Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


10  EXPLORATION AND LAUNCHERS

Exploration

278. Exploration is crucial to improve knowledge and understanding of space. Beyond this, space exploration is driven by a need to discover and investigate. The then Minister Malcolm Wicks told us that exploration is "the great adventure and I think we will see great strides during the rest of this century and further into the millennium."[515] The then Minister's enthusiasm was echoed by Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of STFC, who said that exploration opens up "huge scientific, technical—but also commercial—opportunities".[516] The UK's current space strategy supports the use of robotic, telerobotics or semi-autonomous systems in exploration, but not human exploration.[517]

279. 2007 marks the fiftieth anniversary of spaceflight. In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Four years later Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth and by 1969 the US had put a man on the Moon. Some missions such as Apollo 11 and the Voyager series have been acknowledged as successes and others such as Beagle 2 and space shuttle Columbia tragic disasters. Our predecessor Committee considered the fate of Beagle 2 in a report in 2004. It commended the Government on its enthusiasm for Beagle 2 and said that the Government should continue to support participation in future planetary exploration missions on a well-defined multinational basis.[518] Since 2004, there has been increasing global interest in space exploration demonstrated by NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, ESA's Aurora programme, and robotic lunar missions by India, China, Russia and Japan.

ESA'S AURORA PROGRAMME

280. ESA's Aurora programme was conceived in 2000, following a mandate by European Ministers to prepare for the next steps in human exploration. The primary objective of the Aurora Programme is to create, and then implement, a European plan for the robotic and human exploration of the solar system. It is a long-term programme, leading towards a human mission to Mars in 2033. One of the initial projects will be Exo-Mars, due to be launched in 2009, featuring an orbiter and a large rover.

281. In 2001 and 2004, the UK invested in the first two preparatory stages of Aurora. In 2001, the UK contributed £1 million to participate in the project definition phase. In September 2004, PPARC invested £5 million from its existing budget in the second preparatory phase.[519] In December 2005, Lord Sainsbury announced that the Government would invest €108.1 million (approx. £74.4 million) in the next stage of Aurora from 2005-2009, making the UK the second largest contributor after Italy.[520] The UK is subscribing to the parts of the Aurora programme focused on the science-driven robotic exploration of Mars. The UK is not committed to funding the manned phase of Aurora and Dr Williams told us that "We very specifically blocked a change that would involve the UK being automatically committed beyond the robotic phase."[521]

282. The UK is acknowledged to be strong in many of the science areas included in the Aurora programme, several of which were developed by the Beagle 2 project. Professor Keith Mason has been reported as saying that "Beagle has been extremely successful in developing a capability that will allow us to be strong players in Aurora".[522] The Beagle consortium developed instruments and systems such as miniaturised integrated electronics, robotic arms and parachute designs that could be used in Aurora missions. PPARC also commissioned a report to identify the technology capabilities that could be developed through participation in Aurora.[523] This report found that the UK was in a good position to provide the technologies required by Aurora "as a result of the strong existing space industry sector and knowledge base."[524] We welcome the UK's involvement in the Aurora programme and recommend that the STFC ensure that the UK maintains its strong role in this programme.

NASA'S LUNAR PROGRAMME

283. NASA's lunar exploration programme is part of the US's long-term space exploration programme announced by President Bush in January 2004.[525] The lunar programme will begin with robotic exploration and aims to return humans to the Moon by 2020. On 4 December 2006, NASA released its lunar architecture plans. The main reasons given by NASA for a return to the Moon are: to use the Moon to prepare for future human and robotic missions to Mars and other destinations; to increase scientific knowledge; to extend human presence to the Moon; to expand the Earth's economic sphere; to strengthen existing international partnerships, and to engage and inspire the public.[526] The cost of the lunar programme is expected to be very large, perhaps many hundreds of billions of US$. There are many scientists who are sceptical about the quality, cost effectiveness and even the realism of many of the science objectives, while not doubting the economic, technical and public engagement benefits that would derive from such a programme.

284. There is an opportunity for the UK to be a partner in this programme. In April 2007 the BNSC and NASA signed a Joint Statement of Intent, which states that "NASA and BNSC confirm their mutual desire for detailed discussions on specific areas of potential collaboration involving lunar science and exploration. These cooperative efforts may range from the exchange of information related to research and development to actual hardware contributions for particular missions."[527] NASA has confirmed that the UK's stance on human spaceflight will not bar it from collaboration and that it "has very ambitious goals for exploration that integrate human and robotic activities over a wide range of disciplines. It is not necessary for our partners to share the same broad goals with respect to human space flight in order to benefit from bilateral cooperation in space."[528]

285. In 2006, PPARC (now STFC) funded a pre-phase A study of two potential lunar missions: MoonLITE and MoonRaker. MoonLITE (Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecommunications Experiment) would comprise a small orbiter and four un-braked penetrators carrying miniature instruments to impact the Moon at high speed. The mission would investigate the unknown interior structure of the Moon by deploying a network of seismometers and heat-flow sensors. It would also discover whether high rate data communications were possible between the Moon's surface, lunar orbit and the Earth.[529] MoonRaker would be a small soft lander. It would test a novel technique of dating the age of rocks on the lunar surface.[530] The STFC told us that it has discussed the study results with NASA who have recognised that they are aligned with the goals of the lunar exploration programme. Over the next 6 to 12 months, a joint study team from NASA and BNSC will define a common set of objectives and design solutions. The UK has also recently submitted the proposals for MoonLITE and MoonRaker into a recent open call for new mission concepts in the Aurora programme (paragraph 280).[531]

286. SSTL, which has been involved in the study, told us that "Such an initiative would enable the UK to develop and enhance its expertise in robotic space exploration and allow the UK to 'punch above its weight' in support of international exploration projects by providing essential infrastructure elements and addressing key scientific or technological issues."[532] The STFC said that the missions would extend the UK lead in small satellite technology and would test new technologies such as penetrators and robotic age dating equipment. We welcome the recent Joint Statement of Intent signed by BNSC and NASA and hope that this signals the beginning of fruitful collaboration on the MoonLITE and MoonRaker missions. We congratulate the STFC on its timely funding of preparatory work in this area.

