Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 97

Supplementary evidence from the British National Space Centre (BNSC)


1.  Dr Williams mentioned that he would like to "get more private venture into funding space" [Q104]. What plans does the BNSC have for achieving this objective? What is the minimum level of private venture funding that the BNSC estimates is required?

  The BNSC is working with industry on three fronts. One is to get private finance to take a greater share of the costs in building satellite systems that are for public use—which is essentially to move to a service delivery model or PPP. A second is to get industrial co-funding into what we hope will become a strengthened UK national programme activity. A third is to work with industry in promoting the benefit of the UK space capability to the world at large, with a short term focus running to the IAF meeting hosted by Glasgow in October 2008. With respect to funding there is no "minimum" level because our assumption is that we will work on a project by project basis and any funding would reflect the ambition and roles in each project.

2.  Dr Williams said in oral evidence that "what I want to do is work more with what I call the departments which are not fully funding space, but where we believe they have an interest" [Q108]. Which Departments was Dr Williams referring to? What action has BNSC taken in order to engage these Departments?

  See answer to Q.3

3.  Dr Williams told us that "we are trying to bring that [the disaster management constellation] into the thinking of DFID so that they can bring it into their mainstream. There has been, I have to say, not a lot of direct discussion, but that will start in the next two or three months because it is an initiative in an area which is recognised as important" [Q113]. What steps is the BNSC planning to take to engage DFID in the DMC programme? Are there any plans to invite DFID to join the BNSC partnership?

  BNSC has since the 10 January 2007 held initial discussions with DFID about their involvement in the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters" (the Charter). The Charter aims to provide a unified system of data acquisition and delivery from Earth observation satellites in organisations in eight member countries, in support of efforts related to natural or man-made disasters. DFID are one of two UK agencies authorised to activate the Charter. UK participation in the Charter is through the Disaster Management Constellation programme (DMC) owned and operated by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL). Following the meeting, DFID are looking at how they may be able to use the Charter to support its international efforts following future major disasters. In addition, BNSC are discussing the holding of a seminar at DFID to provide information on current and potential space applications (eg DMC) in support of disaster and humanitarian aid efforts. DFID is a member of the UK Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) steering group, and is involved in cross-Government work on GMES. DFID is not currently planning to join the BNSC partnership.

  The FCO is a partner in BNSC and set out the scope of its space related activity in its written response to the inquiry. The FCO focuses on international cooperation: ensuring that the UK's international obligations on space are maintained, promoting UK excellence in space science and technology, and ensuring European space programmes meet UK objectives. In many cases this means that the FCO is supporting other BNSC partners, including Defra, MoD, DfT, DTI and research councils, to achieve their EU and international objectives.

  The FCO Consular Crisis Group has recently recognised a potential interest in space applications and is meeting with BNSC HQ colleagues in February 2007 to discuss this further.

  DfES is a BNSC partner and participates in the Space Advisory Council, BNSC's senior advisory body. At a working level BNSC partner staff have good working relations with their DfES counterparts. Through this and through interactions at the Space Advisory Council, DfES provide valuable strategic advice on our educational activities. One key initiative in space related education is the establishment of the UK's European Space Education Resource Office (Space Connections) by Yorkshire Forward (YF). Space Connections is intended to bring co-ordination and strategic focus at a national level to the rich and diverse array of space related education activities in UK. BNSC partners working together (including DfES) will ensure that this initiative is properly linked to the wider national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives by DfES and DTI.

4.  Please provide information about the progress of the Government Information from the Space Sector (GIFTSS) initiatives.

  GIFTSS (Government Information from the Space Sector) is a BNSC DTI partner programme activity to encourage greater usage by the public sector of space data products and services. It is aligned with two of the BNSC strategy goals—"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".

  The overall programme activity is small, with typically two projects running at any one time (at around £60k each, co-funded by BNSC and the user department or organisation), and with a number of additional leads being identified and pursued, some of which are then expected to mature to projects. The BNSC experts also work with the end user once a project is completed, to assist them in assimilating the knowledge gained and identifying what further steps to take.

