Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


35. The BNSC partnership was established in November 1985. It began with four partners: DTI, MoD, NERC, and the Science and Engineering Research Council. By 2003, its membership had grown to ten partners who were interested in various aspects of space (Box 4). Recent machinery of Government changes outlined in paragraph 7 mean that there have been some changes to the membership, however BNSC continues to work as a partnership of Government departments and Research Councils.

Box 4: The BNSC Partners

Source: BNSC, Space Strategy 2003-06 and beyond, p 8

36. The BNSC partnership is designed to enable Government departments to take a co-ordinated approach to space policy at a national and international level. The work of co-ordinating the work of the partners is undertaken by BNSC Headquarters. According to the BNSC, the key policy roles carried out by staff at BNSC Headquarters are: advising the Science Minister; developing the UK Space Strategy; overseeing and reviewing implementation of the Strategy; liaising across government bodies; fostering the strengths of the UK space community; developing industrial policy and liaising with industry; leading at the European Space Agency Council and its Boards, and with the space interests of the European Commission; providing international representation and developing cooperation, and promoting awareness of space through education and publicity.[42]

37. The governance of the BNSC was reorganised in 2005 to distinguish between the management and advisory functions. The current structure is shown in diagram 1.

Diagram 1: Governance Structure of BNSC

38. There had traditionally been a close relationship between the BNSC and DTI. The DTI explained that "With the setting up of BNSC in 1986 it was agreed that the Centre should be hosted by the DTI who would also provide the majority of the core staff including its first Director General. This provides a strong anchor for the Government's interest and involvement in civil space."[43] The then Minister described the DTI as "the parent department" and DTI described itself as the "anchor Government department".[44] During the course of this inquiry, the BNSC was in the remit of the Office of Science and Innovation within the DTI and the Minister with responsibility for the BNSC was Malcolm Wicks MP, the Minister for Science and Innovation. The abolition of the DTI and creation of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills has thus had an impact upon the BNSC. The BNSC is now in the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. The Director General of BNSC, David Williams, is in the line management of this department, working for Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, Director General of Science and Innovation (DGSI).[45] We presume that the close working relationship between BNSC and DTI will continue between BNSC and DIUS.

The partnership model

39. In 2004, the National Audit Office outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the UK's partnership approach to space (Box 5).

Box 5: Strength and weakness of the UK partnership approach to space

Source: NAO, The United Kingdom's Civil Space Activities, HC 359, March 2004, p 12.

40. The evidence that we have received during this inquiry broadly supports the NAO's conclusions. We have heard positive comments about the partnership regarding its ability to present a co-ordinated UK position internationally and its focus on value for money. ESA told us that "BNSC is able to represent UK interests with a single voice and coherent positions."[46] David Williams, Director General of BNSC, told us that the partnership "really highlights the fact that what you have to do is demonstrate that the satellite system or the space system which is being developed really has value."[47] The then Minister told us that "BNSC has been a success and I think it is an important partnership".[48] We have also heard negative comments about the partnership, particularly in relation to funding. UK Space has said for example that "the user departments of government, such as DfT, DEFRA, the Home Office and the FCO struggle to find funding for space as it is seen as too long term and early stage, in spite of the considerable potential benefits downstream."[49]

41. Those closely involved in the BNSC have concluded that the partnership has been a success, given the constraints within which it has worked. The Director General of the BNSC told us that "I believe at the present time, within the constraints of a partnership and within the constraints that individual spends go through individual departments, we are working together and we are working harder to improve that inter-relationship between us and it is driving forward and going well".[50] Professor Keith Mason, Chair of the UK Space Board, told us that "I think the BNSC does a very good job within the constraints of its set-up and make-up".[51] It is difficult however to ascertain the success of the BNSC partnership given the lack of information regarding performance management (paragraph 25).


42. The way in which the partnership works reflects 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. As David Williams of the BNSC explained, "we are doing things not just because it is a satellite system or a space system, but because it is useful in the area of application that is being applied".[52]

43. Undertaking projects because of their practical use, rather than their prestige, means involving the end user at an early stage to define requirements. The BNSC partnership works on the principle of defining lead partners for activities such as ESA programmes. The Space Board agrees which partner will lead on a programme. We were told that to date, agreeing on which partner has the primary user interest and hence should lead in defining requirements has not been an issue. Where more than one partner has an interest the issue is around how the cost of the ESA programme is shared taking into account the use each partner will make of the programme and the level of technical innovation and uncertainty in the development.[53]

44. Once the lead partner has been agreed, work then proceeds on the basis of co-operation between the partner and BNSC headquarters. Policy direction, defining what is required and resulting expenditure is determined by the Ministers and/or governing bodies of the partners involved.[54] Technical expertise and liaison with ESA is provided by BNSC Headquarters. In relation to the European satellite navigation programme Galileo, for example, the Department of Transport decides the policy direction and BNSC Headquarters acts as the technical interface to the European Space Programme.[55] In relation to the European programme for Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), led by Defra, we were told that "it is BNSC headquarters staff working for me [Dr David Williams] who have engaged with ESA on the debate. Some of them are Defra staff on secondment and some are NERC staff on secondment."[56] BNSC thus represents the Defra view at the ESA Programme Board. In the European Commission (EC) GMES Advisory Council, the forum that discusses the programme structure in an EC context, Defra is supported by BNSC Headquarters. [57]

