Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


7  THE 'TECHNOLOGY FOOD CHAIN'

Technology development

195. Space science both depends on technology and can drive technology developments, which can lead to future applications outside space science. Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of the Royal Society emphasised:

The relationship between academics and industrialists is particularly crucial in the context of ESA space programmes as shown in Table 13. For the technology food chain to work successfully, scientists and industrialists have to establish shared goals.

Table 13: Typical phases in an ESA Space Project



196. In the ESA context, developing scientific, technical or commercial objectives at an early stage and undertaking preparatory proof of concept work nationally helps a country to be well-placed to obtain ESA funding. Nathan Hill from Qi3 explained that "Getting a national step with technology competence then allows you to leverage ESA or EU money in, which gets you to the next step of being able to supply ESA with the goods, which then gives you the technology capability that provides you with the opportunity to transfer the technology, and it is this leverage game that needs the initial steps".[357]

197. We have heard that the links in this technology food chain are not as strong as they could be and that there can be a lack of co-ordination between scientific objectives and industrial aspirations. For example, the Royal Astronomical Society argued that "Better alignment between the industrial aspirations and the scientific objectives must be sought. Other countries, notably France, excel at this and thereby benefit much more from ESA than we do."[358]

198. The BNSC has tried to ensure that industry and science is well-aligned for future projects such as Aurora. The ABOTTS report studied the technology capabilities that would be developed through participation in Aurora and what outcomes these would have for the UK space industry.[359] As a result PPARC has invested in key technologies areas. Professor Keith Mason, the then Chief Executive of PPARC, told us that:

    The Aurora programme is a perfect example of that where, right from the outset we were talking to industry about what the requirements were, what their capabilities were, how we might match those, how we might make a credible bid […] what we intend to do is to do that much more widely for all of these programmes so that industry is then geared up to take advantage of the opportunity.[360]

We welcome PPARC's approach to the Aurora programme and recommend that the BNSC develop mechanisms to increase the co-ordination between industry and academia at early stages in technology development, if necessary on a mission by mission basis.

FUNDING AND THE NATIONAL SPACE TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMME

199. The main barrier to successful technology development in the UK is funding. Professor Richard Holdaway, the then Director of Science Programmes at CCLRC told us that the technology food chain begins with "research, then conceptual design, then the development of the technology and then the spacecraft, and it is the early stages of that where we have a real funding crisis in this country."[361] Dr Cross from e2v Technology told us that "we need to boost the real technology development resource pool".[362]

200. This early stage technology development was originally carried out by the DTI national programme but as explained earlier (paragraph 153) this has been subsumed into a broader technology budget. Dr David Williams, Director General of BNSC, said that on joining the BNSC "The most surprising thing for me was probably the decline in national activity […] we had lost some capability of the national programme […] and this is beginning to impact on our ability to prepare ourselves to work with the European Space Agency".[363]

201. Numerous submissions have recommended the creation of a domestic programme to support early stage technology development and concluded that the lack of such a programme in the UK places the country at a disadvantage. Professor Keith Mason, for example, told us that

    every other major European country, in addition to supporting space through ESA, has a large domestic programme, which feeds ESA programmes and also develops capabilities that the ESA programme does not. The UK is alone in not having such a domestic programme, and that is what puts us at a disadvantage because it is that sort of early stage investment nationally that positions us to win international contracts.[364]

The National Physical Laboratory provided more detail saying that "the success of nations such as Germany and France can often be attributed to the underpinning support of strong national programmes, which allow critical mass and expertise to be developed and maintained in the interim periods between the larger ESA missions".[365]

202. In order to meet this funding gap the BNSC has decided to create the National Space Technology Programme (NSTP), which would bring together all existing programmes. It would coordinate existing activities to establish critical mass and manage the generic technology aspects of the UK aspects of the UK's user-led approach to space. Dr Williams told us that the aim of the NSTP is "to ensure that over a period of years we can maintain a basic capability in the UK so that we can exploit science space systems to the commercial and public good and that we can engage at the European Space Agency level because, in going to the European Space Agency with a proposal, you have got to have done some homework, you have got to have shown it is viable and that is where the national technology programme will come in".[366] The CCLRC agreed that the technology programme "addresses the imbalance between the UK space programme and the ESA space programme. If successful, it would also enable UK industry to position itself more favourably for participation in future ESA missions".[367]