THE GLOBAL SPACE EXPLORATION STRATEGY

287. In April 2006 NASA hosted a space exploration conference in Washington. Fourteen organisations, including the ESA and the BNSC, involved in the conference created an informal Global Space Exploration Strategy team.[533] The team has worked to elaborate common themes and objectives covering robotic and human exploration of the Moon, Mars and near-Earth asteroids. In December 2006, NASA released plans for the strategy outlining why it is necessary to return to the Moon and plans for lunar exploration. In May 2007, following discussions between the fourteen space agencies involved, The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Coordination was published. [534] The primary goal of the strategy is sustainable space exploration focused at first on the Moon and then Mars. The framework proposes that there should not be a single programme but rather a voluntary, non-binding forum where nations can share their plans. The BNSC says that "the UK is fully engaged, in order to understand the developing international context. The goal is to increase the coordination between future international exploration activities rather than to create a single programme."[535] The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP told us that exploration needs to be an "international endeavour, an international expedition, and I think we are very committed to internationalism in terms of space science and space exploration."[536]

288. The BNSC told us that BNSC partners are actively considering whether BNSC can contribute to the robotic aspects, and that "The UK […] is looking at what novel science can do and what technology can bring into it, so we have seen robotics and communications in going to the Moon as something where we have a skill and a skill which will contribute to whole".[537] The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP believed that this exploration would involve Britain to a very full extent.[538]

289. The BNSC has set up a Space Exploration Working Group composed of 22 scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, officials and independents to assess the developing scene. It has four sub-groups focusing on science, technology, commerce and society. It is expected to publish its report by the summer, although Dr Williams told us on 18 April 2007 that the exploration group had only met once or twice.[539]

290. ESA is also working out how to respond to the Global Space Exploration Strategy. The European Space Policy states that "By 2008, ESA will produce proposals for the involvement of Europe in the international exploration endeavour presenting options in planetary exploration and in cooperative development of human transport capabilities."[540] The BNSC notes that "ESA has been involved in discussions and are looking at how this initiative sits alongside its existing programmes."[541] There could be difficulties in reconciling ESA's objectives and NASA objectives, given that ESA had chosen to focus on Mars in the Aurora programme and NASA has chosen to concentrate initially on the Moon. Jean-Jacques Dordain told us that ESA Member States would have to decide at the next Ministerial whether to pursue the Aurora programme beyond Exo-Mars and whether to contribute to a manned mission to the Moon driven by the US.[542]

291. We welcome the BNSC's active involvement in the Global Space Exploration Strategy. We recommend that the findings of the BNSC Space Exploration Working Group be published and subsequently incorporated appropriately into the forthcoming space strategy. The Space Strategy 2007-2010 should outline how the UK intends to respond to the different international exploration projects.

Manned spaceflight

292. On 29 November 2006, we met the NASA astronaut Piers Sellers who has had to change his nationality in order to pursue a career as an astronaut because the UK does not fund manned spaceflight. He argued persuasively that the UK should change its policy and provide funding for manned spaceflight. The UK's current policy in relation to manned spaceflight is an emotive topic for many and we have heard strong arguments supporting and opposing it. Many other countries including the US, Canada, Japan, Russia, China, France, Germany and Italy support manned spaceflight, primarily (it could be argued) for prestige reasons. The UK Government, under its user-driven approach to its civil space activities, does not believe that "the potential benefits justify the costs involved" in manned programmes.[543] The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP told us that "What the best evidence and what the science tells us, at the moment, is that man's/woman's exploration of space should not be a priority for the United Kingdom."[544]

ARGUMENTS AROUND MANNED SPACEFLIGHT

293. The thought that there are humans currently orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station is quite incredible, and this inspirational aspect of manned spaceflight is emphasised by its supporters. One submission stated, for example, that "Human spaceflight has always been looked at with awe and wonder."[545] Several submissions suggested that young people can be inspired by manned spaceflight to study science subjects. Nicholas Spall, Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society told us that "human spaceflight is a very good 'inspirational' aspect of science and technology and the efforts to halt the decline in science courses in the UK could be firmly assisted by a national interest in manned spaceflight".[546] The Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine stated that "Human space flight is a first class vehicle for science education and the communication of scientific ideas to students at all educational levels."[547] The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP agreed that manned spaceflight would be "a way of engaging young people in the importance of space and the importance of science."[548] It is difficult to substantiate these claims with evidence beyond the anecdotal but policymakers sometimes refer to the "Apollo effect", which describes the rise in numbers of students studying STEM subjects in the early 1970s thought to be caused by NASA's manned Apollo lunar missions between 1963 and 1972.[549]

294. On the other hand, the inspirational impact of space can be argued to apply beyond manned spaceflight to robotics. Dr Robin Clegg from the STFC told us that "While manned space flight is inspirational […] robotics has a very strong inspiration value too".[550] Paul Spencer, an Evaluator and Consultant for Space Connections told us that "The value of space to education is not just about humans in space, that is the tip of the iceberg."[551] Several submissions highlighted the public interest in Beagle 2. The Royal Aeronautical Society argued that "Human spaceflight captures the public imagination, but Britain's Beagle 2 probe to Mars has shown that robotic exploration can too."[552] Professor Colin Pillinger, the project leader on Beagle 2 told us that "We have been told there were plenty of children, who got up before 6.00am Christmas morning 2003, to ask not 'Where are my presents?' but 'What happened to Beagle 2?'."[553]

295. Furthermore, the link between manned spaceflight and interest in science apparently demonstrated by the Apollo effect is complicated by more recent statistics from the United States where there has been an ongoing manned programme and yet the number of students studying STEM subjects has not remained constant. The Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 from the US National Science Board found that the number of doctorates awarded in the sciences declined from 1998 to 2002 and has only recently begun to increase.[554] A report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 said that the US faces limited undergraduate interest in science and engineering majors.[555]