45. We have three main concerns about the way in which this complex user-driven partnership approach works. First, an approach combining technical expertise from BNSC Headquarters and policy direction from the BNSC partner requires an understanding of space issues on both sides. We are concerned that lead partners might not have sufficient expertise or understanding of space in order to engage fruitfully with policy decisions regarding requirements. ESA told us that "For mature users of space, such as PPARC, NERC and Met Office this system works very well, but for developing users such as DEFRA it seems too intense and rapid a transition for them."[58] Second, we are concerned that problems can occur when a programme does not fall solely to a single lead partner and funding is split between several partners who have an interest in the programme. Defra has said in relation to GMES where funding is split between four partners that "there is no UK funding model for this type of programme and this is a major challenge that BNSC and its partners need to address urgently."[59] We will deal with the specifics of the GMES programme in more detail later (paragraph 243). Finally, it is difficult for the partnership to insist that users should prioritise funding for long-term space programmes, particularly when in the short-term the benefits from such programmes are primarily industrial. Colin Paynter from EADS Astrium told us that "the issue of asking the user departments to prioritise what is essentially for the first three or four years a technology programme and it is in only years five, six and seven where they will start to draw beneficial use to themselves out of it is quite a difficult thing to ask."[60]

46. It has been suggested that the partners that are end-users such as Defra should be separated from the main funding partners such as DIUS or STFC.[61] We believe that to do this would weaken the partnership rather than strengthen it and would not provide support for end-user partners such as Defra that are funding programmes. Greater central co-ordination is crucial for the success of the user-driven partnership approach, particularly as programmes are likely to become increasingly complex and involve more partners in the future. We believe that where departments are identified as having a particular interest in projects rather than being designated as 'lead' departments, they should be called 'primary users' and BNSC headquarters should be perceived as the 'lead'. One option would be to develop this system further to incorporate 'secondary users' and to specify agreed responsibility for funding at different stages of a programme eg. 'primary user/phase 1 secondary funder/ phase 2 primary funder'. The breakdown of users and funders for each programme could be published on the BNSC website with the responsibilities for each partner in relation to that programme outlined. We support the UK's user-driven approach to space but are concerned that user Departments might start leading programmes without sufficient expertise or skills. We recommend that in the early stages of programmes BNSC headquarters provide the skills and expertise to enable user departments to engage with space solutions and that BNSC headquarters be responsible for building up understanding of space within Departments. BNSC headquarters should be perceived as leading projects in conjunction with primary and secondary user partners. The BNSC should explain in its forthcoming strategy how funding models in the future will work for projects involving many partners.


47. The question of whether the UK should have a space agency has arisen at several points during our inquiry. Internationally, organisational forms range from large space agencies to partnerships to Government departments responsible for space. There are space agencies, for example, in Canada (CSA), Germany (DLR), Japan (JAXA) and India (ISRO). In Switzerland space is the responsibility of the State Secretariat for Science and Research in co-operation with other offices and organisations with an interest in space. In Sweden, the National Swedish Space Board is within the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communication. In several countries, responsibility for space activities is combined with other areas. In the Netherlands responsibility for space is combined with aircraft and air transport, whilst in Spain involvement in ESA is managed by the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology alongside other European programmes such as CERN and Eureka. Despite this variety, however, when one thinks of a powerful, focused space programme, the US agency NASA inevitably springs to mind.

48. There are many different arguments for an agency instead of the BNSC partnership. An agency could have increased power, a centralised budget, the ability to make longer term investments, greater visibility, a single strategy, and centralised control and decision-making. An agency could be a hub for national and international activities and might hold greater sway at the international negotiating table. The case for an agency has been made by numerous parties during this inquiry. The Royal Society has argued that a space agency is needed if the UK is to seize proactively the opportunities that currently exist. It says that an agency should "have a significant budget to fund research and applications; be able to speak with authority and advise Government on priorities for research and exploitation in UK space science; engage on a more equal footing with the ESA and with national agencies in other countries; and generally enable the UK to play a stronger international leadership role in space science."[62] Professor Len Culhane, Chairman of the UK Space Academic Network told us that "a space agency funded and with constitutional powers to run a coherent national programme would be of enormous benefit and I believe that is absolutely lacking at present."[63] The University of Leicester also said that the BNSC "should be replaced with a national space agency similar to the DLR, CNES and ASI in Germany, France and Italy".[64]

49. There would, however, be potential problems with the creation of a space agency. If the UK's space policy continued to be user-driven, then the agency would still have to liaise with users and be governed by their requirements. There is no evidence that, if political will to drive a project were lacking in the partnership, this political will would appear with an agency. Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director General of ESA, told us that "BNSC is the image of your political position […] You cannot compare, for example, with the fact that there is an agency in France because the French policy is very different from the British policy."[65] Unlike the UK, France is willing to pursue prestige projects and consequently spends significantly more on space activities.

