Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 105

Supplementary submission from the British National Space Centre (BNSC)

  BNSC is grateful to the Committee for the opportunity to provide information relating to developments since its memorandum of October 2006.


  In Paragraph 5.2 sub section iii, BNSC referred to the need for the UK to "decide how it should respond to the new US-led initiative on exploration and exploitation of space", noting that "this is not entirely an issue of science but will also address exploitation".

  In order to progress this policy area, BNSC has taken several actions. BNSC is one of 14 space agencies, including the US, Europe, China, Russia and Japan who have set up an ad-hoc "Global Exploration Strategy" team to define how each country can pursue space exploration through long term coordination and collaboration. Both robotic and human exploration is foreseen, focused on the Moon, Mars and asteroids. A "Framework for Coordination" has been jointly prepared and will shortly be published. This is not a proposal for a single programme but instead will create a means to share plans and explore collaboration at a global level in order to maximise the common benefits in terms of science, technology, commercialisation and inspiration. The BNSC partners are actively considering whether BNSC can contribute to the robotic aspects. See for further information.

  The BNSC has set up a Space Exploration Working Group composed of 22 scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, officials and independents to assess the developing global scene in space exploration and suggest long term scenarios for UK involvement. The Terms of Reference and membership are published on the BNSC web site via a link at: . This ad hoc group has been set up in recognition of the need to develop policy in this area and it is expected that it will publish its report by the summer, in time to inform the overall new BNSC strategy document.

  Finally, BNSC has also been engaged in bilateral discussions with NASA to explore whether the UK should be involved in NASA's plans for lunar exploration. Discussions within European partners on lunar exploration are also underway through the UK's participation in the ESA Aurora programme.


  BNSC has recently started preliminary discussions with ESA on the possibility of establishing an ESA facility in the UK. Currently, the UK is the only major ESA member state without a recognised ESA facility in its territory, while France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden and Belgium have facilities. For the UK, any such facility should complement and enhance our existing space capabilities, and provide a stimulus for long term economic development based on exploiting the science, technology and data products of space activities. For ESA, a UK based facility must fill a current gap in its activities, and/or add value.

  A formal discussion between BNSC and Mr Dordain (DG ESA) took place in February 2007. Mr Dordain was supportive in principle and invited proposals on possible ESA facilities which could be based in UK. It was also agreed to set up a BNSC/ESA Working Group to further evaluate the issue and come up with a set of recommendations on options. Composed of senior staff from both organisations, the working group is expected to complete its work by summer 2007. In order to prepare for further discussions with ESA, BNSC has taken informal input from partners and UKSpace, the space industry body.

  In terms of a location for the possible ESA facility, a leading area being considered is the planned Harwell Business Campus where it is envisaged that such a facility could form part of a cluster of facilities alongside those of Government and industry. At this stage, a number of possible options are being considered. These include the fields of space exploration, covering scientific and technological aspects, as well as applications and exploitation of space derived data, which are areas of significant UK expertise and interest.


  The OSA licensing activities arise because of international (UN Outer Space Treaty) obligations on Governments to (i) maintain a register of objects sent into space; (ii) ensure safety of operations for such space activities; and (iii) bear ultimate liability for costs arising from accidental damage to third parties from UK space activities.

  The licensing process involves ensuring: (i) the financial health of licencees; (ii) that the activity does not pose risks to public health, safety or UK national security; (iii) an unlimited indemnity from the licensee to HMG against any proven third party costs resulting from the activities and to help manage this indemnity; and (iv) third party liability insurance (to a minimum of £100 million) both during the launch and while the satellite is in operation.

  Industry have often argued that the potentially unlimited liability and the requirement to obtain insurance cover during the operational phase (following launch) are too onerous and anomalous compared to the other main space faring countries.

  As mentioned in the original Memorandum submitted by DTI (para 37), following an independent review of the UK licensing regime, BNSC is now investigating possible updates. Any amendments must balance the need to ensure that it does not place onerous conditions on industry while also ensuring Government's obligations on health, safety and national security as well as minimising the exposure of the public purse to liabilities arising from licensees. Possible future options for handling liability are being considered. Discussions are ongoing with HM Treasury. A further issue being considered is the appropriate licence fee (currently a single charge of £6,500 per application) which has remained unchanged while the costs of processing have increased. Once these issues have been concluded, a public consultation is envisaged later this year outlining the proposed new approach.


  Since the original submission to the Select Committee, further work has been completed to assess the economic benefits deriving from BNSC investments in civil space activities. The report on these expenditures[28] indicates that "the UK space programme has generated a strongly positive financial return" The report suggests that BNSC support for commercial objectives is responsible for between 4% and 6% of total UK space value added (contribution to national income). Additionally it estimates that these BNSC investments contribute two to three times their value in GDP. These economic benefits do not take account of the additional and very substantial scientific and policy benefits that also derive from UK expenditure on civil space.


  There has been good progress towards the establishment of an NSTP through the CCLRC led bid for an annual budget of £18 million into the CSR. CCLRC is joining with PPARC (another BNSC partner) on the 1 April to form the STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council). An early decision on the funding is expected following the CSR settlement of 5.5% cash increase for the Science Budget announced by the Chancellor in the Budget Speech.

  The core activities in the NSTP will be:

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

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

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

    (iv)  To coordinate and provide formal reports and other advice to partners to inform their investments and the delivery of services.

  The programme will support proposals 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 telecommunications, small satellites).

  The Space Board approved the arrangements for the implementation of the programme and the BSNC led Programme Management Team is now working towards a first Call for proposals in December 2007. The Space Board also proposed the establishment of a Programme Advisory Board comprising eight to 10 individuals recruited by open competition.

April 2007

28   Evaluation of the Economic Case for BNSC's Funding of Civil Space Programmes. Final Report. March 2007. Technopolis Ltd and Sagentia. Back

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