Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 93

Submission from ESA (European Space Agency)


Q 1.  To what extent does the internal organisation of space activities within a Member State affect the way in which ESA works with that Member State? Has ESA had any difficulty in working with the UK, given the "partnership" nature of the BNSC? Which BNSC partners does ESA work with most closely?  Answer:

  The internal organisation of space activities in UK is of a particular nature. It is clear that the elaboration of a position for an ESA delegate body requires coordination among relevant "partners" in BNSC.

  From the Agency's point of view, the process seems to work properly in preparation of the ESA Council, even if it can appear heavy on the UK side.

  At the Science Programme Committee, the UK contributions to discussions and decisions are always informed and well-presented. During discussions on difficult issues, UK delegates frequently take a steering role and in many instances a decisive role; some examples are: the decision that ESA should not get involved in Spectrum X-Gamma in 2002, the contribution of the delegation to the reconstruction of the programme in 2003, the setting up of the Herschel/Planck review in 2004, the approval of MIRI for JWST in 2005, and the approval of GAIA in 2006. Equally, on occasion, such as in 1995, the UK delegation working in SPC, Council and, ultimately, at the Council at ministerial level have reduced European capability. The UK played a pivotal role in reducing the programme budget. The imposition of cash-limits for six years following the Council at ministerial level in Toulouse (1996) resulted directly in an almost 25% smaller programme today than a decade ago.

  However, at the Council at ministerial level 2005 in Berlin, UK minister Lord Sainsbury was instrumental in achieving the increase of 2.5% annually for the Scientific Programme, in particular considering that other big contributors were very reluctant to grant such an increase.

  In the interaction with the ESA Earth Observation directorate, the unique structure of the BNSC partnership is seen to bring a number of advantages:

  BNSC is able to represent UK interests with a single voice and coherent positions. At the same time it works as an effective and useful communication channel to some of its partners who play an important role in the European EO landscape, namely:

    —  Met Office and DEFRA, as user organizations providing requirements and exploiting the results of EO missions;

    —  NERC as a driver in defining Earth Science programmes and assessing their return;

    —  RAL for the development of key technologies and innovative instruments.

  But the structure of BNSC is in one sense "ahead of its time": it puts user departments in the lead which is positive and encourages the user voice on issues such as GMES by making them responsible for the lead in this area. But when they are not yet mature users, this may become a drawback: they may be uncertain and rather frightened about the potential consequences. The Agency has seen a number of such cases, last but not least important the UK position on GMES at the 2005 Council at ministerial level in Berlin.

  For mature users of space, such as PPARC, NERC and Met Office this system works very well, but for developing users such as DEFRA it seems too intense and rapid a transition for them.

  DEFRA, for example, has many responsibilities and its role in space is internally a very minor one. It would need to be given the confidence to act with the authority with which it has been invested, and the resources to go with it.

  The ESA Telecommunications programme ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications) is widely recognised as an effective tool for the support and benefit of the UK and its industry with research and development projects being undertaken in "partnership" with co-funding UK industry. Since 1998, ESA ARTES co-funded contracts with industry have been placed for a value of almost 200 Meuros (ESA price) of which contracts placed with Astrium UK, the main UK industrial partner for ESA Telecommunications, amount to around 113 Meuro (ESA price).

  UK investments in ESA Telecommunications allow the UK industry to maintain technical centres of excellence in the UK for payload systems, equipments manufacture and testing facilities aimed in particular at new services and technologies such as global broadband systems.

  The ARTES programme is credited with generating high economic returns for the UK industry in the last five years, in particular for Inmarsat-4 which has included space segment, ground segment and the complete value chain including operations and services. ARTES has also included innovative contracts, eg supporting Eurostar 3000, Ion Propulsion thrusters and the Highly Adaptable Satellite—Hylas—(Avanti/Astrium) for interactive broadband services, ia.

  For the near future, in addition to an extension of the usual ARTES-3 and ARTES-4 co-funded "partnership" programmes, the new ARTES Alphasat Programme planned to start in mid 2007 offers an opportunity for the UK operator Inmarsat and its industrial partners for flight and operations of Alphasat. UK participation and investment will enable an extension of the Inmarsat fleet and its communications service capabilities.

Q 2.  How much has the UK invested in mandatory and optional programmes within ESA over the past ten years? How does this investment compare to the contributions made by other Member States?  Answer:

  Today, the weight of the UK in mandatory programmes is commensurate to the relative weight of its GDP, ie 16%, which makes UK the second contributor to mandatory activities, below Germany but above France and Italy.

  The weight of the UK in optional programmes is around 5% of total ESA optional programmes.