203. The BNSC has outlined the core activities in the NSTP as follows:

    a) To identify opportunities for knowledge transfer, and the exploitation of established and emerging space technologies, including the extent to which they can address the requirements of individual BNSC partners.

    b) To perform "proof of concept" and technology risk reduction to establish the viability of candidate technologies and systems.

    c) To exploit opportunities for collaboration and technology demonstration, including flight heritage, and to stimulate private finance investment.

    d) To coordinate and provide formal reports and other advice to partners to inform their investment and the delivery of services.[368]

204. The BNSC has suggested that the benefits of the programme would be:

    a) A more competitive UK industry better positioned to participate in activities that directly contribute to the three overarching objectives and to participate in international programmes, enabling the UK to maximise the benefit of its investment in those programmes;

    b) Increased knowledge transfer and innovation through improved exploitation of the UK science and technology base;

    c) Increased and accelerated private investment in the space value chain;

    d) Quantified socio-economic benefits of individual emerging technologies across the three objectives;

    e) Greater scientific return to the UK space science community;

    f) A more stable supply of trained scientists and engineers for the wider economy;

    g) Ability to respond strategically to a range of issues of national interest such as climate change, natural hazards, space weather and infrastructure security;

    h) Increased confidence for Partners and the public in the quality of the decisions made on the use of space enabled systems.[369]

205. The general arrangements for the management of the NSTP were agreed by the UK Space Board in October 2006. BNSC will manage the NSTP on behalf of all the partners. The operational management including technical and financial progress aspects will be undertaken by the STFC. The Chief Executive of the STFC will be the formal Accounting Officer and he will delegate full responsibility to the Director General of BNSC.[370] BNSC says that "the detailed mechanisms are still being discussed".[371] The Programme Advisory Board, reporting to the Director General of BNSC, would have members from BNSC partners, Government organisations, academic, industrial and NGO representatives. The interim surrogate Programme Management Team is made up of representatives from BNSC, STFC, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, NPL and Cranfield University.[372]

206. The CCLRC, now STFC, has put a bid into CSR 2007 for £18 million for the NSTP. The budget according to Dr Williams is "quite small, but, as a percentage of the space spend, it is significant".[373] In the longer term other funding sources will be explored, such as ESA, the Commission, other Research Councils and industry.[374] The NSTP will select programmes for funding based on their innovation, value for money and socio-economic potential. Proposals that establish or reflect a UK global lead in a capability will be prioritised. The BNSC acknowledges that "ensuring transparency and impartiality in the allocation of funds to specific projects and groups is a key issue."[375]

207. The creation of the NSTP is linked to the announcement in the Science and Innovation Investment Framework: Next Steps that Harwell and Daresbury are to become science innovation campuses.[376] Dr David Williams explained that "Harwell will become a focus for the UK activity of national technology, we will use it to work across the UK, and it will not all be done there, but we will do it in a good e-science mode by which the work will be done where the skills are rather than bringing it into Harwell".[377]

208. The exact details of the NSTP are still being settled. The work of the NSTP will have to be co-ordinated with the work of the Technology Strategy Board and the NERC Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation. In relation to the Technology Strategy Board, the BNSC states that "there is at present no formal plan setting out the ongoing relationship, including whether the TSB should be responsible for funding aspects of space activity. Discussions are ongoing on how the relationship may develop, but a close working relationship is envisaged."[378] It is also necessary for the BNSC to establish how the success of the NSTP should be measured.

209. We welcome the proposal for the National Space Technology Programme and urge the Government to provide appropriate funding for this initiative. Information about the detailed mechanisms of the programme and clarification regarding its performance management and anticipated interaction with other bodies should be published in the forthcoming strategy. We recommend that the BNSC lead and manage the operational aspects of this programme. Arrangements should be altered so that the Director General of BNSC can be the Accounting Officer without the need for delegation of responsibility from the STFC.

Knowledge transfer

THE PROCESS

210. The NSTP will identify opportunities for knowledge transfer in the field of space. The process of knowledge transfer is often portrayed as the one way flow of information from academia into industry. The reality is more complex, with technologies spinning into academia and spinning back out into industries in the space sector and beyond. The following diagram developed in relation to the Aurora programme illustrates how many different organisations can be involved in the knowledge transfer process.