296. Another argument in favour of manned space activities is that such investment would benefit UK industry, particularly if investment was made through the ESA because of the system of juste retour.[556] The Knowledge Transfer from Space Exploration: Prospects and Challenges for the UK report notes that "The decision by the UK not to participate in the human exploration aspects of Aurora will mean that UK capabilities in this area are not generally further advanced or adopted by the programme. There may however be opportunities for transfer of such technologies developed in the Aurora programme to the benefit of the UK."[557] Leonard Fisk, Chair of the Space Studies Board at the National Academy of Science has said that the Vision for Space Exploration will need 50,000 to 75,000 scientists and engineers.[558] When we discussed the UK's stance on manned spaceflight with industrialists, they emphasised the UK's strengths in areas such as robotics and communication services.[559] Sir Martin Sweeting from SSTL said that engagement in an exploration programme would have to be undertaken "in an appropriate way, exploiting our robotic and communications expertise in the UK."[560]

297. A recent report from the Royal Astronomical Society stated that there were some science programmes such as deep drilling on Mars that would require on-site humans and automation.[561] It concluded that "there is science of profound interest to humankind that can only be pursued on the Moon and Mars by the direct involvement of humans".[562] Dr Ian Crawford, Lecturer in Planetary Science at Birkbeck College, University of London told us that astronauts "bring agility, versatility and intelligence to exploration in a way that robots cannot."[563] Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of STFC agreed that "There are places where robots will do a better job, there are places where humans might do a better job."[564]

298. We have also heard wholly opposing views. Professor Len Culhane from the UK Space Academic Network told us that manned spaceflight "would be very difficult to justify on purely scientific functionality grounds". [565] The Royal Aeronautical Society told us that "We consider that most if not all scientific exploration of the Moon can be done via robotic probes under remote control from Earth".[566] It commented further that "the oil and gas exploration industry is beginning to apply digital technology to drilling" and suggested that a prize could be offered for the development of digital drilling technology. [567] During oral evidence, Professor Rowan-Robinson, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, clarified the Society's position, stating that "The report says that there are some science goals that require human space flight which is a different thing from saying that the UK should now double its budget and go into human space programmes."[568]

COSTS

299. The key issue in relation to manned spaceflight is its cost. Dr Robin Clegg, the then Head of Science and Society at PPARC, told us that "PPARC would not be in favour of investing in this manned work if it harmed what I will call the UK space science programme, the robotics and so on. PPARC would be very concerned about that. The human programme would come at an extra cost."[569] Lord Rees of Ludlow from the Royal Society explained that "we have got to bear in mind that, if we paid anywhere near the full economic cost, it would overwhelm all we could do on unmanned."[570] The Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine notes that "Entry to the ESA astronaut programme would require an annual subscription of 150 million Euro, a sum which is clearly prohibitive at this stage."[571] In February 2007, the Royal Astronomical Society polled its members and 96.1% agreed with the statement that "the prime drive in selection of scientific space missions, within an inevitably limited budget, should be the quality of the science. The Royal Astronomical Society recognizes that there may be some scientific goals that can only be achieved within a human spaceflight programme […] these goals are likely to be feasible only within a greatly expanded scientific space programme."[572]

300. There are several options for UK participation in manned spaceflight and the level at which the UK became involved in any programmes would inevitably influence the cost. Professor Keith Mason explained to us that "It is more of a graded scale than, perhaps, people realise, and provided one works in partnership with, for example, our European partners in ESA or within a bilateral relationship with NASA the costs need not be unaffordable. Certainly the budget will need to go up from what it is now, by perhaps a factor of two, not factors of ten."[573] The British Interplanetary Society agreed that "Cost is certainly not a reason to exclude UK science researchers from programmes such as the International Space Station."[574] The BNSC admitted that "Estimating the costs of a UK manned space activity is not a precise science, and varies depending upon whether the costs of the associated activities are included."[575] During this inquiry we have seen several different proposals for UK involvement in manned spaceflight programmes in the near future as outlined in Box 9.

Box 9: Possible options for UK involvement in manned spaceflight programmes



Sources: Ev 358, 371

301. These cost estimates demonstrate that there is a wide variation in the levels at the which the UK could participate and the resultant cost. Given the UK's user-driven approach to space, any activity that the UK chose to fund would have to be driven by a clearly-defined user need, rather than be a prestige project.

FUTURE OPTIONS

302. There are therefore several options facing policymakers and it is important that they assess the merit of each one. In the current environment the UK has to be flexible about its plans. The manned aspect of the Aurora programme may not be pursued and the Global Exploration Strategy could expand, providing new avenues for UK involvement beyond the robotic. In relation to manned spaceflight, Jean-Jacques Dordain told us that "Today the question is not so much UK in or out, it is more ESA Member States in or out".[576]

303. Several submissions have raised concern that UK will miss the boat and lose the opportunity to be involved in manned spaceflight. The UK Space Biomedicine Group has told us for example that "If the UK follows its current course it is highly likely that, after a further period of non-participation, the current window of opportunity will have closed, and the UK will not have the critical mass of expertise required to influence the direction or progress of well-established international human space research programmes."[577] This contrasts with the message we have received from the BNSC that the UK could change its mind at any time. In relation to subscribing to the manned aspect of Aurora, Dr Williams told us that "I do not see a need to make a decision on that certainly in the next 10 years and then we could probably consider it at any point in time".[578] He explained further that "If, in 40 years' time, things change or in 20 years' time the system changes and there is a global astronaut corps, then it could be looked at at that time".[579]

304. Given the long lead times in the space sector, it is important that the UK plans strategically and leaves the option open for manned spaceflight in the future, even if it focuses upon robotics now. Professor Keith Mason from the STFC said that "if in 20 years' time there is a reliable and sustainable infrastructure on the Moon, for example, then in order to be doing the sort of science that the UK is currently strong in we would probably want to be involved in that. We have to at least examine that question with an open mind and plan our future accordingly."[580] The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP told us that if technological contribution now to the Global Exploration Programme "enabled British men and women to explore space (and I think we are talking about quite a long-term future) that would be wholly appropriate."[581]

