Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 2

Submission from the British National Space Centre (BNSC)


  1.1  Space systems are now an integral aspect of many areas of daily life, such as news broadcasts, communications, financial transactions, navigation, disaster monitoring, environmental monitoring, climate understanding and science exploration. Many of these activities are now commercial ones, and the space industry can no longer be defined simply in terms of the hardware of launchers and spacecraft. There are significant commercial opportunities in the downstream activities of the space industry and this needs to be recognised in the future activities of the UK space programme. The UK, a pioneering space nation, has a world-class reputation and a highly selective approach in choosing to invest in activities that have a clear contribution to economic, scientific and societal needs. But international competition is very strong and UK at both Government and industry level, need to be proactive if we are to remain a significant player in a sector which is growing in size and importance.

  1.2 The current UK Civil Space Strategy[10] has three high level objectives, pursuing economic, scientific and technological priorities:

    —  enhancing the UK's standing in astronomy, planetary and environmental sciences;

    —  stimulating increased productivity by promoting the use of space in government, science and commerce; and

    —  developing innovative space systems to deliver sustainable improvement in quality of life.

  1.3  In the past the UK has reaped many benefits from its investments in space and space systems have made significant contributions in economic, scientific and environmental terms:

    —  in economic terms space based applications play a vital role in a number of key sectors, telecommunications, broadcasting, IT, broadband and navigation, and the UK has a significant share of the global commercial market, with Astrium, Paradigm, Inmarsat and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd being leading companies in their fields;

    —  in science, space exploration has enabled us to build knowledge of the solar system and better to understand our own planet. UK scientists and engineers are at the leading edge of developing scientific knowledge of space and Earth;

    —  in terms of societal need, space is important in climate change and environment understanding, weather forecasting, and, through Galileo, navigation. Space systems are also important in the military world, and whilst this is not part of the civil programme there is much common underlying technology.

  1.4  Many countries, including developing countries, are investing heavily in space activities as a way of "fast tracking" development. This role of space in employing highly qualified staff and driving high technology gives space a strategic position and as a result there remains a significant role for public funding in the development of the sector.

  1.5  The British National Space Centre (BNSC) coordinates activities across a partnership of Government Departments and Research Councils and also acts as the UK point of contact internationally, including with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission. This memorandum sets out an overview of UK space activities and the membership and structure of BNSC.

  1.6  Detailed statements on the interests and activities of BNSC partners in the use of space are set out in the separate memoranda of those bodies.


Economic Benefits

  2.1  The global space industry is growing fast and has revenues of $114 billion. This is forecast to rise to $150 billion in 2010.[11] To understand the industry it is necessary to divide it into two parts, "upstream" activities, which consist of the manufacture and development of space assets such as satellites, and "downstream" activities, which consist mainly of satellite service providers for broadcast, communication and navigation purposes. In the UK space related turnover in 2004-05 was approximately £4.8 billion, made up of upstream activities of £700 million and downstream activities of £4.1 billion. The average growth in space related turnover in UK industry over the 5 year period 1999-2000 to 2004-05 was 10.2% overall, 8.6% in upstream activities and 10.5% in downstream activities.[12] Space employs some 16,200 people in the UK of whom 57% are graduates,[13] and with an average productivity of over £100k per employee, well above the national average of £36k per employee.[14] Overall the UK space sector contributes around £6.8 billion and 70,000 jobs to the UK, taking direct, indirect, induced and spillover benefits. These figures do not include the added spillover benefits, which potentially run into billions, for example due to weather forecasting, broadcasting and communications.[15]

  2.2  Forecast average annual growth in world-wide space revenues up to 2010 are overall 7.6%, (upstream 3.7% and downstream 11.2%). An estimate of the UK share of the world-wide space market by value (2005), based on these sources, is 7.3% overall, (upstream 2.3% and downstream 11.8%).[16] The growing economic importance of space and UK's role in it are examined further in the separate DTI response.