50. One of the main benefits of the partnership that derives from its user-driven focus and insistence that partners fund programmes is that space programmes have to be justified with reference to terrestrial approaches. This comparison between space solutions and alternative arrangements could easily be lost in a stand-alone agency. The Director General of the BNSC told us that "The main reason that we have a partnership rather than an agency at the moment is that one of the things we wish to do with space is to keep the tension across why we do things using satellite systems as opposed to other mechanisms".[66] The NAO emphasised in 2004 that "the partnership approach is a cost effective way of securing the benefits of national and international co-operation on space programmes. This is because it ensures that partners consider the benefits of expenditure on space against alternative investments, while also avoiding duplication."[67]

51. The creation of an agency would not be any guarantee of extra money for space activities. Several witnesses have told us that extra funds would be necessary to make a space agency worthwhile and successful. Sir Martin Sweeting from SSTL told us for example that "An agency would be appropriate if the scale of space activity in the UK were to grow probably ten-fold. I think at the level of the current scale and distribution of the funding, the Centre does a good job".[68] Colin Paynter from EADS Astrium told us that "I do not think space is given the importance that it needs to be given in Government, so just creating probably an ill-funded agency would make the issue worse".[69]

52. The partnership structure of BNSC has the benefit of bringing together Departments and Research Councils interested in space. To be successful, a space agency would still have to develop these links: creating an agency would not create such links automatically. The then Minister, Malcolm Wicks MP, explained that "in an era where we all talk about joined-up government BNSC since 1985 has very much been a forerunner of how we bring different bits of government together."[70] PPARC said that "the BNSC partnership arrangement (especially if developed to its full potential) is an appropriate model for the UK as it ensures a more customer focused approach."[71] ESA told us that "the structure of BNSC is in one sense 'ahead of its time': it puts user departments in the lead which is positive".[72]

53. There appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for an agency within Government. The then Minister told us, "I do not get as excited as some about organisational structures or departmental reorganisations". He did say, however, that he was "open-minded, to be blunt, about the future."[73] Dr David Williams told us that "There is no doubt it [the BNSC partnership] is not perfect, but I am not sure that the agency would be any more perfect; it would have different problems".[74] We agree that there are difficulties with the BNSC partnership and understand why witnesses suggest that an agency might be able to provide those qualities such as leadership, co-ordination, and visibility, that the partnership lacks. Nevertheless, we do not believe that an agency would be a "silver bullet" and to suggest it would not necessarily be a practical solution. The creation of an agency would require extra funding for space in order to be successful but there has to be concern that such a change might be seen by departments as an opportunity to economize and reduce funding for space, rather than to increase funding in this area. If current levels of expenditure in space persist, the Government should not establish a space agency but should continue to pursue the partnership approach to space. If expenditure is substantially increased, the question of an agency should be reviewed. However, we believe that there are problems with the current partnership arrangement and that it should be strengthened appropriately. We detail ways in which this could be achieved below

Strengthening the partnership

54. There are several difficulties with the BNSC partnership: a low profile, a lack of leadership, poor co-ordination, low levels of resources, and variable levels of involvement by partners and the space community.


55. Throughout our inquiry we heard formally and informally that the BNSC had a relatively low national and international profile. Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of the Royal Society, told us that "BNSC, although functioning effectively within its limits, has too low a profile. There should be some effort given to somehow enhancing its profile".[75] He explained that "I think there is a problem that, if you ask the average person in the UK, "What is the BNSC?", they will not have heard of it. They will have heard of NASA, they might even have heard of ESA, but they certainly will not have heard of BNSC."[76] The Space Foundation told us that "You cannot point to the "British Space Programme" with the kind of clarity that you can point to the US space programme, or even the Chinese, Indian, or Japanese space programmes."[77] The University of Leicester added that "No matter how able and well-organised BNSC staff may be, the worldwide perception is of an organisation with no budget and therefore without power, whose consultative nature renders it ineffectual in the promotion of UK space interests."[78]

56. Part of the problem with the BNSC's profile is its status as a partnership because there is difficulty as to whether successes should be credited to the partner or to the BNSC. Dr Williams explained to us that "you have always got the presentation of where does the credit go".[79] The BNSC is aware of the problem and on 21 March 2006 the UK Space Board agreed that a common branding and a strapline for partnership activities were needed.[80] Since then the BNSC has developed a communications strategy for its approach to activities during 2007. This strategy deals with target audiences, vehicles for communication, branding and resources.

57. An issue that concerned us during this inquiry was that BNSC was not sufficiently separated from DTI and that the DTI had the potential to overshadow the work of BNSC Headquarters. The nature of the relationship between the DTI and BNSC was raised in the Goldschmidt review of BNSC in 2001 and resulted in the transfer of funds from DTI to NERC and PPARC.[81] Pippa Goldschmidt wrote that "BNSC is physically located in DTI offices and appears in the DTI organogram as a DTI directorate. Within BNSC, it is difficult to distinguish BNSC policy from that of DTI in most areas."[82] Dr David Williams explained to us that "We are directly linked into the Department of Trade and Industry mechanisms for access to, if you like, the financial regimes. Something like 80% of the total budget of the BNSC comes through the Office of Science and Innovation in the Department of Trade and Industry".[83]