305. In deciding its current policy and future plans regarding engaging in manned spaceflight, the BNSC needs to outline clearly what factors are important in judging whether or not to fund programmes in this area. Under the user-driven approach, it is deemed necessary for there to be a scientific purpose behind a human spaceflight project. However, human spaceflight could be deemed worthy of funding outside the science budget for educational or prestige reasons. We believe that the strength of the scientific case for human spaceflight is the deciding issue. As Professor Keith Mason told us in his introductory session with us on 18 January 2006, "what we need to do is to look at the scientific case, compare it against the other science that we want to do in terms of value for money and also scientific impact, and then you can make an educated decision as to whether the investment in human spaceflight is worth it or not."[582]

306. It appears that the Government currently objects to manned spaceflight on principle and we believe that this stance is unjustifiable. Manned spaceflight proposals, like other proposals in other areas of space, should be judged according to a cost-benefit analysis. We recommend that whilst the BNSC emphasise the UK's interest in robotic missions at this stage, it also keep the option of scientific manned spaceflight missions open for the future. The Government's stance should be flexible enough to ensure that the best science can be funded, whether that be undertaken by manned or robotic exploration.

Space medicine

OVERVIEW

307. The UK's approach to manned spaceflight has had repercussions for the field of space medicine and we have received many submissions requesting that the Government re-evaluate its policy in this area.[583] Space medicine combines many medical specialities to examine the effects of spaceflight on humans and prevent problems associated with living in the unique, isolated, and extreme environment of space. Research undertaken in space could have terrestrial relevance, and technology developed for use in space often has terrestrial applications.

308. According to Dr Philip J Scarpa, Manager of Medical Operations at the Kennedy Space Center, space medicine topics include "astronaut bone loss, muscle loss, radiation exposure, heart and blood vessel deconditioning, anaemia, decreased immune system, kidney stones, mental health, toxic exposures, decompression sickness, occupational injuries, and trauma."[584] As well as treating astronauts, there are several possible terrestrial benefits of space medicine. Professor Kennard, Chair of the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board at MRC, told us that the study of loss of muscle bulk and stresses on the bone in microgravity environments could be a model for ageing and osteoporosis. Research in space could also provide information that was useful in the study of heart failure and the body's vestibular or balance system that enables us to orientate ourselves in space.[585]

309. The technologies that are used in space medicine can be transferred to terrestrial medicine. Marchbanks Measurement Systems, for example, has developed medical equipment for human space exploration that can measure intercranial pressure without the need for surgery.[586] The Osmosis Unit told us that its work on fluid balance shifts in astronauts could have terrestrial impact in the development of medical devices for the diagnosis and monitoring of conditions such as hypertension and shock.[587] The question therefore arises of whether the UK should be supporting research into space medicine.

HISTORY OF THE DEBATE

310. ESA runs a microgravity research programme that encompasses work on space medicine. The UK subscribed to ESA's microgravity research programme, EMIR-2X, for several years at a low level. In 2002, the Government had to decide whether to participate in EMIR-2X's successor, ELIPS (European Life and Physical Sciences) which was going to use the International Space Station (ISS). The Government set up an independent panel to review the potential benefits of work on microgravity. This panel recommended that funding be provided from the Office of Science and Technology for research topics such as signalling in cells, bone growth, materials and fluid behaviour. In May 2004, Lord Sainsbury announced, however, that having failed to find a source of funding within Government for the programme, the UK would not be subscribing to the ESA's microgravity research programme. The following box outlines the main events leading to the Government's decision:

Box 10: Timeline of events


311. Despite the Government's decision to not join the ESA's programme, the UK's space medicine community has continued to grow and become increasingly well-organised. There are several groups for people interested in this topic such as the UK Space Medicine Association, the UK Space Biomedicine Group and the UK Space Biomedical Advisory Committee. At UCL, a space medicine and extreme environment course has been established as part of the physiology undergraduate course and a research group, the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme environment medicine, has been created. Evidence from the medical profession argued that "the UK has already built a rapidly growing skills base of health professional and researchers with an interest in space medicine" and that "The UK has a strong health research base".[588]

POTENTIAL FOR WIDESPREAD BENEFIT

312. There is a debate about the benefits that funding space medicine would bring. The MRC notes that space medicine is usually focused on human spaceflight programmes and the health of astronauts who are usually extremely fit, young and able. The MRC says that "The study population in space research is atypical, since astronauts are a highly selected group of fit and intelligent individuals."[589] It adds that "The main benefit of such research is to the health of astronauts, rather than to the health of the terrestrial population."[590]

313. Space medicine experts disagree. Dr Alyson Calder wrote that "For every medical problem encountered in microgravity, an analogous condition occurs on Earth."[591] The examples she quoted are post-flight orthostatic intolerance and orthostatic intolerance experienced after bed rest and in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes and autonomic dysfunction; space motion sickness and inner ear disturbances such as Menieres disease; muscle atrophy experienced by astronauts and muscle wasting following bed rest and sarcopenia of old age; and loss of bone mineral density in astronauts and disuse osteoporosis in hospital patients on bed rest or with immobilised limbs in plaster casts.[592] The UK Space Biomedicine Group argued that research areas such as these are "relevant to healthcare and economic prosperity on Earth, as improved understanding of these areas will provide novel therapeutic approaches and diagnostic techniques for a variety of terrestrial medical problems."[593]

314. The MRC is unconvinced that there is substantial evidence to support broad claims about the impact of space medicine. Professor Chris Kennard noted that terrestrial benefits of space medicine were "potentially of relevance" rather than saying that they were proven to be relevant.[594] He told us that "You can get information about how normal man works from microgravity. From the pathophysiology, when you actually have disease that is influencing the normal physiology, then that is where it is very questionable as to whether there is any benefit from microgravity."[595] The MRC believes that regarding investigations into loss of bone and muscle mass, it "has yet to be established whether this is a useful model in terms of understanding the processes of ageing."[596] Furthermore "space studies do not provide a good model for heart failure and other cardiovascular disease processes."[597] The MRC concluded that "Current studies are generally descriptive, and the knowledge base at present is insufficient to ask the critical questions that microgravity might be able to uniquely answer."[598]