  2.3  The UK space industry is one of the most R&D intensive sectors in the UK and in 2004-05 invested 12% of its GDP contribution in R&D, making the space industry six times more R&D intensive than the UK economy as a whole.[17] Thus both in terms of its direct benefits and in its significant potential to enhance the "health" of UK's wider economy, space is a key part of UK's "portfolio" of high technology industries for employment.

  2.4  Much of the economic activity is currently in broadcasting and telecommunications and reflects past investments, with a significant downstream service industry based on the use of satellites systems. Future developments in this area will look at broadband links, digital communications and broadcasting. In addition benefits from space technology can transfer to other sectors, such as the technology for monitoring planetary environments being "spun out" as novel scanning equipment for health and security purposes.

  2.5  Today space is an important and growing aspect of commercial life, especially in downstream services. However, there remains an element of inherent risk and expense, particularly in the early development phase where risk reduction is important. In parallel, many countries are recognising the value of space in developing a national high technology capability and are funding significant space developments. Recognising these dynamics, in order to retain its leading position, the UK needs to determine the appropriate level and type of support for new initiatives within DTI.

Public Benefits

  2.6  Earth observation satellite systems are essential to understand the Earth's climate, environment and its complex systems. In the BNSC partnership, Defra lead on these issues, while the role of satellites is recognised and is beginning to be exploited in a routine way in areas such as monitoring land usage, agricultural regulation, disaster management and civil security.

  2.7  In addition, Earth observation data from meteorological satellites is essential to weather forecasting, which itself has a crucial social and economic impact for modern society. UK's Meteorological Office is a world leader and is a major contributor to EUMETSAT, the European agency responsible for operating a number of meteorological satellites.

  2.8  The Galileo satellite navigation project jointly funded by the European Union and ESA is an initiative which could bring real benefits to UK transport planning systems as well as a variety of new commercial applications. BNSC partner the Department for Transport leads on policy towards Galileo.

Benefits in Scientific Activities

  2.9  Space-based astronomy (space science) and space exploration are providing valuable insights into our neighbouring planets, the solar system and beyond. Knowledge of how the solar system works enhances the understanding of our own Earth's systems and life on it. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) takes the lead on space science and exploration and the role of space systems is recognised as critical in their overall set of objectives and activities.

  2.10  Satellites are also vital tools across a broad range of environmental sciences, from modelling the atmosphere and sea surfaces to biodiversity. Within the BNSC Partnership, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) leads on Earth science research activities.

  2.11  UK scientists and engineers have built a world-class reputation in both the above branches of space-related science as well as the related technology areas such as robotics, instrumentation and software.

Education and Skills

  2.12  Space activities contribute to the promotion of science and technology among young people. Space has a particular ability to provide exciting contexts in which teachers can demonstrate many scientific concepts and ideas in a compelling way. The UK has a diverse range of excellent organisations exploiting the capability of space for the teaching of science, and organisations that offer lesson plans using space as the context for illustrating many scientific and mathematical concepts. BNSC works with the National Space Centre in Leicester in its outreach work.

Underpinning National Technology Activities

  2.13  Space technology is advancing rapidly and facing competitive pressures. The UK space industry and science community have significant expertise but there is a need to continue to invest in key technological capabilities if the UK is to maintain its leading position in those areas. This issue is widely recognised and many countries are investing heavily in technologies as a way of driving forward their industry and overall technological capabilities. With the extensive science and societal use of space there is a role for BNSC, particularly in the initial risk reduction and "proof of concept" study stages.

  2.14  Many BNSC partners currently have some national technology activity, and there is a significant focus of activity at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). In the science field there are also significant centres of activity for preparing future missions and exploiting existing ones. These activities are not formally integrated between partners, yet much of the technology is transferable across all space, including military use. Recognising this, BNSC is actively taking steps to bring greater cohesion to existing activity through a Joint Space Technology Programme (JSTP). To enhance this, the CCLRC is making a bid for additional resources on behalf of the partnership to establish the necessary critical mass.

Dual Use

  2.15  BNSC deals exclusively with civil space programmes. However, satellite technology is largely applicable to "dual use", that is, able to be used in civil and military applications. The MOD is a BNSC partner to ensure that it is well-placed to understand and exploit and advise on the benefits of the BNSC activities in accordance with its vision to "have sufficient assured access to space-based capability to maximise and sustain military effectiveness across Defence".