  On average, UK participation to the total of ESA programmes is 8%, which is close to Spain and Belgium, and much below France, Germany and Italy. This is a big anomaly among ESA Member States, which usually contribute at equal or higher percentage level to optional programmes compared to mandatory.

  The question can be raised whether such an important Member State as the United Kingdom, with such high standing in the domains of space research and development, should not further enhance its funding support in comparison to the other main shareholders. Below is a table comparing, in absolute numbers, the overall investment of the UK in ESA with France, Germany and Italy, the three biggest contributors to ESA, which have comparable population and GDP with the UK (figures in EURO).



Q 3.  What action has ESA undertaken in order to establish a European Space Education Resource Office in the UK?


  The first meeting between ESA and "Yorkshire Forward" (YF), a Regional Development Agency (RDA), took place in June 2005.

  Following that meeting, ESA formally notified the BNSC Director General of the on-going contacts with YF. ESA and BNSC invited YF to consider their plans as inclusive of all the key players in the United Kingdom who were involved in space related education aiming at bringing cohesion to a diverse array of space education initiatives and creating a network for space education.

  Late September 2005, YF submitted to ESA an unsolicited proposal to manage and finance, the ESERO pilot phase in the UK.

  An ESA-YF bi-lateral meeting was held in Bradford on 9 November 2005 to explore the opportunity. A debriefing meeting between ESA and BNSC was held in London on 10 November.

  In October 2005, the BNSC Partnership commissioned a report "Bringing space into school science" by Prof Martin Barstow of Leicester University. One major recommendation was the creation of a single advisory body/Office to coordinate space education across the UK. On 16 February 2006, BNSC Partnership and YF convened, at the National Space Centre in Leicester, a meeting to discuss the Barstow report and the ESERO project.

  ESA, in agreement with BNSC, invited, in March 2006, YF to submit a proposal, based on non-exchange of funds, for the management of the ESERO pilot phase in the UK, in accordance with the terms and conditions outlined in a Statement of Work.

  A proposal was submitted late April 2006 and has been reviewed by BNSC and ESA. Consequently, late June 2006, ESA has invited YF to administer a research and consultative/study phase (6 months) to establish the pattern of distributed "ESERO contact points" in the United Kingdom.

  The start of the subsequent consolidation (six months) and operational (12 months) phases would then be decided, upon satisfactory outcome of the consultative/study phase. Moreover, in view of a possible continuation of the UK-ESERO project beyond its pilot phase, ESA and BNSC wished to be presented, as part of the strategy plan, with a comprehensive financial forecast for the operation of the project.

Present status and the way forward:

  The delivery of the outcome of the consultative/study phase is expected late March 2007. It will be mainly based on a wide stakeholder consultation that was initiated in November 2006.

  In order to accompany first the consultation phase and later the subsequent phases, two bodies were installed:

    —  "Contract Management Group". It is composed of ESA, BNSC Partnership and YF senior representatives. Its main task is to ensure the proper implementation, governance and quality of process. The Group met in November 2006.

    —  "Interim Advisory Group". Its mandate is to advise YF on the consultation among stakeholders on the most appropriate UK space education/ESERO infrastructure; to recommend to YF, in the light of the consultation findings, the priorities for the development of the UK space education/ESERO infrastructure; to advise on a marketing & communications strategy and finally to inform the BNSC Partnership, ESA and YF on the development of a UK strategy for space education. (Please see annex 1. for present members.)

  Annex 1: members of the Interim Advisory Group, background information on ESERO.

Q 4.  What discussions has ESA had regarding establishing a major facility in the UK? Is the establishment of a major facility in the UK likely in the near future?   Answer:

  At the occasion of his meeting with the ESA Director General on 31 October 2006, the UK minister Lord Sainsbury proposed a reflection on a future ESA engagement in specific UK centres to strengthen both ESA's visibility in the UK and UK's engagement in ESA. Following this action, a meeting has taken place on the occasion of the visit of an ESA Delegation to RAL.

  The initiative has been warmly welcomed by ESA DG, who mentioned that UK is currently not holding a place among the ESA Member States which is appropriate to its political influence as well as its capacity and capabilities (see question 2). After having had first reflections with ESA Directors he mentioned the following points for a common understanding:

  1.  A long term investment of ESA in the UK should correspond to a long term investment of the UK in ESA, above its current commitments.

  2.  The criteria for selecting such investments should therefore be the following:

    —  Serving the UK interests, ie being consistent with UK Space Policy and plan.

    —  Serving the ESA common interests, ie being consistent with the ESA Long Term Plan.

