but lacks systems to track progress against these objectives."[23] Since publishing the strategy, the BNSC has not published evidence tracking its performance against the performance indicators or outlining the actions taken. We were told by BNSC that information relating to the individual performance indicators was not kept but that the BNSC had undertaken a mid-term review some two years ago.[24] Despite recommendations by the National Audit Office, the BNSC has still not developed a robust performance management system. We are disappointed that the BNSC failed to take advantage of the opportunity to establish a performance management system offered by the implementation of the UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond. The new strategy should outline how the partnership will track its performance and BNSC Headquarters should ensure that performance monitoring is undertaken.

Space Strategy 2007-2010

26. The BNSC launched a consultation on its Space Strategy 2007-2010 on 8 January 2007. The consultation invited comments on the vision and focus of the new strategy, space science, earth observation science, international collaboration, societal benefits, wealth creation, technology programme, education, security and dual-use, the delivery structures, trade promotion and new opportunities. The consultation noted that "In the existing programme of activities, the UK believes that there is an adequate market capable of ensuring access to space for the UK and hence support for launchers is minimal. There are no current plans to become involved in the International Space Station or manned space activities, as no funding partner currently believes that the potential benefits justify the costs involved."[25]

27. The new strategy proposed three primary objectives similar to those in the current strategy:

a)  "Delivering world-class science by exploiting the UK's space activities and expertise;

b)  Delivering public benefits in partnership with Government bodies and institutions to exploit the full potential of space activities;

c)  Maximising the potential for wealth creation from space activities by facilitating a progressive business environment."[26]

28. The consultation closed on 2 April 2007. The then Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks MP told us that "we have had a good consultation" with 130 responses and that the plan was to publish the space strategy in the autumn.[27] The Director General of BNSC, David Williams, commented that "dramatic changes tend to mean extra funding and changes in the funding base, so it will be difficult to say that things will change dramatically."[28] The then Minister anticipated that objectives governing the strategy were unlikely to change radically. [29]

29. This downward management of expectations is extremely disappointing. We hope the BNSC will keep an open mind regarding the strategy and take our recommendations into account given the strength of support that exists for a more ambitious approach to UK space policy. The then Minister acknowledged that he would be interested in our views on the structure of BNSC and the BNSC has said that it "will consider the recommendations of the Committee prior to publication in mid-2007."[30] We make specific recommendations relating to the strategy throughout the Report but take this opportunity to raise some overarching issues.


30. Throughout this inquiry we have been told that the UK has not articulated fully its ambitions in space. Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the then PPARC, told us that "I would like to see more ambition in the space agenda. […] the space arena is going to be incredibly important to all of our futures, and if the UK is to be seen as an attractive place to invest generally then it has to have ambition".[31] Colin Paynter, Managing Director of EADS Astrium, said that he "would like the UK really to recognise the importance of space and to determine what ambition it needs to have in space".[32] Malcolm Wicks MP, the then Minister for Science and Innovation told us that his ambition was to see "Britain as a major player in space".[33]


31. As well as focusing on current projects and taking stock of past achievements, the space strategy should look forward for future opportunities. It is important that the UK has appropriate mechanisms for horizon scanning in the space sector and related areas. Professor Keith Mason told us that "we need a mechanism of doing that horizon scanning, and horizon scanning across the whole partnership rather than just within individual members."[34] The BNSC acknowledges that it needs to develop horizon scanning activities, noting that these might relate to "new commercial opportunities deriving from technological development and the emergence of new space-faring nations; new areas of policy that might be addressed by space, such as health; and the potential impact of scientific developments arising from space activity."[35] We have heard that developments such as small satellites or space tourism that were considered as a "mild form of lunacy" are now becoming mainstream.[36] Policymakers should keep an open mind about topics raised by witnesses, such as space-based solar power, space elevators or orbital towers, the extraction of Helium-3 from the lunar regolith (soil), and reflectors around the Earth to reduce the heat from the Sun.[37]