58. We heard that the BNSC was thought to be overly influenced by the DTI. Professor Keith Mason, the then Chief Executive of PPARC, told us that the BNSC "was perceived (I am not sure it actually was) as a child of the DTI in some quarters".[84] Professor Howard Dalton, Departmental Chief Scientific Adviser (DCSA) at Defra, told us that "we are wondering in many respects whether or not the agenda that has been set by BNSC is coming from DTI or from the membership as a whole. That has been a concern of ours. […] I do not think it is very sensible to have BNSC associated with any government department particularly."[85]

59. The BNSC had attempted to make itself more explicitly independent of DTI. On 2 February 2005, the UK Shadow Space Board considered "how to move from the current position where a majority of core BNSC partnership costs fell to DTI to a position where the partners on the Space Board shared responsibility for the costs."[86] We asked BNSC what the current situation was regarding core BNSC partnership costs. The BNSC responded that "the administration and staff costs associated with the BNSC 'corporate activities' (hosted in DTI) fall mainly to DTI. These cover the office costs of all London staff, salaries of the DTI staff acting across the partnership and some core communications activities."[87] In 2006/07 these costs would have amounted to £1.6 million for DTI. NERC, STFC, and MoD cover the salary and travel costs of their staff working in BNSC.[88] BNSC explained that the current arrangements continue until the end of the 2007-2008 financial year. It said that the UK Space Board needed to address how to share these costs in relation to the current Comprehensive Spending Review.[89]

60. An overarching weakness in the current BNSC partnership is the status of the BNSC itself. The BNSC partnership should be more than merely the sum of the activities of the partnership. The partners within BNSC should be contributing to an organisation, the BNSC, which is able to provide leadership and direction within the space sphere. The BNSC should be perceived as an independent entity to which the partners contribute. The BNSC has explained that, due to the nature of the partnership, "each partner brings relevant resources as appropriate for programme activities. BNSC provides the framework and overall strategy for these programmes."[90] BNSC Headquarters should be the focus for these programmes, not merely the framework: it should be the core of the BNSC and a focus for ambition. We recommend that the BNSC partners work towards strengthening the status and profile of BNSC Headquarters. As part of this, the BNSC should review the effectiveness of its brand internationally and nationally, including the possible impact of a change of name. Projects should be associated firstly with BNSC and secondly with the partner involved. The relationship between the BNSC partners and BNSC Headquarters should be clearly outlined in the forthcoming strategy. The recent machinery of Government changes provide BNSC with an ideal opportunity to establish a clear separation from DIUS. The BNSC should emphasise its independence from DIUS by splitting the costs of its administration between its partners or covering its own costs in order to become a clearly defined entity.


61. We have heard differing opinions regarding the BNSC's ability to lead and promote space activities. Matthew Stuttard, Chairman of the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC) told us that "there has been very good leadership in BNSC but the amount they are allowed to lead is constrained".[91] The Royal Astronomical Society presented an alternative view, stating that "the failure of BNSC to lead the space community has had a deadening effect on our world position. Many opportunities have been lost."[92] Professor Richard Holdaway, the then Head of Science Programmes at CCLRC told us that the BNSC has difficulty with lobbying.[93] David Williams of BNSC denied these claims saying that "we do have a quiet lobbying mechanism and it is called the line management system in government rather than a public lobbying system".[94]

62. The BNSC has set up an initiative, Government Information from the Space Sector (GIFTSS), in order to promote the use of information from satellites across Government. Sector facilitators introduce space data to project managers from Departments or agencies as a possible way of improving their work using existing technologies. The overall programme activity is small, with typically two projects costing approximately £60k each running at any time, co-funded by the BNSC and the user Departments.[95] The most recent project in partnership with Lancaster City Council is using satellites to monitor the areas of salt marsh in Morecambe Bay in order to understand flooding and conservation issues.[96] We welcome the Government Information from the Space Sector (GIFTSS) initiative. We believe that there is further scope for BNSC Headquarters to provide leadership in the space sector and to promote the use of space within Government through initiatives such as GIFTSS. We believe that BNSC Headquarters would be well-placed to provide leadership for the space community, if empowered to do so.

63. In a partnership such as the BNSC it is crucial that the strength of individual partners does not undermine or weaken the whole partnership. There must be central co-ordination to ensure that there is a balance between the UK's overall strategic approach to space and the activities of individual partners. The current space strategy, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, states that "It is for each Partner to decide how they will contribute to the eight outcomes defined in this strategy. They will determine their own priorities for work and budget, relative to their broader mission statements and business or operating plans."[97] The Strategy then includes a table showing which of the eight outcomes are relevant to each Partner.[98] This approach is high-level and extremely broad. It does not outline which partners are involved in funding which programmes, which partners are expected to lead on programmes, or how programmes interact. Indeed it acknowledges that "The strategy is therefore not prescriptive in defining what the individual Partners should do in space but is intended to provide guidance on where combined partner decision and action in space could provide additional benefits for the UK".[99]

64. We believe that BNSC Headquarters on behalf of the partnership as a whole should expect partners to commit to projects and to the BNSC partnership. We have heard several times that there is a lack of political will in relation to space in the UK.[100] If the BNSC is to have "teeth" and be able to lead space activities in the UK then it is necessary to have a level of public commitment from its partners to different programmes. Dr David Williams told us that the BNSC's approach to the CSR had been to create a document that all the partners submitted as a cover document for their own programme. He said that it shows that departments are "working within a framework of the overall space activity and this is what we are trying to achieve overall". [101] We recommend that the BNSC use the new strategy to set firm, specific goals agreed with the BNSC partners, as well as providing a general overview of aspirations in different areas. BNSC partners should prepare and publish an implementation plan for their part in delivering the strategy.