Diagram 3: The Knowledge Transfer Process



Source: BNSC, Knowledge Transfer from Space Exploration: Prospects and Challenges for the UK, p 7

211. There are many mechanisms in the UK for knowledge transfer and we touched upon many of these in our previous report in this area.[379] The DTI supported Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), which enable companies to obtain knowledge, technology and/or skills from the further/higher education sector. In relation to space, the DTI supported the Location and Timing Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), managed by the National Physical Laboratory. These schemes will presumably now be run by the DIUS. PPARC, now STFC, runs several schemes including the PPARC Industrial Support Scheme (PIPPS), which focuses on knowledge transfer from academia into industry, Co-operative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) studentships, which place students in industry, and the KITE Club, which runs workshops and events. NERC runs similar schemes, some of which focus directly upon Earth observation such as the recent conference with BARSC.

212. Several partnerships between individual universities and companies have also developed in the space sector. The University of Leicester Space Research Centre established a partnership with EADS Astrium in Stevenage.[380] The University of Leicester explained that this arrangement profits both parties: "The benefit to the Industrial partner arises from access to fundamental understanding of mission requirements, a prerequisite in the preparation of proposals for mission studies; the University side gains from studentship support, consultancies and direct influence in the accommodation of the science payloads."[381] A similar arrangement, supported by PPARC, has developed between e2v and Brunel University. In March 2005, the University opened the "e2v centre for electronic imaging". E2v has committed £100k a year to Brunel to cover six CASE studentships and Brunel matched this funding. The arrangement has been in place for three years and e2v states that "the group has secured leading roles in a number of space instruments including support work for GAIA and a lead in some AURORA Mars mission instrument concepts."[382]

FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER

213. There are several organisations involved in the facilitation of knowledge transfer including the individual Research Councils, DIUS and knowledge transfer brokers. PPARC's knowledge transfer activities have been organised for over five years by Qi3 in Cambridge. Qi3 has made an effort to join up disparate funds and is now also responsible for ESA's knowledge transfer programme and DTI's Sensor Knowledge Transfer Network for DTI.[383] Nathan Hill from Qi3 explained that "The job of brokering knowledge transfer—at least to understand the technology—is to encourage and motivate the transfer because technology transfer is almost always executed through people. The downsides, of course, are that if technology transfer operatives like myself are not knowledgeable enough or become a gateway rather than a facilitator, then they can actually block the route".[384]

214. PPARC has been relatively swift to recognise the importance of knowledge transfer and we hope that PPARC's lead in this area is continued by STFC. The PPARC Delivery Plan 2005/06-2007/08 stated that PPARC would double the volume of brokerage activity by October 2007.[385] Awareness of the potential impact of knowledge transfer has also spread gradually through Government. Nathan Hill from Qi3 told us that "In terms of the government action both BNSC partners, research councils and industry, I think have woken up a lot to knowledge transfer in the last few years".[386] This sentiment was echoed by Dr Trevor Cross, Chief Technology Officer at e2v who told us that "a lot of organisations, the research councils particularly, have woken up a lot in the last few years to finding better ways of stimulating knowledge transfer, but I do think there is still opportunity that is there and there are opportunities on the table that we are not yet getting the most out of".[387]

215. There is also increasing recognition of the opportunities presented by knowledge transfer between sectors. The breadth of work undertaken in the space sector means that it is often relevant to work undertaken elsewhere; for example, in defence, aerospace, healthcare, telecommunications and engineering. Knowledge from one sector can spin into another sector and change perceptions or approaches. Nathan Hill told us that knowledge transfer between sectors "could always be better, but there is a fair amount of joint working".[388] Dr Cross said that "I think there is more to do but it is in people's minds that it should be something we are doing more of".[389] BNSC partners are beginning to take the initiative in this area. The STFC, MoD, the Research Acquisition Organisation (RAO), and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) have recently put out a joint call for funding through the PIPPS programme in areas of technology relevant to security and defence.

216. In our report on Research Council support for knowledge transfer, we found that an oft-cited barrier to knowledge transfer within academia is the pressure of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).[390] This issue recurred during this inquiry. Professor Duncan Wingham explained that the pressure of the RAE means that universities focus upon their core activities of research and publication rather than activities such as knowledge transfer that "diffuse effort away from one's central focus".[391] We hope that changes within the planned metrics system will take greater account of and thus encourage knowledge transfer activities undertaken by academics.