  2.16  There are discussions in EU and ESA fora on the role of space in dual use. BNSC ensures that the relevant UK partners are informed of these discussions. The basic UK position supports the exploitation through European harmonisation of space application for civil security and counter terrorism purposes. However, neither ESA nor the EU has a mandate to fund and develop space systems to meet military requirements and the UK insists that this boundary is observed.


  3.1  Space activities, because of their inherent cost, risk and the required range of technological capabilities, are characterised by international collaboration. For the UK, the traditional focus for space activities is through collaboration in Europe, with the European Space Agency (ESA) being the main mechanism for such collaboration. In addition, via the Meteorological Office, the UK is a major contributor to EUMETSAT, the European agency responsible for operating a number of meteorological satellites. The EU is also a growing influence in space. Notwithstanding the above, there are also opportunities for bilateral activities, both inside and outside Europe, and these are undertaken on a case by case basis.

European Space Agency

  3.2  ESA has an excellent reputation through the world-class scientific missions that it has delivered and the majority of UK space spending is undertaken through ESA. With its mix of mainly optional programmes and core mandatory activities the European Space Agency (ESA) provides a good "fit" for the UK to choose and collaborate on specific projects on an equitable basis. Thus a key priority for UK in terms of ESA is to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, user-driven and continuously striving to provide value for money.

  3.3  The ESA mandatory programme covers the general administration, basic technology, and most importantly, the space science programmes. The UK is the second highest contributor to this mandatory programme which is based on Net National Income (NNI).

  3.4  In contrast the ESA optional programmes are funded by countries on a selective basis, and whilst the optimum is for all countries to subscribe at NNI, it is possible to be a participant in a specific programme at one quarter NNI, and to go significantly above NNI. The UK has been very selective in subscribing to ESA optional programmes, focusing on Earth Observation, telecoms and navigation. The UK has no involvement in the International Space Station, and only a token involvement in launcher development activities. The UK has no role in manned space flight. Aurora at this stage is not a manned space programme.

  3.5 ESA arrangements are such that companies and organisations from each member state receive contracts of value in direct proportion to the member state's subscription (on given projects). Traditionally UK's industrial returns have exceeded the value of its subscriptions. However over the last few years, our overall returns have dropped marginally below the level of our subscriptions (ie under return). BNSC is monitoring the placement of ESA contracts and working hard to reverse this trend.

European Union

  3.6  The European Union is also becoming more involved in space activities and with ESA it is developing the European Space Policy, a framework for the future governance/management of European space activities. The UK is playing an influential role in its development seeking to ensure a user driven approach and an appropriate split of roles and responsibilities between EU and ESA. The EU also funds space-related research through its Framework Programmes.

  3.7  Galileo was an early space-related initiative for the EU because of the potential to benefit transport networks across Europe. It has been carried out as a joint EU and ESA initiative. EU funding has been provided via the Framework Programme and TENS (Trans European Networks) budgets. Galileo's first validation satellite, GIOVE-A, was built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. The Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) programme is the second and latest joint EU-ESA space-related initiative. The UK has taken a smaller share of the ESA programme in GMES because of concerns over its relevance to UK policy needs as currently defined.

  3.8  The Research Framework Programmes are the EU mechanism for funding research activities, with Framework Programme 6 (FP6) currently being in place and FP7 starting in 2007.  In FP7 space, for the first time, has a separate programme in its own right. BNSC has been closely involved in the development and definition of the associated Space thematic priority programme. In doing so, BNSC is drawing on advice from its EU Advisory Board. It is seeking to ensure that UK organisations will have maximum opportunity to access available research funds.


  3.9  In order to meet their common requirement for the provision of data to support operational meteorology and climate research, European countries established EUMETSAT[18] in 1986 to operate the European meteorological satellites. Met Office attends EUMETSAT to represent all UK interests including BNSC.

  3.10  EUMETSAT has a close working relationship with ESA for the initial development and procurement of satellites. EUMETSAT is then responsible for launching satellites and further, development of the remaining satellites in each series, ground segment and all operational activities.

