Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 2


  The new Minister for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks, MP, now has the opportunity to improve on his predecessor's "failed" policy by funding work by Europe's longest-existing spaceplane company, Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd, of its "Ascender" sub-orbital passenger vehicle. As discussed above, there is a great preponderance of reasons in favour of funding this work—including the poor economic performance of HMG's investment in satellites, the positive projections for passenger space travel, the unique experience of the Bristol Spaceplanes team, the great value of such an initiative for opening a major new field to British industry—and the minimal costs involved.

  The value of "space tourism" goes far beyond providing a popular new service that many people want to buy; it goes far beyond the millions of jobs in a new industry that it will create over the next 30 years. Space tourism is the only activity that can bring the economies of scale needed to sharply reduce the cost of space travel—which has not fallen at all in 50 years. Well-known as the 50th anniversary of Sputnik 1, 2007 is also the 50th anniversary of the British SR-53 rocket-plane. If that project had continued, sub-orbital tourism could have started in Britain 40 years ago. If it had, the world economy would be in a far better condition today: during these 40 years the world population has doubled; industrial activity has quadrupled; and destruction of the environment has increased exponentially. Low-cost space travel will make a unique contribution to counteracting world-wide unemployment, resource wars and environmental destruction.

  British companies should be leading this activity—and still could if just a small proportion of the space budget is spent appropriately. British companies can lead European space tourism efforts, since the most mature vehicle system design is British. However, the government must provide some funding soon. This will not only be good for taxpayers, it will also be of the greatest benefit for young people, who are longing for the optimistic vision of an open future which this project offers—rather than an increasingly depressing future of accelerating environmental destruction and unending resource wars.

  In view of this potential, it is not possible to perform a realistic cost/risk/benefit assessment and to conclude that to have refused funding to Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd for 15 years has been to the benefit of British industry, of British taxpayers, or of British school-children and students. To the contrary, this policy has demonstrably imposed and continues to impose a huge cost on all of these. It is an inexcusable failure of policy-making greatly to Britain's disadvantage. Both present and past Ministers responsible should be obliged to end their "deafening silence" on this matter and explain their reason for these decisions that have been so damaging to the national interest—and contrary to the clear and timely warning by the Trade and Industry Select Committee in 2000.

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