  The pace of the programme is driven primarily by the level of engagement of a particular user department or organisation. Initiatives can typically take from a number of months to a couple of years to get to the launch of a project. Users that have participated in projects, particularly within the Defra family, value the programme highly. GIFTSS is represented in the Defra EO Forum that meets several times each year.

  The newest project (salt marsh habitats in Morecambe Bay) kicked off in December 2006. This is the second GIFTSS project with Lancaster City Council as the partner. The project is looking at the use of satellite imagery to identify and monitor areas of salt marsh, which are important for understanding of flood dynamics and as conservation areas.

  Further projects are in the pipeline.

5.  Dr Williams referred to problems at Defra in relation to the GMES programme [Q114-115]. What are the main problems that Defra is facing? How could these problems be solved? What action has the BNSC taken to help Defra deal with the problems posed by GMES?

  Defra is committed to evidence-based policy and believes that many of the environmental challenges that we face require European or European solutions. In the future there will be an ongoing need for evidence and information and if GMES develops in the right way then it should meet some of these needs.

  As a potential user of operational GMES environmental services and information, Defra is interested in the outputs of the programme, whether that be data or products. Defra currently undertakes a significant amount of environmental monitoring, much of which is driven by European level legislation. If GMES is going to add-value to the activities of the Department, then they need access to the right data and information, at the right time. At present, Defra is concerned that the proposals on the table, particularly in relation to the ESA GMES Space Component Programme, will not guarantee the delivery of an operational system that guarantees data continuity. Without this continuity guarantee Defra will not be persuaded to change its systems.

  Defra are supported by BNSC in the EC GMES Advisory Council, and this is the forum that discusses the Programme structure in the EC context. BNSC also represent the Defra view in the discussions in the ESA Programme Board responsible for GMES. Persuading our European colleagues to agree that GMES should have better data continuity guarantees is proving to be difficult. For BNSC, this seems to be largely due to the fact that many countries are driven by the short term objectives of their industries, whilst ESA themselves see continuity in the context of work flow in establishments and industry and not in the output data sets.

  To clarify the position, BNSC has worked with Defra officials to produce a UK GMES strategy document that can form the basis for increased UK support if the programme structure is adapted. This sees GMES as a major contributor to climate change and improved climate forecasts: a stated need in the recent Stern report.

  Defra, with the support of the BNSC partnership and other relevant stakeholders, will continue to work with the European Commission, the European Space Agency and other member states to ensure, as far as possible, that GMES develops into a robust and resilient system that delivers to user needs.

6.  Dr Williams said in oral evidence that "I have had no direct interaction with DFES. It is a weakness that we recognise and acknowledge and it is an area that we want to address going forward" [Q116]

    (a)  What action has the BNSC taken on the National Space Education Initiative since October 2005?

    (b)  How is the BNSC following up the recommendations made in the BNSC-commissioned report, Bring Space into School Science?

    (c)  How is the BNSC responding to the recommendations made in The Education and Skills Case for Space report?

    (d)  What involvement has the BNSC had in the establishment of ESERO in Bradford? What impact will this office have upon space education provision in the UK?

    (e)  The summary notes from the Space Advisory Council meetings on the 24 May 2006 and 6 September 2006 mention the creation of an education steering or working group. What is the membership of this group? What is the group's purpose and what action has it taken?

  On questions (a-d) the key message in the three reports mentioned is the requirement to improve co-ordination and cohesion for the extensive space related-education activities taking place in UK. In particular these reports proposed the facilitation of a single advisory group structure, a one stop shop website and better linkages and support to teachers and the science curriculum. As stated in answer to Q.3, BNSC is working with Yorkshire Forward (YF) and ESA in establishing a European Space Resource Office on a nationwide basis in the UK (UK ESERO). BNSC chairs the UK ESERO's Advisory Group, which is composed of BNSC, ESA, Yorkshire Forward as well as representative bodies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland involved in using or providing space education. Yorkshire Forward has made available substantial resources in setting up the UK ESERO. As part of the pilot phase of establishing the ESERO, they are carrying out a consultation exercise with users (including teaching organisations) and service providers.