Technology spin-off

217. Space technologies cover a variety of areas including materials, automation, robotics, electronic, sensors, optics, communications, power and energy devices. In order to cope with the harsh environment of space, the components used need to be light, strong, durable, temperature-resistant, and radiation-resistant. Consequently there are opportunities for space technologies to be used in a number of other sectors including defence, aerospace, transport, power, and healthcare. John Rootes from JRA Technologies told us that "A lot of the space, X-ray, [and] gamma-ray detectors have application in life sciences and medical engineering and PPARC and BNSC occasionally have put the money in, if not in a coordinated programme, over the last few years to help this along".[392]

218. ESA has taken responsibility for technology transfer to other sectors. In 1990, it set up the ESA Technology Transfer Programme (TTP) facilitated by a network of technology transfer practitioners in 23 countries. JRA Technology is the UK broker for ESA's TTP. It assists with marketing, business planning, partner searches, promotional events, and access to ESA experts. ESA has recently also set up a European Space Applications Fund, which is being managed by E-Synergy Ltd in the UK. The investment focus for this fund will be start-up companies within ESA's Member States using space-related technologies in non-space applications.

219. ESA's TTP has stimulated over 200 successful space-non-space technology transfers and generated nearly one billion euros in business turnover since its inception. ESA has found that the non-space commercialisation of space technology is not widespread in the UK. JRA Technologies told us that "In 2001 a survey of 187 UK space companies/research groups identified 26 that had admitted to pursuing non-space commercialisation of their research."[393] There have, however, been several notable successes such as Anson Medical and Thruvision Limited (see Box 7).

Box 7 Technology transfer from space to other sectors

397  Ev 190

220. The secondary use of space technologies promoted by JRA Technologies is closely related to the knowledge transfer activities undertaken by Qi3. BNSC, PPARC and JRA Technologies have worked together on conferences such as "Bio-Imaging, Can Space Help?[394] but there is room for further collaboration. ESA reassured us that in the future the activities undertaken by JRA Technologies and Qi3 on knowledge and technology transfer in the space sector and beyond will be "integrated to achieve maximum cooperation and […] to avoid duplication of money and effort."[395]

221. We recognise that there are mechanisms for knowledge transfer within the space sector. Given that the space sector is characterised by its remit across numerous Government departments as well as the STFC, NERC, and EPSRC, we recommend that the BNSC establish a broad space knowledge transfer network for academics and industrialists from the upstream and downstream space industry and related sectors to complement existing activities. We recommend that BNSC and ESA continue to emphasise the importance of knowledge transfer between the space field and other sectors.


356   Q 425  Back

357   Q 78 Back

358   Ev 207 Back

359   Qi3 & BNSC, Abotts Knowledge Transfer from Space Exploration: Prospects and Challenges for the UK, April 2005  Back

360   HC [2005-06] 808-i, Q 60 Back

361   Q 181 Back

362   Q 93 Back

363   Q 105 Back

364   Q 214 Back

365   Ev 232 Back

366   Q 139 Back

367   Ev 189 Back

368   Ev 374  Back

369   BNSC, A Consultation on the UK Civil Space Strategy 2007-2010, p 19  Back

370   Ev 380 Back

371   Ev 361 Back

372   Ev 380 Back

373   Q 141 Back

374   Ev 379 Back

375   Ev 361 Back

376   HM Treasury, Science and Innovation Framework; Next Steps, March 2006, p 26 Back

377   Q 105  Back

378   Ev 380 Back

379   Science and Technology Committee, Third Report of Session 2005-06, Research Council Support for Knowledge Transfer, HC 995-I  Back

380   Ev 164 Back

381   As above. Back

382   Ev 310 Back

383   Q 73 Back

384   Q 66 Back

385   PPARC, PPARC Delivery Plan 2005/06-2007/08, p 18 Back

386   Q 60 Back

387   Q 61 Back

388   Q 75  Back

389   Q 76 Back

390   HC [2005-06] 955-I, p 27 Back

391   Q 378 Back

392   Q 64 Back

393   Ev 312 Back

394   Ev 312  Back

395   Ev 341  Back


 
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