315. There is also the question as to whether research into these areas can only be undertaken in space or as to whether if the same amount of funding was put into research on Earth, solutions could be found. Professor Kennard explained that in 2002 "After bringing all the experts together, there was a general view that there were not any specific areas that […] could be seen to really definitely offer benefits that could not be obtained by work in laboratories around the world rather than having to go up into space."[599] The MRC asserted that "the majority of important questions being posed could be tackled on earth by careful design."[600] Dr Kevin Fong from CASE accepted that simulated environments can be used for research. He noted, however, that access to such facilities were "generally part of a wider human space flight programme with other agencies."[601] The information report by the Microgravity Review Panel noted that approximately 60% of ESA microgravity activities are ground-based. [602]

FUNDING

316. We have been told that, due to the Government's decision in 2004 and its lack of support for manned spaceflight, it is difficult for space medicine researchers to find funding for their work.[603] Dr Vishal Nangalia wrote that "The current structure of funding space related projects is broken and haphazard […] No organisation wishes to support a new field of discovery such as space medicine or human spaceflight", while another doctor suggested that "the UK's expertise in this area is at risk of collapse due to lack of support."[604] Researchers either tend to self-fund their work or undertake research in collaboration with international space institutes that work in this field, such as the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (Russia), the NASA Johnson Space Center (Texas), the NASA Kennedy Space Center (Florida), the Vanderbilt Centre for Space Physiology and Medicine (Tennessee) and the Microgravity Laboratory (Brazil).[605]

317. The current funding strategy, explained to researchers at the MRC Workshop in 2002, is response-mode application to the MRC. Professor Kennard from MRC told us that:

    the MRC does not just exclude and say we are not going to have anything to do with space flight […] we do consider applications that come on response mode so there are a number of individuals who link up with space programmes elsewhere who want to do experiments and come to the MRC and they are judged along with all the other applications that come through.[606]

When we asked Professor Kennard whether the MRC would strategically set money aside for space medicine, he told us that "we cannot see any real benefit, even long-term, from identifying a small amount of money to put into this that would generate a real benefit."[607] The space medicine community itself accepts this and is not seeking strategic funding from MRC but rather UK involvement in a manned spaceflight programme that would also provide access to microgravity research funding. Dr Kevin Fong explained that

    With the line that MRC take, that they should not top slice their own budget to fund this, I think that is correct. They have agreed that funding in responsive mode is good and I think that is right. We need to have a different funding source for medical science because it is part of the human space flight programme.[608]

The space medicine community has not taken advantage of the MRC's response-mode funding since there was only one application in this area in over the past five years.[609] This application was unsuccessful.

318. The current funding mechanisms for space medicine projects have an impact upon the funding for spin-out products from this research. In relation to a device developed to take blood in space, Dr Evetts told us that "because of the virtual absence of support in Britain we are currently in negotiations with an American company concerning the continuation of the work through clinical trials and the subsequent commercial exploitation of this initiative."[610] In relation to technology to measure intercranial pressure, Dr Robert Marchbanks explained that "for a modest investment, NASA is a stakeholder in cutting-edge health technology and has created a 'win-win' opportunity for Space and Earth-based medicine."[611]

319. We have not seen enough evidence to be convinced that a special stream of funding should be given to space medicine. Funding should continue to be available from MRC through peer-reviewed response-mode funding. The MRC should monitor developments in the field and liaise appropriately with BNSC. Given the current climate in global exploration, the BNSC should explore routes for non-financial co-operation with organisations such as NASA and ESA in this area.

Space tourism

OVERVIEW

320. Enthusiasts have been discussing the idea of commercial space travel since the 1950s. In the last six years, several key events have marked the development of a space tourism industry. In 2001, Dennis Tito was the first tourist to pay for a flight into space. He paid $20 million for an eight day holiday on the International Space Station. The following year another tourist Mark Shuttleworth followed suit. The company that offered the holiday, Space Adventures, is now offering reserved places on sub-orbital flights, sixteen day trips to the ISS and spacewalks. There has also been increasing interest in the development of spacecraft appropriate for space tourism, sparked by the promise by Dr Peter Diamandis of an award of $10 million, the 'X-Prize', for the first non-government organisation to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. On 4 October 2004, Burt Rutan and Paul Allen won the X-Prize for their spacecraft, SpaceShipOne.

321. The potential of SpaceShipOne was quickly understood by Virgin Galactic who announced in September 2004 that it would create a commercial spacecraft based on the design of SpaceShipOne. The spacecraft is an eight-seat (2 pilots, 6 passengers) version of SpaceShipOne. The flight will have the same basic characteristics as SpaceShipOne flights: after being dropped from the carrier aircraft, a rocket motor will propel SpaceShipTwo into suborbital space, after which the spacecraft will glide back to a runway landing. SpaceShipTwo will have a peak altitude between 360,000 and 400,000 feet (110,000 and 122,000m), giving passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. The cost for early flights on Virgin Galactic is $200,000 and 200 people have paid a deposit.[612] Will Whitehorn, the President of Virgin Galactic, said that within five years costs would be down to $75,000 and after nine years flights would cost $50,000.[613] Virgin Galactic (VG) stated that "By the end of this decade VG intends to provide sub-orbital space tourism services to the general public, initially operating from the US."[614]

322. There are also several other projects underway for low cost space travel. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has developed a company called Blue Origin and the founder of PayPal, Elon Musk, has created SpaceX. In the UK, hope is focused on companies such as Bristol Spaceplanes and Reaction Engines. Dr Patrick Collins from Space Future Consulting told us that Bristol Spaceplanes "could make suborbital flights at a cost of £3000 a head."[615] Bristol Spaceplanes Limited proposes developing an orbital spaceplane, which it states would cost ten times as much to develop as a sub-orbital spaceplane.[616] Reaction Engines told us that the development of a reusable launcher "could reduce the cost of access to low Earth orbit by a factor of 50."[617]