  A key future aim is to link the work of the UK ESERO with the wider DTI/DfES initiatives to promote STEM subjects. By working through the UK ESERO, and other key players in space education such as the National Space Centre in Leicester, we plan to address much of the recommendations in these recent reports.

  (e):  At this stage BNSC has not yet established an education steering or working group. Before moving to this the aim will be to monitor the progress of the UK ESERO and improve the linkages to the wider DfES programmes. This latter step is crucial if the group is to be securely embedded in the UK structures. In the meantime, education is an agenda item on most meetings of the Space Advisory Council and this will provide the ability to review the activities of the UK ESERO.

7.  Dr Williams said in oral evidence that "I do not see us at this stage going into manned space because of the costs involved" [Q118]. What estimates has the BNSC made of the costs involved in manned spaceflight?

  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. There are three possible routes open to UK if it wished to fund a UK astronaut: (i) through ESA's human space flight programme; (ii) with NASA's Shuttle programme and (iii) by direct purchase of seats aboard Soyuz "taxi" flights to the International Space Station.

  The principles of ESA's selection of astronauts are stated in the "European Astronaut Policy", chapter 4.1, include:

    "—  Recruitment (is) open to candidates from all Member States, taking due account of their participation in the ESA human spaceflight programmes.

    —  Selection and recruitment initiated and controlled by ESA.

    —  Initiation of new recruitments will be based on matching the corps characteristics to future European human spaceflight programmes' requirements."

  On this basis a proportionate share of the cost for the UK in ESA would be some £60 million per year, and on that basis UK people would be eligible to apply to become a European astronaut—but with no guarantee that any would be selected. There would also be national costs associated with the science and these are additional and uncosted.

  The cost to "fly" on a NASA Space Shuttle, including the training is approx $50 million per mission per astronaut. It is unlikely that the UK could "buy" a position and the more likely route would be for the UK to provide—at UK cost—a specific set of experiments or some other aspect of space activity that would benefit the UK. This could only be costed on a case by case basis but would in the traditional "no exchange of funds" need to provide NASA with a benefit of at least $50 per flight.

  In the third approach, a simple purchase of a Soyuz flight as a "tourist" to the International Space Station costs about $20 million. However this would bring no scientific benefit to the UK unless considerable additional resources were provided for the experimentation.

  The Royal Astronomical Society have estimated that a sensible UK programme in manned space would be achievable at a level of £150 million per annum over a 20-25 year period. This figures are not inconsistent with the above if the additional national experimentation costs are included.

8.  Dr Williams said in oral evidence that "I do see us being part of the global endeavours to do exploration and exploration in the widest sense" [Q118]. Please provide details of the action that the BNSC has taken in relation to the global exploration and exploitation programme. Is the UK acting independently or through ESA in relation to this programme?

  The UK, along with other countries, was invited by NASA to participate in a workshop in Washington in April 2006 at which NASA outlined the status and planning of its exploration programme. A small delegation of UK officials and scientists attended. Participants were invited to contribute objectives and ideas focused on a human return to the Moon, but including robotic precursor activities.

  Subsequently, fourteen agencies, including ESA, BNSC and the space agencies of France, Germany and Italy have jointly worked to elaborate a common set of themes and objectives covering both robotic and human exploration of Solar System destinations including the Moon, Mars and the asteroids. This is known as the "Global Exploration Strategy". Several international meetings have been held and 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.

  At the European level, the UK is engaged in discussions through its membership of the ESA Aurora programme. This includes a preparatory component which is developing plans for future European exploration activities. Within this work, a UK scientist is leading the development of a science-driven scenario for exploration.