65. The partnership status of the BNSC and the fact that the BNSC is not an executive agency means that it does not produce its own annual report and accounts because these are produced by each partner. In response to a request by the Trade and Industry Select Committee in 2000, the BNSC reports on its activities in its annual 'Space Activities' report.[102] In Space Activities 2006, the BNSC outlines developments in space science, international collaboration, satellite navigation, satellite communication, industry, licensing, education and publicity.[103] The report provides a broad overview of the breakdown of funds by partner and subject area.[104] However, the Space Activities reports do not provide a high level of detail about space funding, for example subscriptions to ESA programmes, and it is difficult - in some cases impossible - to find this information in the annual reports and accounts of the individual partners.

66. BNSC Headquarters would serve a useful purpose by bringing this financial information together into one document. There is also little correlation between the Space Activities reports and the Space Strategy. The Space Activities reports provide an opportunity for BNSC to return to the outcomes, performance indicators and actions outlined in the strategy to update them and record progress against them (paragraph 25). We recommend that BNSC Headquarters produce an annual report and accounts, with a breakdown of funding by partners into national programme, subscription to individual ESA programmes and administration costs. BNSC Headquarters could then use this report to highlight positive or negative trends. The report should also report on performance linked to the space strategy. Such a report would give a clear focus to UK space activities and act as a branding exercise for BNSC. The report would also be a source of information for the space community and enhance scrutiny of UK space policy across the board.


67. One of the main responsibilities of BNSC Headquarters is co-ordination of the partnership. The then Minister told us that BNSC Headquarters "is a centre of expertise and it co-ordinates."[105] Co-ordination is key to the success of the partnership and it is important that all relevant user departments are involved in programmes.

68. We have heard, however, that the Headquarters is not able to co-ordinate space activities as successfully as it might. Professor Howard Dalton, Departmental Chief Scientific Adviser, told us that "we [the BNSC] have not necessarily co-ordinated together as well as we ought […] we do need much better co-ordination."[106] The Royal Astronomical Society reiterated this, saying that "BNSC has not effectively coordinated the various sectors of the space community".[107] The trade association UK Space also argued that "the UK's excellent user-based strategy is not properly co-ordinated across Government, with slow and complicated decision processes that have compromised competitiveness and wealth creation."[108] BT has said that "there appears to be poor coordination across government despite BNSC efforts."[109]

69. We note that the then Minister was taking some steps to tackle this problem. He was planning to hold informal meetings with fellow ministers in different departments with an interest in satellite technology to ensure that there was not unnecessary duplication and to ensure that issues were tackled effectively.[110] Nevertheless, we are concerned that there is insufficient co-ordination across the BNSC partnership. We recommend that the BNSC include in the response to this Report the steps that they will take to address this shortcoming.


70. The staff that work at BNSC Headquarters are seconded from the BNSC partners and from industry.[111] Dr David Williams told us that "we have got a good collection of people who represent the different working departments and we have secondees from industry, so we have a team which works together in a very good way and very well".[112] This secondment arrangement means that the partners are closely involved in the processes at BNSC Headquarters but it also means that BNSC Headquarters does not have a strong independent profile.

71. Staff at BNSC Headquarters fulfil numerous roles such as providing advice, overseeing co-ordination on programmes such as GMES that involve a number of partners, representing the UK internationally, drafting the space strategy, and providing technical expertise. In 2004, the NAO recognised the variety of skills that were required within the Headquarters. It noted that "the staff in BNSC Headquarters have a good range of scientific, technical and administrative skills. The Headquarters would benefit, however, from having more staff skilled in strategic planning, commercial activities and marketing".[113] We note that since the publication of the NAO report, the skills gaps highlighted by the NAO have been filled by the appointment of eight staff.[114] We have heard during this inquiry however that there may still be a lack of skills at BNSC Headquarters. The CCLRC told us that BNSC "has little in-house scientific or technical expertise." [115] Professor Keith Mason, the then Chief Executive of PPARC told us "We need to look at the skills set within BNSC, particularly the technical skills which it has to deploy in marshalling the arguments and controlling the programmes that are under its remit".[116] Given the number of tasks that staff at BNSC Headquarters are expected to undertake we are concerned about increasing its status and responsibilities, for example requesting that it undertake horizon scanning (paragraph 34), without ensuring that it is staffed appropriately. Indeed there is a question as to whether 43 staff is sufficient to deal with its current workload. Keith Mason told us that "BNSC does an excellent job with very limited resources".[117]