323. We have heard claims that the space tourism industry has great potential and will expand beyond sub-orbital space. Space Future Consulting claimed that that "The most promising market for space activities is passenger travel".[618] Stephen Ashworth, Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, told us that "Space tourism is about to become a major new industry, but requires an economic method of access to orbit."[619] Virgin Galactic wrote that "In the next few decades, VG forecasts that the industry will progress beyond sub-orbital space tourism to high-speed civil transportation outside the atmosphere and private orbital facilities."[620]

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

324. There has been some scepticism about the environmental impact of space tourism. Howard Cambridge at the University of York has been quoted as saying that more work needs to be done to ensure that Virgin Galactic does not exacerbate the impact of aviation on the global climate. He said that "when you look at the number of passengers who will benefit from space travel, the environmental impact per passenger will be quite high."[621] Richard Dyer from Friends of the Earth has said that "Virgin Galactic will be the ultimate in irresponsible elitist travel. There's a strange irony in tourists looking back at our damaged earth as they are helping to warm it up". [622]

325. Virgin Galactic defended its position, claming that it can "get six people into space for an environmental effect less than a single business class ticket to New York".[623] It was argued that Virgin Galactic's air-launch system was not comparable to the traditional ground-based launch systems: "by using an air launch system, by carrying our spacecraft above the atmosphere to 60,000 feet and launching it there, we can avoid almost all the environmental impact of the current space launch systems".[624] Dr Patrick Collins from Space Future Consulting told us that "the emissions from even several hundred sub-orbital space flights/day will be very small compared to the emissions from either aviation or motor vehicles, mainly because the rocket engines are used for only about one minute during each flight."[625] Jeff Gazzard from the Aviation Environment Federation agreed that "the impact of these launch systems, as they are currently proposed, is pretty minimal".[626]

326. Virgin Galactic plans to reduce the potential environmental impact of SpaceShipTwo by developing a new fuel, Butanol, which freezes at a lower temperature than ethanol and can be produced from biomass. Will Whitehorn said that "If we could develop that new fuel we could even lower the environmental impact of this system even more"[627] Virgin has also set up a new company, Virgin fuels, which will invest $400 million in renewable energy initiatives over the next three years.

327. The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP retained some concern about the potential environment impact of space tourism, saying that "the environmental impact in terms of carbon emissions might be something that should be looked at most carefully in judging whether this is a societal priority."[628]

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT & REGULATION

328. We have heard several arguments that the Government should be supporting this fledging industry by providing seed-corn funding for the development of new spacecraft, by providing support for the establishment of space ports and by creating a favourable regulatory environment. Dr Patrick Collins from Space Future Consulting argued that the DTI should have provided seed-corn funding for developments in this area. He emphasised that "Suborbital flight is a very straight forward low cost investment" and said that "If the DTI is sincere in saying they wish to encourage the maximum commercial development of space, which is what it is, they should invest in this".[629] Virgin Galactic told us that "The UK should encourage private sector investment in space activities through commercial incentives, possibly through monetary and fiscal policy".[630] It also suggested that the Government "invest in Public-Private-Partnership type arrangements for basic infrastructures, such as space ports, that can be shared with the private sector for commercial activities".[631] The state of New Mexico provided assistance for the development of a space port in the Mojave desert and Will Whitehorn suggested that there was potential for creating space ports in the UK at Lossiemouth or St Mawgan if there was a suitable financial and regulatory climate.[632]

329. The development of a robust regulatory framework is essential for the space tourism industry. Gates and Partners said that "a number of technological, operational and legal hurdles need to be addressed to support this nascent industry."[633] Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic, told us that "The role for government in our project is quite simple. We need to have a legislative background in the UK which would allow this type of commercial flight to take place here or we will lose a massive opportunity."[634] He explained further that Virgin Galactic would like to operate in the UK but there is no regulation governing this area or a responsible regulatory body. He further told us that "we need to look at some enabling legislation through Parliament to make sure that we can do what we do, otherwise we will have to do it under military licence through the MoD in some way".[635] Dr Collins from Space Future Consulting agreed that we need new legislation.[636]

330. The Outer Space Act 1986 does not define the start of outer space and does not distinguish between orbital and sub-orbital space. There has recently been legislation in the United States to enable Virgin Galactic to operate in the Mojave desert. On 23 December 2004, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA) 2004 was passed. The Act facilitates the

    'development of the emerging commercial human space flight industry' by expressly authorising the licensing of manual re-usable launch vehicles, extending the liability indemnification regime for commercial human space flight and establishing a new system for experimental re-usable suborbital rockets.[637]

The Act created an Office of Commercial Space Transportation under the auspices of the US Federal Aviation Administration that is responsible for regulating the industry. Even though the US is leading the world in this area, it is unclear whether its new legislation will be sufficient. Gates and Partners told us that "Neither the international nor UK domestic existing legislation provides an adequate framework for dealing with space tourism and, even in the US, where legislation has been enacted in response to the developing industry many issues are not yet fully developed or resolved."[638]

331. It is worth noting that the beneficial regulatory regime is not the only reason that Virgin Galactic is concentrating upon operating in the US. The technology used in SpaceShipTwo is US-based and therefore governed by export control regulations, specifically the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. In order to provide a favourable environment for Virgin Galactic to operate in the UK, the Government would also need to work with the US to ensure a workable export control regime. Virgin Galactic asserts that "export control regulations must not present an unnecessary and/or insurmountable barrier to commercial progress in the space sector."[639]

332. The DTI pursued a policy of non-financial support for the space tourism industry. It stated that:

    Commercial led new markets are emerging in which the role of the DTI is to facilitate through legislation and standards, rather than intervene directly. Space Tourism is potentially a highly visible example and the UK is well placed to become a major player. BNSC, through DTI will need to contribute with other interested bodies, to the development of an appropriate regulatory framework.[640]

333. The DTI's consultation on regulation was expected to cover the space tourism sector (paragraph 171). The BNSC has aided the creation of networks in this area by supporting a conference on space tourism in 2006 and a symposium in 2005. Despite the BNSC's enthusiasm at such events, we note that there is no explicit mention of space tourism in the consultation on the forthcoming space strategy. This omission was reflected in the then Minister's view. He told us that "I think our role, in terms of BNSC and as Government, is not to encourage or discourage, it is to help facilitate in terms of advice and the regulatory framework."[641] He said that in terms of space "of all the things I am excited about space tourism is not at the top of my list."[642]

334. We are excited by the potential afforded by sub-orbital travel and the rise of the space tourism industry. We do not believe that it is the responsibility of Government to fund this work but developments in this area should be encouraged through appropriate regulation. The BNSC should use its consultation on regulation to discuss the establishment of a regulatory framework and responsible body with the relevant authorities. We recommend that the Government continues its policy of non-financial support to the space tourism industry and that it outline the developing nature of that support in the forthcoming space strategy.