  Nationally, BNSC through PPARC initiated a small study with a group of lunar scientists and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. to assess whether UK small satellite technology could contribute to the developing international scene by undertaking early lunar science while also preparing technology for the longer term. The team reported in late 2006, proposing two small missions, dubbed "MoonLITE" and "MoonRaker". There is no commitment to undertake these missions on a purely national basis.

  Finally, in order to provide advice to Government on the long term potential for space exploration and exploitation, BNSC is setting up an Exploration Strategy Working Group to review the plans in the US and elsewhere and assess the opportunities for the UK. The group comprises both officials and representatives of academia and industry. It is hoped that this group will report in the summer of 2007.

9.  Dr Williams told us in relation to ESA that "when I came in, it was clear that we were down on industrial returns" [Q153]. In written evidence, the BNSC stated that "our overall returns have dropped marginally below the level of our subscriptions. BNSC is monitoring the placement of ESA contracts and working hard to reverse this trend" (SPO2, para 3.5). Please provide statistical information detailing the level of subscription to ESA and level of overall return to the UK since 2000. What action has the BNSC taken to reverse the trend of falling returns?

UK Subscription to ESA (Source: UK Space Activities 2006)

£ million


UK Level of Overall Geographical Return at 31 December



  (Note: For 2006 the latest figures available are for 30 September: 0.92. Also note that the Geographical Return statistics are maintained cumulatively since 1 January 2000. They are not therefore reflections of an annual return.)

  BNSC is working with ESA to get a balance in geo-return. This has involved direct interaction between the DG of ESA and the UK Minister as well as the DG of BNSC. The DG of ESA has confirmed that he will ensure the UK return is improved and we await information from him on the specific steps he will ask his staff to take. To date additional funding of €4.7 million has been promised to the UK and this is earmarked to give the UK the major role in a new programme to test and evaluate satellite formation flying.

  ESA have promised to take steps to ensure that the UK is over-returned in a number of future specific missions, but these have not yet been released for tender. However, although urgent action has been demanded, restoring the UK return to an acceptable level will take time, partly because in relation to other ESA Member States the UK participates in fewer programmes and thus the scope for identifying missions in which corrective action can be taken is similarly limited.

10.  How does the BNSC prepare for ESA Ministerial Council meetings? How could this preparation process be improved?

  In the context of the anticipated 2008 ESA Ministerial, discussions at both a national and ESA level have already started, and will become more intensive.

  In ESA, BNSC plays a role in all the relevant ESA committees ranging from project groups to meetings of the main ESA Council. By doing so, it keeps abreast of likely issues and proposals well ahead of the formal preparatory process for the ESA Ministerial Council. Thus at present in advance of the commencement of the preparatory process for the 2008 Ministerial Council, BNSC is seeking to understand the issues and possible proposals that ESA will bring to the table at the 2008 "Ministerial".

  About 12 months before the Ministerial Meeting, ESA establishes a Council Working Group (CWG) composed of representatives from Member States. The DG BNSC leads for the UK on this group, which develops the proposals both for policy/strategy changes as well as specific project. Relationships with ESA staff and other member states is good and UK influence is usually strong and our views are respected.

  Preliminary discussions are already taking place in the UK Space Board on the UK position on issues that it is anticipated will arise in 2008. From this discussion the relevant partner(s) will be tasked to study relevant aspects in detail, and prepare the case for financial support from the relevant partner. This will as appropriate involve working groups being established.

  Once BNSC has agreed the UK position at official level, the Minister writes to Ministerial colleagues to inform them of the proposed UK negotiating position and levels of subscription to ESA programmes.

  For 2008 these arrangements are an improvement on previous meetings because the internal debate within the UK is starting much earlier. In this way we hope to reach a consensus on the UK position before the main ESA agenda is finalised. A specific issue is aligning the ESA funding requests at the Ministerial with the UK government funding cycle. Thus for 2008 the UK funds need to be part of the CSR 2007 process, whilst the consequent commitments go beyond the CSR2007 cycle. A UK mechanism that formally recognises the different timescales of international funding mechanisms would help.