72. A recurrent question throughout this inquiry has been whether BNSC Headquarters should have its own budget. The BNSC is currently not legally recognised and therefore unable to enter into contracts. Budgets and finances are dealt with by the individual partners. Until June 2007, the budget for BNSC Headquarters was allocated via the DTI which made BNSC dependent upon DTI (paragraph 57). The budget will now presumably be allocated by the DIUS. One of the main weaknesses of BNSC Headquarters is its dependency upon the partners for funds. We have heard that it has to work by "cajoling its partners" and that it has no real budget it has responsibility, power or authority.[118] It could be argued that to provide BNSC Headquarters with a budget would undermine the partnership and essentially create an agency. We believe, however, that a budget covering its overheads and a national programme would empower BNSC Headquarters. This idea has been supported by various submissions to our inquiry. For example, Professor Keith Mason, the then Chief Executive of PPARC told us that "I would like to see it have a budget which it can control for technology development" and UK Space suggested that "a cross-departmental budget be provided to BNSC's DG for the development of applications with the greatest public benefit."[119]

73. The BNSC partnership is currently applying to the Treasury for funds in the region of £18 million for a National Space Technology Programme.[120] The then CCLRC made a bid to the CSR for the funding for the project. The programme will be managed by BNSC Headquarters on behalf of all the partners and the operational management including technical and financial progress aspects will be undertaken by the STFC, which replaced CCLRC on 1 April 2007. We believe that it would be simpler if the National Space Technology Programme were solely under the care of BNSC Headquarters.

74. We are concerned that BNSC Headquarters currently works under several constraints including limited resources and dependency upon its partners for funds. We recommend that BNSC Headquarters be provided with a small budget of its own, following the necessary changes to its legal status. BNSC Headquarters should use this budget to cover its own overheads and to run the National Space Technology Programme. We recommend that BNSC Headquarters review its staffing and skills needs and that additional resources are provided where necessary.


75. The BNSC partnership involves ten Government departments and Research Councils. The relationship between BNSC Headquarters and the different partners varies. BNSC Headquarters appears to have a close relationship with DTI, STFC and NERC but the nature of the relationship with other partners such as DfES and MoD has been less clear.

DfES and the Department for Children, Schools and Families

76. DfES joined the BNSC partnership on 16 December 2004 as a consulting partner "offering strategic advice to help move the BNSC educational work forward."[121] DfES does not seem to have been closely involved in the partnership. The Director General of BNSC, David Williams told us that "I have had no direct interaction with DfES. It is a weakness that we recognise and acknowledge and it is an area that we want to address going forward… I think [the Secretary of State for Education and Skills] recognises that space has a role to play in promoting science, but we have had no direct interaction."[122] Ms Julie Bramman, Divisional Manager for School Curriculum at DfES told us that the department had "not been as active as it has been in the past, say two or three years ago […] I would certainly be happy to say that we need to strengthen our links over, say, the last year or so."[123]

77. BNSC and DfES had both acknowledged that there was room for improvement. David Williams told us that "we could do more, I think, on the education side and on the skills and science side".[124] DfES stated that "We recognise the need to continue to work in close partnership with the BNSC, and will be meeting with BNSC colleagues in the near future to explore how we can build on our existing relationship."[125] There had been contact between the BNSC and DfES at ministerial level. Machinery of Government changes have meant that the responsibilities of DfES have been split between the DIUS and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We were very concerned about the attitude of DfES towards the partnership and hope that the new Department for Children, Schools and Families engages positively with the BNSC partnership. We strongly recommend that the Department for Children, Schools and Families joins the BNSC partnership.


78. The MoD has been a partner in BNSC since the establishment of the partnership in 1985. Space has become an increasingly important tool for the MoD as demonstrated by its inclusion in the Defence Industrial Strategy (2005), the Defence Technology Strategy (2006) and the RAF's Future Air and Space Operational Concept (2006).[126] The Defence Technology Strategy emphasises, for instance, the importance of the development, design and payload integration of small satellites.[127] The UK's traditional dependence upon space data from the United States could be reduced if the UK had an independent small satellite capability.[128] The Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Chris Moran, has thus been nominated as a small satellite champion with responsibility for developing this area. The involvement of the MoD in the BNSC partnership is crucial, given the rising importance of dual-use technologies, particularly satellites, which can be used for civil or military applications. The MoD notes that "Access to common R&D in the form of dual-use technologies, capable of delivering militarily useful capability, are harnessed by the MOD maintaining its close links and partnership with BNSC."[129] It is important that the BNSC partnership ensure that duplication of expenditure in space is not occurring between civil and military fields.

79. The relationship between MoD and BNSC is much closer than that between DfES and BNSC. Two MoD staff are seconded into the BNSC Headquarters. Air Vice-Marshal Chris Moran is a member of the UK Space Board. He told us that "being a member of the board allows me to see the context of where space in general is moving inside the UK, and where we can find areas to work together."[130] The MoD has run several projects with other BNSC partners. DTI and MoD provided joint funding for the Micro-Satellite Applications in Collaboration (MOSAIC) project between 2000 and 2005 that supported three demonstration small satellite missions. The MoD and PPARC (now STFC) have recently produced a call through the PPARC Industrial Support Scheme (PIPPS) for funding projects related to the Defence Technology Strategy.

