Submission from the UK Space Academic
1. This submission is made by the Space
Academic Network, representing about 20 UK university- and institute-based
research groups that cover a broad range of Space disciplines.
2. During the past decade, the UK competitive
position in respect of its national programme has worsened with
respect to several comparable European countries.
3. Formation of the Large Facilities Research
Council provides the UK with an unparalleled opportunity to enhance
the effectiveness of its Space Science.
4. The BNSC coordinates the space activities
of a grouping of Government Departments and Research Councils.
While it has achieved some success in coordinating the UK approach
to the various ESA bodies, it has no real budget and therefore
little responsibility, power or authority.
5. The nature and constitution of the BNSC
as a loose assembly of partners gravely inhibits the development
of a national space strategy and the provision of coherent
advice to Government on space matters.
6. The UK is the only G8 country without
a space agency. This has resulted in a weak national programme
and leaves us unable to benefit fully from our GDP-level subscription
to the ESA Science programme.
7. While a number of general and detailed
advantages that would result from an agency are listed in the
submission, it is recognized that the establishment of a broadly-based
national space agency would have significant ramifications. However
the formation of the LFRC to include the PPARC science base in
addition to a range of large facilities could allow a new, rational
and internationally competitive structure to be designed for the
conduct of the space sciences.
8. Such a structure could be achieved either
by associating a revitalised BNSC with the new Council or by establishing
a purpose-designed unit within the LFRC to take responsibility
for an enhanced UK space science programme. Whatever structure
is set up should be based on active participation by the UK space
community in HEIs.
9. Comparison with the space science programmes
of our major European competitors suggests that an uplift of £10
million-£15 million per annum is needed to give a comparable
ratio of UK national spend to ESA subscription.
10. The opportunity to rectify this situation
and to establish a coherent national strategy for space science
has been provided by the decision to form the Large Facilities
Research Council. This opportunity must be grasped urgently if
we are not to lose our high international standing in the world
1.1 This submission is from the Space Academic
Network, a body representing about 20 UK research groups, mainly
university- and institute-based, covering a broad range of disciplines
including Astronomy, Climate and Earth Science, Fundamental, Planetary
and Solar System Physics. Much of the UK's world standing in these
areas comes from exploitation by these groups of space facilities
and includes a successful record of technical innovation and knowledge
transfer to Industry. Skills developed in work on Climate Change
have particular relevance for Government policy and international
1.2 The strengths possessed by these groups
world-leading achievements in
a broad range of physical sciences including the space-based environmental
and climate sciences;
many significant examples of
innovation and knowledge transfer resulting from the development
of advanced space instrumentation;
demonstrated ability to enable
high profile outreach activities that enhance graduate recruitment
in Engineering and Physical science subjects; and
underpinning the UK Space Industry
by innovation, knowledge transfer and staff training.
1.3 While PPARC support for the ESA programme
has significantly increased in the five year period from 2003,
our competitive position with respect to several comparable European
countries has noticeably worsened in the level of support devoted
to the national space programme.
1.4 We believe that the decision to form
the Large Facilities Research Council by the amalgamation of PPARC
and CCLRC provides the UK with an unparalleled opportunity to
enhance the effectiveness of its Space Science.
1.5 In this submission we indicate some
of the difficulties that arise from the present arrangements for
the organization and support of space research in the UK and suggest
some possible measures to remedy the situation.
2. BRITISH NATIONAL
The British National Space Centre (BNSC) coordinates
the activities of a grouping of Government Departments and Research
Councils with interests in space. It has functioned well as an
association for UK space-related networking and information exchange.
It has an excellent and effective staff and has achieved some
success in coordinating the UK approach to the various ESA bodies.
However in terms of UK space activities it has no real budget
and therefore little real responsibility, power or authority.
Thus the individual partners are free to follow their particular
interests without any necessary regard for the overall national
interest in the space arena.
2.2 Lack of Substance
In the science area in particular, the UK's
international influence is severely hampered by the BNSC's lack
of substance. One of the stated objectives of setting up the Large
Facilities Research Council is to ensure that the UK is maximally
effective in participating in large international science facilities
and endeavours. In this context, in addition to our strong collaboration
with Europe (ESA), coupled with a highly successful past record
of collaboration with USA (NASA) and Japan (JAXA), the strategic
importance of establishing collaborations with the emerging Chinese
and Indian programmes is well understood. Who will take the lead
in this where space is concerned? The BNSC has no negotiating
power because it has neither national budget nor adequate influence
and therefore nothing to bring to the table. It is regarded with
a mixture of bemusement, amusement, and sometimes disdain by our
current major international partners. The newly emerging space
nations will soon arrive at the same view if the present situation
is allowed to continue.
2.3 Formulation of a Space Strategy
The nature and constitution of the BNSC as a
loose assembly of partners gravely inhibits the development of
a national space strategy and the provision of coherent
advice to Government on space matters. Useful discussions are
held and mutual understandings developed. At a tactical level,
the UK has achieved a valuable coherence in its approach to ESA
since the issues can be recognized and agreed to by the partners
at a "lowest common denominator" level. Our ability
to gain access to large scale missions consistent with our needs
is met within the ESA programme because we have a seat at the
policy making discussions and, perhaps for this reason, the principal
focus for UK space interests is almost entirely directed towards
the ESA programme. However these achievements fall well short
of formulating a coherent UK strategy for space.