11.  Dr Williams said in oral evidence that "there are some problems with the structure of the way Galileo has been developed" [Q162]. He stated further that there are "some very significant challenges come up" [Q163]. What are these problems and challenges? What action has the BNSC taken in order to solve them?

  The current development phase of the Galileo programme is a joint EC Commission and ESA project. The deployment and operation phases are planned to be an EC Public Private Partnership (PPP). The UK is actively involved in Galileo fora of both organisations, the ESA Programme Board for Navigation, and the administrative board of the GNSS Supervisory Authority. The Department for Transport has the political lead in the EC, supported by other Government Departments and by BNSC.

  The UK priorities are for a robust PPP and to ensure Galileo remains a civil programme under civil control. A robust PPP will be challenging to achieve because the costs and risks of the project are inherently uncertain. The governance of the programme has not always been certain. There have been delays, some caused by political influences, and the merged consortium lacks a developed commercial approach. On the civil programme side, discussions on the policy for access to the Government-only PRS service are just getting under way in the EC. The UK is fully committed to playing an active role to influence strategic decisions and to safeguard UK objectives.

  Within ESA, BNSC is represented by DTI and DfT who work together to ensure that UK priorities and interests are fully taken into account within the programme. BNSC seeks to ensure that ESA manages the development programme effectively and efficiently, including the industrial consortia developing the system. There have been delays, specification changes and cost increases on which BNSC has pressed hard, and will continue to do so, to ensure that these are necessary and minimised.

12.  What process does the BNSC use in order to determine which partner will lead on ESA programmes, especially when programmes do not clearly fall to one partner? How could this process be improved?

  Since I arrived, I have used the Space Board as the mechanism for agreeing upon which partner will lead on ESA Programmes. To date, agreeing on which partner has the primary user interest and hence should lead in defining requirements has not been an issue. Where more than one partner has an interest the issue is around how the cost of the ESA programme is shared taking into account the use each partner will make of the programme and the level of technical innovation and uncertainty in the development. I believe the existing process is good at developing the position in a way that tensions the role of space against alternative methods. But this does not mean that the funds are made available against competing priorities within departments.

13.  What has prompted the consultation on the Outer Space Act? Do you expect this consultation to lead to proposals for new legislation?

  The planned consultation was prompted by an independent review on the management of the licensing regime under the Outer Space Act. We were seeking to find out if and how our regulation under the Act needed updating. The review highlighted the treatment of liabilities for UK space activity and licence fees, that could disadvantage UK companies. We are in the process of examining this.

  It is too early to say whether the planned consultation will lead to new legislation. We would prefer to change the processes in the licensing system within the current legal framework.

14.  Evidence submitted by UK space states that "in December 2005 UK Government reduced investment in ARTES from £20 million to £8 million" (SP06, para 13). Please provide details of the UK's annual subscription to the ARTES programme from 2000-06.

ARTES funding 2000-06 (€ million)



15.  Who will administer the Joint Space Technology Programme?

   This proposed programme is known as the "National Space Technology Programme (NSTP)".

  The general arrangements for the management of the NSTP were agreed by the UK Space Board at its meeting in October 2006 when it was agreed that:

    "BNSC will manage the NSTP on behalf of all of the partners, supported by a representative body drawn from all the partners and reporting to DG BNSC. Individual programme proposals will be assessed on the basis of their innovation, value for money, and socio-economical potential. Priority will be given in particular to proposals that establish or reflect a UK global leadership in a capability (eg small satellites). The operational management of the NSTP, encompassing the technical and financial progress aspects will be undertaken by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) using its standard business systems. The STFC will also be a supplier to the NSTP, and this will be separate from its operational management role."

  The detailed mechanisms are still being discussed, but ensuring transparency and impartiality in the allocation of funds to specific projects and groups is a key issue. There is also a need to establish a board to advise on the area of technologies that should be addressed.