80. We have heard that the relationship between BNSC and MoD could be strengthened. Colin Paynter, Managing Director of EADS Astrium, told us that "I would strongly welcome much more involvement from the Ministry of Defence in the BNSC. I think their involvement is fairly low both in financial terms and in commitment terms". [131] Sir Martin Sweeting, Chief Executive of SSTL, told us that the MoD has historically focused on national communications capabilities and relied upon the US for other space services.[132] Colin Paynter and Sir Martin Sweeting both mentioned that there had been recent meetings regarding space between the previous Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury and the Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support, Lord Drayson.[133] The BNSC told us that the then Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks MP met Lord Drayson on 17 April 2006 to discuss the National Aerospace Technology Strategy Group but that space issues were not specifically discussed.[134] We can see significant value in greater contact between BNSC and MoD at ministerial and official level. We recommend that the BNSC and MoD evaluate how dual use technologies might be of benefit across the BNSC partnership and include dual use technologies in the forthcoming BNSC strategy.


81. The BNSC has various relationships with departments or Research Councils that are not part of the BNSC partnership. Dr David Williams, Director General of BNSC, told us that "What I want to do is work more with what I call the departments which are not fully funding space, but where we believe they have an interest, to try and strengthen the cross-departmental links in government where we see societal needs that space can answer".[135] The then Minister agreed, saying that "we can be more proactive in approaching other departments and other agencies to at least introduce them more to the possibilities as opposed to other tools and mechanisms in terms of fulfilling policy objectives."[136]

82. We here focus upon the relationship between BNSC and three bodies that might use space applications in the future: the Department for International Development (DFID), the Home Office and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


83. On 10 January 2007, Dr Williams, Director General of BNSC, told us that "I personally at the moment have not had very much interaction with DFID… There has been, I have to say, not a lot of direct discussion, but that will start in the next two or three months because it is an initiative in an area which is recognised as important".[137] Since 10 January 2007, BNSC has held initial discussions with DFID about their involvement in the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters". DFID is one of two UK agencies authorised to activate the Charter. BNSC says that "The Charter aims to provide a unified system of data acquisition and delivery from Earth observation satellites in organisations in eight member countries, in support of efforts related to natural or man-made disasters."[138]

84. The BNSC is working with DFID on holding a seminar to provide information on the current and potential space applications in support of disaster and humanitarian aid efforts. DFID is also a member of the UK GMES steering group and is involved in cross-Government work on GMES. BNSC told us that "DFID is not currently planning to join the BNSC partnership."[139] DFID declined to contribute evidence to our inquiry. We are disappointed by DFID's lack of response to this inquiry. The use of space has clear relevance for DFID in the field of disaster monitoring and other environmental applications. We recommend that the BNSC strengthen links with DFID in relation to the use of space for environmental and disaster monitoring.

Home Office & Ministry of Justice

85. Dr David Williams told us that BNSC had had discussions with the Home Office Scientific Development Branch at St Albans about the tagging of prisoners.[140] The BNSC explained that staff from BNSC and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch met in August 2006. The Home Office provided an overview of the challenges that they faced and the BNSC explained the UK strengths in space and the potential for space to provide solutions. The areas that were covered included satellite positioning for offender tracking, Earth observation for border security and operational surveillance, and "Google-Earth" style tools for data presentation.[141] The BNSC has scheduled a further meeting for June 2007 following Home Office reorganisation and it is maintaining a "watching brief" on these areas.

86. Responsibility for monitoring offenders has recently passed to the newly-created Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice has told us that the National Offender Management Service undertook three satellite tracking pilot programmes in Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Hampshire between September 2004 and June 2006. Over 500 offenders were tracked by satellite during the programmes. The Ministry of Justice recognised during the pilot programmes that satellite tracking cannot guarantee complete coverage of an offender's movements, but noted that technology continues to advance.[142] We recommend that the BNSC continue to develop a close relationship with the National Offender Management Service, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch. These organisations should continue to monitor possible applications of satellite technology in offender management and security.

Economic and Social Research Council and NHS Research

87. The then Minister, Malcolm Wicks MP drew our attention to a further area of policy that could benefit from satellite technologies. He suggested that there might be a need "to develop another strand of our thinking to see whether some of the issues we face in terms of our society and social policy could not be helped by the development of suitable satellite technology and monitoring."[143] He gave the example of monitoring elderly or frail people, such as those with Alzheimers.

88. We understand that work in this area is in a very early stage. The then Minister told us that there was not specific funding for research in this area and that BNSC has not had the opportunity to discuss this issue with the Research Councils or the health sector.[144] The BNSC later stated that it intends "to take this forward in the next months."[145] More research is needed to understand how space applications might provide solutions for social problems. We recommend that BNSC work with ESRC and NHS Research to develop research funding calls, possibly in conjunction with STFC and with reference to the Foresight programme within DIUS, focused on the social and potential health applications of satellite technologies.


89. The space community in the UK is diverse, encompassing industrialists, scientists and academics working in numerous areas. The BNSC currently involves representatives of the space community on its advisory boards and Space Advisory Council. The trade association for UK industry suggested that industry should be a full partner in the BNSC partnership, telling us that "Industry is confident that BNSC would operate with more effectiveness and cohesion if industry was a full partner."[146] Colin Paynter, Managing Director of EADS Astrium, explained that

    we could help have a voice in shaping policy, in shaping and understanding technology that lies five or 10 years out and we could help articulate that. Whether we need to be a full partner to do that, I am not sure, to be fair, but it would be useful to have more of a voice.[147]

The Director General of BNSC countered that industry is able to interact with BNSC in a number of ways from the industry group to representation on the advisory bodies. [148] We believe that it would unusual and inappropriate for industry to be a partner in the BNSC partnership.