2.4 Lack of a UK National Space Programme
The UK is the only G8 country without a Space
Agency. Because of this, the national programme is weak. Thus
we are unable to benefit effectively from our GDP-level subscription
to the ESA science programme and are handicapped in the scientific
and technical arenas from our internal lack of support. The absence
of a national programme is a major obstacle to being taken seriously
internationally. In particular, it forces us to follow rather
than to set the scientific and technical agenda in space, and
prevents us from levering added value through well-planned advantageous
collaborations. In the science field in particular, a strong national
programme would allow UK scientists to take the lead in developing
concepts which may eventually lead to major missions.
THE UK PRESENCE
3.1 Possible remedies
The establishment of an agency with appropriate
budgetary and other powers responsible for shaping and implementing
the UK's space policy, including a national programme, would transform
the present unsatisfactory situation. Such a UK agency should
be able to lead its own space missions from proposal through selection
and build to operations. It should also be able to negotiate bi-
or multi-lateral cooperative agreements with other national agencies
in addition to representing UK interests within ESA. Finally it
should be able to take a strategic view of developing technologies
with relevance for space science and provide support in areas
that would enable the UK to play a leading role in future missions.
3.2 Advantages for UK Space Science
With the establishment of a UK agency, a pattern
could emerge for the conduct of the space-based disciplines that
would be analogous to that existing in other comparable European
countries eg France/CNES. For example one could envisage a sequence
in which, following a national proposal submission cycle within
a given cost envelope, the UK agency would:
competitively select a mission;
invite other nations/agencies
as appropriate to participate on a bi- or multi-lateral basis;
invite competitive tenders by
UK industry to supply the spacecraft bus and other sub-systems
(in practice negotiations with international partners would usually
following competition, invite
UK HEIs and institutes to design and build the instrumentation;
arrange/negotiate the launch;
operate the mission; and
ensure and support the exploitation
of the data within the UK.
3.3 Related General Advantages
In addition to the above outcomes, the UK would
be able to set national space science priorities and guide and
support relevant industrial activity. In such an environment,
UK HEIs and institutes would be better positioned to develop critical
instrumentation and to retain and provide meaningful career development
paths for key staff. These advantages would enable competitive
participation in ESA programmes and allow participation in a larger
range of bi-lateral missions in circumstances where mission lead
times and the intervals between them are significantly lengthening
within the ESA science programme. Moreover, a higher national
profile in space science and exploration would enhance existing
education and outreach programmes which are already being shown
to have a beneficial influence in the education and training programmes
for the nation's science-trained workforce of the future.
4.1 Role of the LFC
While the approach outlined above could be applied
to the majority of UK civil space activities with beneficial results,
the formation of a broadly based National Space Agency would clearly
introduce wide ranging ramifications. Thus the primary purpose
of this document is to address in particular the conduct of the
UK space-based sciences. The aims set out in the previous sections
are not realisable within the previously existing Research Council
structure. However the formation of the LFRC in a manner that
includes the PPARC science base in addition to a range of large
facilities could allow a new, rational and internationally competitive
structure to be designed for the conduct of the space sciences.
Such a structure could be achieved either by associating a revitalised
BNSC with the new Council or by establishing a purpose-designed
unit within the LFRC to take responsibility for an enhanced UK
space science programme. The intellectual drive from UK space
groups based in universities is vital to both the strategic planning
and the operation of any such new arrangements and their input
should be ensured by building a structure in which they play an
4.2 Resource Implications
To establish a new basis for the conduct of
UK Space Science would require a real uplift in investment. However
the growing importance of space in the everyday affairs of the
nation suggests that such an uplift could be well justified given
the historic and ongoing role of science in the establishment
and continued development of the space industries. Comparison
with our major space competitors continues to show that the UK
national expenditure (non-ESA) on space lags behind the GDP-based
subscription to ESA. Taking the current ratio of UK national spend
to the UK ESA subscription of 0.36 and comparing this with the
European average value of 0.53 suggests that an uplift of approximately
15% of our ESA subscription is required to achieve rough parity.
This in turn suggests the requirement for an additional investment
of around £10 million-£15 million per annum in the national
programme. Such an investment, assuming an appropriate level of
bi-lateral involvement, could for example enable a UK-led space
mission about every three years. This would in addition have considerable
public outreach benefits.
4.3 Study of the space programmes for a
selection of comparable European countries by the Committee would
show the pressing need for a fundamental reappraisal of UK support
of national space science.
5.1 Space, its utilisation and the applications
that flow from it, is coming to have an increasingly pervasive
influence on a rapidly growing set of activities on Earth ranging
from the provision of sophisticated communications to the understanding
of climate change. This is reflected in the volume of space-related
industry in the UK which is currently close to £5 billion/year
and growing rapidly. This industry has it roots in the space science
activities that began in the 1960s and continue to play a broad
underpinning role. Innovation and knowledge transfer, education,
training and public outreach are all key ingredients demonstrably
provided by the UK space science programme.
5.2 In the roughly five decades that have
elapsed since its early beginnings, UK space science has thrived
because of its innovative approach to the development of front
line techniques. This has been coupled with an ability to play
a leadership role in a well chosen series of both ESA and bi-lateral
projects. Our capacity to function effectively in both of these
spheres is increasingly under threat.
5.3 A simplistic view often taken from outside
a programme is to suggest that a high level of success in international
competition indicates little need for increased resource while
at the other extreme, a lack of success points to an argument
for reduction in scope. For the moment the level of UK success
in space science remains high. However the decline in resource
in the past decade for the national programme means that we are
living on past investment in a situation that is exacerbated by
the lack of a coherent national space strategy. The opportunity
to address both of these issues has been provided by the decision
to form the Large Facilities Research Council. This opportunity
must be grasped urgently if we are not to loose our high international
standing in the world space arena.