Launchers

335. A launcher is a vehicle used to carry satellite, space probes and/or elements of space stations into space. Launchers also protect payloads during lift off and during the critical stage of leaving the Earth's atmosphere. In the 1950s, the UK was involved in developing several launchers such as the Blue Streak and Black Knight, initially for military purposes. Black Knight delivered a satellite to low orbit and Blue Streak became the first stage of the European ELDO launcher. With a French second stage and a German third stage the project never achieved real political stability. Although the UK first stage always worked, the ELDO launcher itself was never successful in delivering payload to orbit and was eventually cancelled. The European focus then moved to the Ariane programme and, after this disappointing period of rocket development, the UK took a decision not to participate, leaving the initial development to others and waiting for a launcher market to develop. More recently, in the late 1980s, new technologies were proposed for lower cost launcher systems but the UK Government again decided not to fund launchers to a significant degree.

336. The Trade and Industry Committee considered the Government's approach to launchers in its report on civil space policy in 2000. It concluded that "The general perception among all those involved is that the Government and BNSC are following a policy of no involvement in launchers. It is our strong impression that in BNSC there is a less than open mind on the case for Government assistance to launcher development."[643] The Government response stated that "Ministers continue to have an open mind on this issue […] For the moment, however, it is the Government's view that current proposals for the development of new launchers are heavily dependent on public money and could not be contained within realistic resources in the UK."[644]

337. The Government currently maintains a small subscription to the ESA's launcher programme, Ariane, which has been running since 1974. The DTI was responsible for the "token" subscription to the Ariane programme that benefited UK industry due to juste retour. [645] The Director General of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain told us that "In my view, on Ariane 5 you are getting more than you are investing. This is one of the examples where you are over-returned on Ariane because we need some pieces from the UK which do not exist anywhere else in Europe".[646]

338. There is still keen interest in launchers in the UK. We have been told that the UK should have built upon its strengths in developing launchers and maintained its industrial capability in this area. Dr David Tsiklauri from the University of Salford argued that "The absence of space vehicle launching capability and necessary technology in UK's space programme significantly reduced our country's competitiveness in the global market."[647] There is also an argument that access to space is going to become increasingly important and the UK will be dependent upon other nations as usage in this area expands. Andrew Weston from the University of Warwick predicted that "Re-establishing a national launch capacity in some form is […] likely to provide economic gain and to provide a legacy of capabilities in an area that is only set to increase in usage in the future."[648]

339. It seems unlikely that the Government will change its position on launchers. The consultation on the forthcoming space strategy states that the "UK believes there is an adequate market capable of ensuring access to space for the UK and hence support for launchers is minimal."[649] Views have not been specifically sought on this statement in the consultation and Dr David Williams, Director General of BNSC, told us that "It is difficult at this stage to say that there will be a dramatic change and that we will go back into launches".[650] The then Minister Malcolm Wicks MP said that "If the situation changed then there may be a public policy case, there might be a commercial market, for developing launcher facilities but we do not see that as priority at the moment."[651]

340. The Government's current position relies upon a healthy market for launchers and we explored this idea further in oral evidence. Dr David Williams told us that:

    I think the market for launches has opened up enormously since the UK decided not to go major into launches […] we now have the Russian market opening up, the Chinese launchers, the Japanese, Indian launchers and the American launchers as well as the European, so the launcher market has a large market available. At the present time, I would say we can buy off the market rather than go back into development.[652]

Professor Mason agreed, saying that "In the very near future we will find a very healthy market for our needs".[653] The then Minister also supported these views, saying that "we have found no problems in Britain in actually launching satellites into space; either through the Americans or the Europeans or using Russian launchers; there seems to be quite a healthy market, as I understand it, in launchers."[654] Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA, however, advised caution, saying that "I am not too sure that we can find a launcher anywhere any time on the market."[655] He said that US, Japanese and Chinese launchers were not currently on the market and that US export controls could cause problems because many satellites and launchers relied on US components. Dr Williams acknowledged that "there is a short-term problem […] a certain sea launcher has failed, as a result future orders have switched to other launchers and, as a result, the launcher market is sold out […] the market is currently saturated."[656]

341. The MoD indicated that it is willing to explore the idea of an indigenous UK launch capability, and this highlights the difference between civil and military drivers for investment in space. The MoD appears concerned that the UK should have guaranteed access to a launcher, particularly if it is likely to be reliant upon small satellites in the future. It "would welcome the opportunity to contribute to debates on the need for an indigenous UK space launch capability".[657] Air Vice-Marshal Chris Moran, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, explained that "we do not have a firm plan to be involved in a launcher but we would very much like to explore a dialogue with industry, and others, to see how we could develop a low-cost launcher system… We do see the benefits of a potential, low-cost launcher to help support a low-cost small satellite."[658] Dr Stuart Eves, an industry expert, believed that it is necessary for the UK to consider the issue of access to space because "if the UK is to participate effectively in the "Responsive Space" future which the US envisages, an indigenous launch capability would make a huge difference."[659]

342. We share the BNSC's belief that in the development of launchers the "market" will provide. But there should be no "in principle" block on funding the development of launchers in the future. We recommend that the MoD and DIUS discuss whether a seed-corn funding exercise or prize might be developed in the future to provide an incentive for the development of a low cost small satellite launcher.