    —  Making best use of and creating synergies with technical expertise existing and demonstrated by the selected UK campus.

    —  As far as possible, corresponding to types of expertise and activities not yet existing in ESA centres, in order to avoid either duplication or transfer.

  3.  According to the preliminary discussion inside ESA the topics/field of activities could be the following:

    —  Science (UK second largest contributor to ESA).

    —  New applications (integrated applications) and technology development.

    —  Exploration.

  Since there is an urgent need of a convergence between UK's and ESA's interests a joint UK-ESA Working Group has been set up in February 2007 to elaborate in short time the details for a proposal.

  The UK representatives agreed on all points above and included in the set of selection criteria that the benefits for UK should be demonstrated and benchmarked against investments in other fields of research, innovation should be a driving force and therefore technology transfer potential should be an important criterion also. The form of integration of ESA investments into a campus could remain open and be explored for the best fit (collocation etc) after identification of suitable activities.

  The UK-ESA joint Working Group will investigate the potential activities for an ESA engagement in UK, associated to a long term commitment of UK in the relevant ESA programmes along the agreed set of criteria. The WG will be composed of two to three senior participants from UK and senior participants from ESA Directorates. A mid term report is expected by mid of April (presentation probably on 24 April 2007 in London) and the final report will be delivered by 31 May 2007.

Q 5.  To what extent does ESA coordinate its technology transfer programme with national technology transfer initiatives?   Answer:

  ESA's Technology Transfer Programme is managed by the Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO). The main mission of the TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to further demonstrate the benefit of the European Space Programme to the European citizens.

  The ESA TTPO works through a network of technology brokers in the major Member States. In the UK, JRA is ESA's broker. JRA:

    —  Facilitates the promotion and transfer of UK and European space based technologies into European (non-space) markets.

    —  Identifies UK non-space technology needs that the European space industry might be able to satisfy.

  Synergy with other UK Technology Transfer Initiatives is sought: through JRA the TTPO integrates with wider national UK initiatives such as the Innovation Relay Centres, business incubators and entrepreneurial events such as Venturefest.

  ESA TTPO also supports (though not financially) the UK's Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) through the Kite Club (run by Qi3) which focuses on transfers from and within the UK space sector on behalf of PPARC and BNSC.

  In the future, cooperation between JRA and Qi3 will ensure that ESA, BNSC and PPARC requirements on technology identification and marketing and opportunities for knowledge and technology transfer in the space sector, as well as the promotion of UK space technologies to the non-space sector both inside and outside the UK, are integrated to achieve maximum cooperation and find synergies to avoid duplication of money and effort.

  Based on the success of nationally orientated projects in the UK (such as Symmetrica, ThruVision, Anson Medical etc), ESA TTPO aims to promote further synergy and opportunities through its National Technology Transfer Initiative (lines of business).

  Such collaboration will lead to new feasibility studies and development projects, as well as new businesses, spinouts and licensing of technologies.

  In light of the cooperation, JRA and Qi3 with the support of ESA will organise a TTP UK event on 28 March. For the future, integration of new UK based incubation centres related to space into the ESINET (network of incubation centres with a space focus) is sought. ESINET will be managed by EBN (European Business Network).

  Establishing an ESA presence in the UK (see question 4) would further improve synergy between ESA and national technology transfer.

Q 6.  Which ESA programmes are covered by the principle of juste retour? How is the under-return of juste retour to the UK being addressed? We would be grateful if you could provide us with statistical information detailing the level of UK investments in ESA programmes and the corresponding value of contracts awarded to UK industry during the period 1996-2006.  Answer:

  All ESA programmes are covered by the principle of fair distribution of contracts among ESA Member States. A principle of hierarchy of return rules has been adopted by Council in June 2005, according to which the overall return is prevailing over the individual rules established at programme level. The minimum overall return has been fixed at 0.94 at the end of next five-year period, while the minimum per programme is 0.84. This approach increases the flexibility, allowing a maximum display of competition. As a matter of fact, the fair distribution of contracts is only one of the four objectives of the ESA Industrial Policy; these are: 1. Cost efficiency. 2. Competitiveness. 3. Fair distribution of contracts. 4. Competitive bidding.

  The principle of fair distribution is not applicable to programmes implemented by ESA for third parties, or for the share of programmes where non-ESA contributions are injected.

  The evolution of cumulated contributions of the United Kingdom, expressed as percentages of the total contributions to ESA, is shown in annex 2: it is broken down per mandatory programmes (to which all Member States are bound to contribute: eg Scientific Programme), per optional programmes, and as a whole. These contributions are relevant only to the activities producing industrial commitments.