90. There is, however, scope for the development of a new forum that would take account of the views of the numerous stakeholders within the civil space sector. We agree with the Royal Society's observation that "it is important that there is input from the grass roots research community into directing UK space strategy."[149] We acknowledge that the BNSC has a series of advisory bodies, but believe that there is a need for an ongoing forum where the space strategy and the activities of the BNSC can be discussed by the wider community. Such a forum would provide an outlet for many of the opinions that have been expressed in evidence to this inquiry. The then CCLRC suggested that "An independent Space Council, with representatives from industry and academia, could […] be constituted to advise both BNSC and government at ministerial level on the performance and strategy for a UK space programme."[150] The Royal Astronomical Society suggested replacing the existing Space Board and Advisory Council with a Space Board "with representatives nominated by Academia, Industry, Research Councils, Government and relevant Learned Societies […] an independent body with an overview of the country's space portfolio would be able to point out lacunae and bad practice as well as celebrating successes and reporting independently to ministers".[151] We are attracted by this idea and believe it would complement the existing structures. We recommend the creation of a Space Forum whose membership would include representatives appointed by the Secretary of State from industry, education, and academia. We suggest that this should be a dynamic small body with a maximum membership of fifteen, staffed by a small independent secretariat. The Forum should meet several times a year to scrutinise space policy and should report annually to the Secretary of State on the work of BNSC.

42   Ev 122-123 Back

43   Ev 114 Back

44   Q 608; Ev 113 Back

45   Q 135 Back

46   Ev 338 Back

47   Q 99 Back

48   Q 606 Back

49   Ev 133 Back

50   Q 109 Back

51   Q 169  Back

52   Q 94 Back

53   Ev 360  Back

54   Ev 123 Back

55   Q 622  Back

56   Q 623  Back

57   Ev 357 Back

58   Ev 338  Back

59   Ev 281  Back

60   Q 39 Back

61   Q 43 Back

62   Ev 220 Back

63   Q 456 Back

64   Ev 163 Back

65   Q 536 Back

66   Q 94 Back

67   NAO, The United Kingdom's Civil Space Activities, March 2004, HC 359, p 3 Back

68   Q 39 Back

69   As above. Back

70   Q 606  Back

71   Ev 197 Back

72   Ev 338  Back

73   Q 606 Back

74   Q 102 Back

75   Q 425 Back

76   Q 456 Back

77   Ev 145 Back

78   Ev 164 Back

79   Q 109  Back

80   UK Space Board, Minutes of Seventh Meeting, 21 March 2006 Back

81   Pippa Goldschmidt, Review of BNSC, December 2001, p 10 Back

82   As above.  Back

83   Q 95 Back

84   Q 171  Back

85   Q 349 Back

86   UK "Shadow" Space Board, Minutes of First Meeting, 2 February 2005  Back

87   Ev 361 Back

88   Ev 375 Back

89   Ev 361  Back

90   Ev 375  Back

91   Q 370 Back

92   Ev 209 Back

93   Q 175 Back

94   Q 95 Back

95   Ev 356 Back

96   As above.  Back

97   BNSC, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, p 38.  Back

98   As above, p 41.  Back

99   As above, p 43.  Back

100   Qq 536, 170, 43 Back

101   Q 102 Back

102   Trade and Industry Committee, Tenth Report of Session 1999-00, UK Civil Space Policy¸ HC 335, p 1 Back

103   BNSC, Space Activities 2006  Back

104   As above, p 48 Back

105   Q 635  Back

106   Q 338 Back

107   Ev 209 Back

108   Ev 131 Back

109   Ev 405 Back

110   Q 609  Back

111   Ev 375 Back

112   Q 109 Back

113   NAO, The United Kingdom's Civil Space Activities, March 2004, HC 359, p 3 Back

114   Ev 375 Back

115   Ev 190 Back

116   Q 178  Back

117   Q 182 Back

118   Q 178 (Professor Mason); Ev 176 Back

119   Q 178; Ev 134  Back

120   Ev 374 Back

121   Ev 327 Back

122   Q 116 Back

123   Qq 274-275 Back

124   Q 104 Back

125   Ev 327 Back

126   MoD, Defence Industrial Strategy, December 2005; MoD, Defence Technology Strategy for the demands of the 21st century, October 2006; RAF, Royal Air Force Strategy, 2006  Back

127   MoD, Defence Technology Strategy for the demands of the 21st century, October 2006, p 69  Back

128   Q192; Ev 296 Back

129   Ev 294 Back

130   Q 186 Back

131   Q 45 Back

132   As above. Back

133   Q 45 ( Mr Paynter, Sir Martin Sweeting) Back

134   Ev 381  Back

135   Q 108 Back

136   Q 638  Back

137   Q 113  Back

138   Ev 356 Back

139   As above. Back

140   Q 637  Back

141   Ev 381 Back

142   Ev 407 Back

143   Q 599  Back

144   Q 600; Ev 381 Back

145   Ev 381 Back

146   Ev 134 Back

147   Q 40 Back

148   Q 102 Back

149   Ev 222  Back

150   Ev 190 Back

151   Ev 208 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