32. Long development timescales are characteristic of the space sector. Professor Mason asked "'Where do we want to be in 20 years' time?' That is the sort of timescale we have to think about. We have to ingrain that in government and in society as a whole".[38] In this context, the three year timespan of the BNSC strategy is quite short. The UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond does contain a "high level road map" that extends to 2015. It notes that

    Most of the achievements of the next three years will be built on past investments and policy decisions made over the previous decade. For example, when the European lander Huygens parachutes into the atmosphere of Saturn's Moon Titan, early in 2005, it will complete a journey begun in October 1997 and first conceived 15 years earlier. In the same way, decisions taken over the next three years, in pursuit of the strategy objectives, will have a long-term impact.[39]

We would like to see this extended in the new strategy.


33. The current space strategy, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, provides a broad overview of the UK's involvement in space. It does not contain a high level of detail about the actions of individual partners or particular programmes because of overlap with other strategies. In December 2004, NERC published an Earth observation strategy.[40] The MoD published its Defence Industrial Strategy on 15 December 2005 and its Defence Technology Strategy in October 2006, both of which related to its space activities.[41] STFC is currently developing a space science strategy and Defra is creating an Earth observation strategy. We are concerned by the lack of detail in the existing main space strategy, despite concerns regarding overlap. The new strategy should note the existing documents that complement it. The BNSC should create a strategy webpage that provides links to all strategy documents relating to space such as the space strategy, the long-term roadmap and appropriate publications by BNSC partners.


34. The new strategy is an opportunity for BNSC to outline clearly its vision and ambition for space. The strategy should inspire and motivate the UK space sector and emphasise the UK Government's commitment to space. If the UK is to realise fully its potential in this sector, it is necessary for the Government to identify emerging areas of interest at an early stage so that industry and academia have time to position themselves internationally and develop the relevant skills. We are concerned that there is a lack of co-ordinated horizon scanning within the BNSC partnership. We recommend that BNSC Headquarters assume responsibility for horizon scanning and informing partners of emerging issues. The BNSC should liaise with the Foresight programme within the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on approaches to horizon scanning. Horizon scanning should be an activity that is integrated fully into the policy-making process and it should be understood to be an extension of BNSC's existing long-term roadmap. We recommend that alongside the Strategy 2007-2010 the BNSC develop a long-term roadmap from 2010-2050. This roadmap should complement the short-term strategy by providing a flexible indication of where the space community is heading. The roadmap should be seen as an active document to be displayed on the BNSC website and updated at regular intervals incorporating policy changes or the results of horizon scanning activities.

10   It is currently unclear as to whether the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Children, Schools and Families will be partners.  Back

11   Ev 123 Back

12   Ev 114 Back

13   Q 666 Back

14   The DTI's expenditure reduced in 2003-04 because responsibility for Earth science shifted to NERC and ESA subscriptions for the mandatory programme relating to science moved to PPARC.  Back

15   HC Deb, 8 January 2007, col 317W  Back

16   Q 122 Back

17   BNSC, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, December 2003 Back

18   As above, p 11.  Back

19   As above, p 12.  Back

20   As above, p 7. Back

21   BNSC, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, p 43 Back

22   National Audit Office, The United Kingdom's Civil Space Activities, March 2004, HC 359, p 6  Back

23   Committee of Public Accounts, Twenty-First Report of Session 2004-05, The United Kingdom's Civil space Activities, HC 47, conclusion 4  Back

24   Ev 382 Back

25   BNSC, A Consultation on the UK Civil Space Strategy 2007-2010, p 9 Back

26   As above, p 8.  Back

27   Q 641  Back

28   Q 118 Back

29   Q 645  Back

30   Q 606; Ev 123 Back

31   Q 179  Back

32   Q 39 Back

33   Q 573 Back

34   Q 182  Back

35   Ev 124  Back

36   Q 17 Back

37   Ev 270, 337 Back

38   Q 179 Back

39   BNSC, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, p 58 Back

40   NERC, Earth Observation Strategy 2004-2009, December 2004  Back

41   MoD, Defence Industrial Strategy, December 2005; MoD, Defence Technology Strategy for the demands of the 21st century, October 2006 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 17 July 2007