Other collaboration

  3.11  BNSC also looks to cooperate where beneficial with a range of other countries to facilitate activities which it cannot carry out through ESA and to assist UK companies in accessing overseas markets. It also works with the United Nations and in space debris coordination fora. BNSC works closely with partner the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its international relations.



  4.1  The British National Space Centre (BNSC) was established in November 1985 to ensure better coordination of space interests, under the leadership of DTI. As this coordination has developed, both within the UK and in handling international relations, most notably with ESA, BNSC has grown from four[19] to eleven partners. Current members, and their space interests, are:

    —  Department of Trade and Industry

    —  Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

    —  Natural Environment Research Council

    —  Ministry of Defence

    —  Met Office

    —  Office of Science and Innovation

    —  Department for Education and Skills

    —  Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

    —  Department for Transport

    —  Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils

    —  Foreign and Commonwealth Office


  4.2  The structure and operation of the whole or parts of UK civil space policy have been reviewed a number of times both internally and externally. Beginning with the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report on UK space policy in 1988, the most recent external inquiries were:

    —  Public Accounts Committee report on UK's civil space activities in June 2005;

    —  ESA/UK Commission of Inquiry report into the loss of Beagle 2 in February 2005;

    —  Transport Committee report on Galileo in November 2004;

    —  House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into Government support for Beagle 2 in November 2004;

    —  National Audit Office report on civil space activities in March 2004; and

    —  Trade & Industry Committee's inquiry into civil space policy in 1999.

  4.3  BNSC also consults widely both in developing the UK space strategy and in reviewing its operation. These have been made available on the BNSC website This memorandum does not seek to repeat these reviews.

Role of BNSC

  4.4  The governance of BNSC was reorganised in 2005 to distinguish more sharply the management and advisory functions. The UK Space Board was put in place to provide the strategic steering role for BNSC. Its members are PPARC, NERC, DTI, Met Office and Ministry of Defence, who provide the main institutional funding for UK space activities. The Space Advisory Council reports to the Board and is composed of all BNSC partners as well as the chairs of the specialist BNSC advisory groups and representatives from industry and academia. Five Advisory Boards advise the Director General of BNSC and include representation from BNSC partners, industry and academia.

  4.5  The core staff of BNSC—ie those who carry out functions on behalf of the partnership as a whole—are made up primarily of DTI staff with some seconded from some of its constituent partners.

  4.6  The key policy roles now carried out by the BNSC core staff in headquarters are to:

    —  advise the Science Minister

    —  develop the UK Space Strategy

    —  oversee and review implementation of the Strategy

    —  liaise across government bodies

    —  foster the strengths of the UK space community

    —  develop industrial policy and liaise with industry

    —  lead at the European Space Agency Council and its Boards, and with the space interests of the European Commission

    —  provide international representation and develop cooperation

    —  promote awareness of space through education and publicity.

  4.7  BNSC is not an executive agency and its leadership role is in defining an overall strategy, international and cross government representation, and common issues with specific programmes funded by the relevant partner. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged as being effective in encouraging UK organisations to use space as a tool where appropriate and in meeting national objectives for the use of space. In reviewing the BNSC, the National Audit Office commented:

    "Our analysis shows 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".[20]

  4.8  BNSC is currently in the process of updating the UK Civil Space Strategy and will consider the recommendations of the Committee prior to publication in mid-2007.


  4.9  Policy direction is determined by Ministers and/or the governing bodies of partners in the light of their own priorities and the resulting expenditure comes from the budgets of the individual BNSC partners. These priorities are discussed in the separate memoranda of the partners. Thus there is no single national space budget. Each partner considers the merits of using space against other means of achieving its policies, or assesses the relative merits of space-related and other proposals for research funding. Where space is shown to provide the most effective means of achieving their wider objectives the relevant partner(s) will consider funding the space activity. BNSC provides the forum for pooling such requirements and sharing the costs where possible. This ensures budgets are spent on the most effective means or on the highest quality research. Space is by its nature an activity that requires long-term commitment and BNSC aims to provide continuity of approach.