  The present proposal is for the Membership of the NSTP PAB to be drawn from the BNSC partners, other Government organisations, and academic, industrial and NGO representatives. Its primary responsibility will be to identify and advise how best to support the key technologies that will ensure a vibrant, competitive and affordable UK space capability. The Board will report to DG BNSC and its Terms of Reference will be approved by the UK Space Board."

16.  Why does the UK invest proportionally smaller amounts in its domestic space programme relative to other countries? Please provide information regarding the annual level of investment in the DTI Space national programme from 2000-06.

  The latest statistics defining national versus ESA spending in Europe is found in the "World Prospects for Government Space Markets 2006". As a percentage of space spending, the years of 2004 and 2005 show that the UK had the fifth highest spend on national programmes of the 15 nations who contributed to ESA. [The four highest percentage spends came from Italy, Finland, France and Sweden]. However, in 2006, BNSC spending was further weighted to ESA programmes thus reducing the proportion of national programme spending. This places the UK as in eighth place for percentage spending on the national programme. [The seven higher spending countries as a percentage were France, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Netherlands, Austria and Germany]. It should also be noted that for France, Italy and Germany, the absolute national spend is higher than the UK because of their total space budget, allowing them to undertake a wider range of activities nationally.

BNSC DTI national expenditure £ million



17.  The minutes of the UK Shadow Space Board on 2 February 2005 noted that "the Board considered how to move from the current position where a majority of core BNSC partnership costs fell to DTI to a position where the partners on the Space Board shared responsibility for the costs". What is the current position regarding costs? What action has been taken regarding this issue since February 2005?

  In 2002-03, it was agreed that the subscription costs for ESA programmes would be spread amongst the relevant BNSC partner organisations. However the administration and staff costs associated with the BNSC "corporate activities" (hosted in DTI) fall mainly to DTI. These cover the office costs of all London staff, salaries of the DTI staff acting across the partnership and some core communications activities.

  NERC, PPARC/CCLRC, MOD and Met Office partners do have staff in London to fulfil key roles within the BNSC HQ organisation. The current arrangements run until the end of the 2007-08 financial year, and the UK Space Board (UKSB) will need to address how to share these costs from CSR2007.

18.  Why are there no representatives of the public on the Space Advisory Council? Why were public representatives deemed necessary? What plans are there to appoint representatives of the public to the Council?

  The Space Advisory Council was originally established as a representative body for the breadth of UK space interests to provide advice to the BNSC Space Board. Its members comprise all BNSC partners, the Chairs of the BNSC Advisory Boards, and the Chair of the trade association UKspace, all ex officio.

  The UK Space Board decided in 2005 that in order to strengthen the range of advice provided to BNSC in the development of its policy, there would be merit in adding to the Space Advisory Council membership representatives of the downstream space sector; broader academic interest; and the public.

  Following advertisement and careful consideration by the Chairs of the Council and Space Board, the following were selected: Professor Len Culhane, FRS, Professor of Physics, University College London at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (academic); and Mr David Williams, Chief Executive, Avanti Screenmedia Group plc (downstream). However, no decision was reached in the public category as there were no applicants the Board considered would strengthen the Council in outreach.

  The Board and Council nevertheless remained keen to bring in new areas of expertise, in particular in raising public awareness of space, and so selected Mr Will Whitehorn of Virgin to represent the public interest. In addition, Professor Sir Martin Sweeting of SSTL was also invited to join the Council in a personal capacity in March 2006, in view of his exceptional experience.

19.  What part will the UK play in NASA's lunar exploration programme? To what extent does the BNSC agree with NASA's lunar exploration objectives? What action has the BNSC taken in order to develop a relationship with China and India?

  Regarding NASA's lunar exploration programme, no decision on participation has been taken. See the answer to Question 8 regarding the actions that BNSC is taking to assess NASA's plans and to establish the UK's position.

  A summary of BNSC's activities with third countries, including China and India, has been supplied separately at the Committee's request.

March 2007

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