  The same Annex provides a comparison of the achieved return coefficient (ratio between the amount of contracts multiplied by a technological weighting factor, and the ideal value corresponding to the contribution).

  The annex 3 provides cartography of the commitments to UK industry in the period 1996-2006.

  At end-2006, the return situation for the UK shows a return coefficient of 0.91 (should be 1 in case of a balance), with a deficit (weighted commitments less ideal amounts) in the order of -78 M€. However, it should be noted that the deficit is since end 2006 decreasing and reducing to a level of -20 M€. These figures stem mainly from the situations in the Scientific Programme (mandatory activity) and the Earth Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP, optional programme).

  The above under-return, which has some structural reasons linked to the industrial situation in the UK (number and type of companies, see breakdown presentations in annex 3), has been treated with the highest priority by:

    —  Setting proper return requirements in scientific missions like Gaia and BepiColombo, resulting in the obligation for the Prime to award some 25-26% of contracts to UK industry, subject to competitive proposals. Achieving the targets for Gaia and BepiColombo are today well in sight;

    —  Maximising UK shares in SWARM mission (part of EOEP);

    —  Setting proper return requirements in EarthCare mission (also part of EOEP). With these measures UK will be back in the geo-return band foreseen in EO. It is inherent to an envelope programme that there are undulations of the return with different missions in the same programme. It is worth mentioning that UK was in the last geo-return period heavily over-returned in EO;

    —  Adapting the procurement approach of newly subscribed programmes, like Exploration, so that UK contributions match UK industrial capacities and hence geographical return.

  The Agency is confident that the minimum guaranteed return will be reached at the end of the reference period.

Q 7.  What is the future of SMEs in the space industry? Is this an area of development that ESA would support?  Answer:

  "Space industry" can mean different things depending on whether one considers the traditionally visible "upstream sector" or if one includes also downstream activities. These two categories have different entry barriers for SMEs.

  In addition, companies not dedicated to space work are numerous, which makes it difficult to define the boundaries of the "space industry". According to the boundary conditions chosen, the answer for the future of SMEs in space industry may vary.

  The traditional strength of SMEs, such as innovation, reactivity and cost effectiveness are attractive for the space domain. In addition, space business is cyclical and SMEs are used by the space industry to locally absorb variations in space work. The importance of innovation coming from SMEs is illustrated by the fact that in average 20% of the ESA R&D contracts are awarded to SMEs, the majority of these contracts being allocated on a pure competitive basis.

  Considering that innovation in space is a major stake for the sustainability of European space activities, and that space has to take maximum benefit of the breakthroughs performed in other industrial domains, ESA promotes spin-in of SME technologies/products applicable to its space programmes.

  Considering the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit that SMEs traditionally demonstrate, ESA encourages the development of downstream application services through special calls.

  Cost efficiency and flexibility of SMEs and their innovative way of doing things could be exploited in certain specific domains, like in-orbit demonstration.

  Today ESA supports SMEs access to technology contracts through four complementary mechanisms:

    —  Innovation Triangle Initiative: a call for ideas open the whole year, based on the concept that a close collaboration between three different entities—the inventor, the developer and the customer—is an important factor for the rapid and successful introduction of technology innovations in industry.

    —  LET-SME (Leading Edge Technology of SMEs): an annual AO inviting SMEs to propose technologies to fulfil a selection of the Agencies needs.

    —  The Start-up Initiative of Telecommunication programmes: open AO using the traditional funding mechanisms of the telecommunication ARTES programmes, to encourage SMEs contributions in the multimedia (ARTES-3) or near to market developments (ARTES-4) domains, or in the technology domain (ARTES-5).

    —  Procurement procedures applied to technology contracts, restricting the competition to SMEs.

  In addition, the Agency boosts SME skills and expertise through the following actions:

    —  Access to its laboratories and test facilities has been promoted and a special favourable charging policy is put in place.

    —  Provision of training in different space engineering and management disciplines are offered.

    —  Access to ESA experts for hands-on support for short periods is granted.

    —  A new project with the European Commission is on-going in order to scale up this type of support.

  The Agency takes action to support the commercial exploitation of technology originally developed by SMEs for space, or to support SMEs in networking and finding new customers through the organisation of events (eg Industry Space Days), to maximize the impact of space investments, or to support the sustainability of these players favouring their presence in different industrial domains.

  In view of the benefit for its programmes, the Agency will continue to exploit the potential of SMEs, through support actions comparable to the ones today in place, and with the objective of improved efficiency, coherence and better visibility from the SME world.

  Annex 4: SMEs within ESA programmes—ESA strategic objectives and way forward.

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