  4.10  The UK has made some significant and hard choices on space. Specifically, we have stood aside from funding for human space flight, the International Space Station (ISS), and new launcher development. On human space flight and ISS the rationale was that the cost did not justify the return, while on launchers, the view is that alternative commercial options exist.

  4.11  The total UK spend on civil space activities by BNSC Partners is around £200 million a year. Annex B provides a graph of overall space-related spending by BNSC partners over recent years. The bulk of this is spent on scientific activities and about two-thirds is invested in the programmes of the European Space Agency.

  4.12  In terms of national spending on space relative to GNI, in 2004 the UK spent some 0.02% of its GNI on public civil space expenditure. This was substantially lower than other large ESA members, with France at 0.09%, Germany at 0.042% and the ESA average at 0.048%. The US by comparison was at about 0.13% and Japan at 0.06%.[21] A key reason for this is UK's highly selective approach to space activity and a low level of support for technological developments which will underpin commercial activity.


  5.1  Space activity is increasingly providing a pivotal technology and platform for wealth creation and addressing a number of important challenges for the 21st century. As such it is a crucial sector for the UK, which is well placed to take advantage of these opportunities through its industry, science and government. However, we are facing increasing competition from our European partners and globally. UK needs to take a strategic approach, keeping abreast of developments if we are not to be overtaken in key areas. Industry and Government must play a strong role in this.

  5.2  BNSC has responsibility for overall strategy direction, co-ordination of public activity and influence on the international scene. The main areas for focus in the short to medium term are:

    (i)  In a rapidly changing global space environment, and with rapid technological change and increasing use of space-derived material for both public and private activities, BNSC needs to remain fit to serve its many stakeholders in industry and science, and to serve the economy and society more broadly. It needs to keep under review its structure and focus, and whether resources meet demands. Many space related programmes are internationally-led with timescales determined at the international level. The UK needs to develop improved systematic means of deciding levels of funding, particularly on initial programmes stages and those that involve cross Government interests.

    (ii)  The greater part of UK public space funding is invested in the programmes of the European Space Agency, while the EU is increasingly using space to meet its policy needs. BNSC needs to continue to ensure that both organisations remain genuinely focused on the real needs of the citizen, that they address effectively and efficiently new demands from society and that they cooperate together in a manner beneficial to both and also to the public that they serve.

    (iii)  The UK will need to decide how it should respond to the new US-led initiative on exploration and exploitation of space. This is not entirely an issue of science but will also address exploitation, and involve the opportunity for robotic technologies.

    (iv)  The balance of national and ESA programmes has long been weighted in favour of cooperation through ESA and this may need to be considered further.

    (v)  DTI is the anchor government department and this role needs to continue.

  5.3  BNSC also needs to develop its capacity to assess and influence new areas where space may benefit the economy and society. Such horizon scanning might relate in particular to new commercial opportunities deriving from technological development and the emergence of new space-faring nations; new areas of policy that might be addressed by space, such as health; and the potential impact of scientific developments arising from space activity.

October 2006

10   UK Space Strategy 2003-06 and beyond: Space for science, enterprise and environment. Back

11   State of the Space Industry 2005, page 1. International Space Business Council. Back

12   Size and Health of the UK Space Industry: 2006 Executive summary, page 2. Bramshill Consultancy Limited. Back

13   Ibid page 6. Back

14   The Case for Space. The Impact of Space Derived Services and Data, page 13-14. June 2006. Oxford Economic Forecasting. Back

15   Ibid page 4. Back

16   State of the Space Industry 2005, page 1. International Space Business Council. Back

17   The Case for Space. The Impact of Space Derived Services and Data, page 22, June 2006. Oxford Economic Forecasting page 22. Back

18   European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites; created through an international convention and now with 18 European Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom), the UK being a member since its inception. Back

19   Department of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Defence, Science and Engineering Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, the latter two then funded by the Department of Education and Science. Back

20   NAO report on UK Civil Space Activities HC 359 Session 2003-04 page 3. Back

21   The European Space Sector in a Global Context: ESA's annual analysis 2004 pages 42 and 100. 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