515   Q 571 Back

516   Q 179 Back

517   BNSC, UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond, p 20.  Back

518   Science and Technology Committee, Twelfth Report of Session 2003--04, Government support for Beagle 2, HC 711, p 59-62 Back

519   "UK joins next stage of European preparatory space exploration programme- Aurora", PPARC Press Release,30 September 2004 Back

520   "The UK supports major advances in space", DTI Press Release, 6 December 2005  Back

521   Q 652 Back

522   'Transparency: the promise of a man who tried for absolute zero', Research Fortnight, 12 October 2005 Back

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

524   As above, p 3  Back

525   "President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration", White House Press Release, 14 January 2004, www.whitehouse.gov  Back

526   "NASA unveils Global Exploration Strategy and Lunar Architecture", NASA Press Relesase, 4 December 2006 Back

527   NASA & BNSC, Joint Statement of Intent, www.bnsc.gov.uk  Back

528   Ev 404  Back

529   Ev 406 Back

530   As above. Back

531   As above. Back

532   Ev 272 Back

533   ASI (Italy), BNSC (UK), CNES (France), CNSA (People's Republic of China), CSA (Canada), CSIRO (Australia), DLR (Germany), ESA (European Space Agency), ISRO (India), JAXA (Japan), KARI (Republic of Korea), NASA (United States), NSAU (Ukraine), Roscosmos (Russia).  Back

534   The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Coordination, May 2007  Back

535   Ev 358 Back

536   Q 602 Back

537   Ev 373; Q 119 Back

538   Q 649 Back

539   Ev 373; Qq 654-655 Back

540   EC, European Space Policy, SEC(2007)504, p 14  Back

541   BNSC, A Consultation on the UK Civil Space Strategy 2007-2010, p 13  Back

542   Q 567  Back

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

544   Q 649  Back

545   Ev 257 Back

546   Ev 127 Back

547   Ev 242  Back

548   Q 649  Back

549   Ev 198 Back

550   Q 250  Back

551   Q 253 Back

552   Ev 150 Back

553   Ev 225  Back

554   National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, February 2006, overview Back

555   National Academy of Sciences, Rising above the Gathering Storm, February 2006, pp 3-24 Back

556   Ev 137 Back

557   Qi3 & BNSC, Abotts Knowledge Transfer from Space Exploration: Prospects and Challenges for the UK, April 2005, p 38  Back

558   House of Representatives Committee on Science, Hearing on 'Perspectives on the President's Vision for Space Exploration, 10 March 2004, p 219 Back

559   Qq 54, 56-57 Back

560   Q 54 Back

561   Royal Astronomical Society, Report of the Commission on the Scientific Case for Human Space Exploration, October 2005, p 17  Back

562   As above, p 23 Back

563   Ev 137 Back

564   Q 183 Back

565   Q 437 Back

566   Ev 150 Back

567   As above. Back

568   Q 442 Back

569   Q 251  Back

570   Q 436 Back

571   Ev 242 Back

572   "Human Space Exploration", Royal Astronomical Society, 9 February 2007, ras.org.uk Back

573   Q 184 Back

574   Ev 248  Back

575   Ev 358 Back

576   Q 567  Back

577   Ev 236 Back

578   Q 151 Back

579   Q 120 Back

580   Q 183 Back

581   Q 649  Back

582   HC [ 2005-06] 808-i, 18 January 2006, Q 14 Back

583   Memoranda 3,11,13,17,19,23,24,26,27,28,37,40,47,51,54,55,59,60,61,64,72,and 74. Back

584   Ev 165 Back

585   Q 463 Back

586   Ev 183 Back

587   Ev 139 Back

588   Ev 210, 253 Back

589   Ev 192 Back

590   As above. Back

591   Ev 180 Back

592   Ev 180-181 Back

593   Ev 235 Back

594   Q 463 Back

595   Q 479 Back

596   Ev 192 Back

597   As above. Back

598   As above. Back

599   Q 463  Back

600   Ev 192 Back

601   Q 472 Back

602   BNSC, Review of UK Life and Physical Science Research using Space Facilities: An information report to the Microgravity Review Panel, October 2002, p 13 Back

603   Ev 234  Back

604   Ev 258, 253 Back

605   Ev 180 Back

606   Q 479 Back

607   Q 484  Back

608   Q 478 Back

609   Ev 395 Back

610   Ev 146  Back

611   Ev 183 Back

612   Q 499 Back

613   Q 502  Back

614   Ev 307  Back

615   Q 505; Ev 387  Back

616   Ev 148 Back

617   Ev 128 Back

618   Ev 152 Back

619   Ev 267  Back

620   Ev 307  Back

621   "Virgin moves its empire into space", The Guardian, 28 September 2004 Back

622   "Joy ride", The Guardian, 11 November 2006 Back

623   Q 497 Back

624   Q 502 Back

625   Ev 391  Back

626   Q 503 Back

627   Q 520 Back

628   Q 662 Back

629   Qq 508, 518 Back

630   Ev 307 Back

631   As above.  Back

632   Q 516  Back

633   Ev 398  Back

634   Q 516  Back

635   Q 519 Back

636   Q 518  Back

637   Ev 401  Back

638   Ev 402  Back

639   Ev 309 Back

640   Ev 115 Back

641   Q 662 Back

642   Q 663  Back

643   Trade and Industry Committee, Tenth Report of Session 1999-2000, UK Space Policy, HC 335, para 67 Back

644   Trade and Industry Committee, Twelfth Special Report of Session 1999-2000, Government observations on the tenth Report from the trade & Industry Committee (Session 1999-2000) on UK Space Policy, HC 908, para q Back

645   Ev 121 Back

646   Q 568 Back

647   Ev 299  Back

648   Ev 274  Back

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

650   Q 118 Back

651   Q 660 Back

652   Q 121 Back

653   Q 185 Back

654   Q 656 Back

655   Q 569 Back

656   Q 657 Back

657   Ev 295 Back

658   Qq 187, 191 Back

659   Ev 297  Back


 
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