Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 63

Submission from ABSL Space Products

1.  WHO

  This input is from ABSL Space Products, a division of ABSL Power Solution Ltd, formally AEA Technology Plc. We are located just south of Oxford on the Culham Science Centre.


  To have an overall space industry there is a strong lead required on technology development to enable it to maintain a strong down stream services provider and dominate in the fields of space science and Earth observations.

  ABSL supply products to the space market world consisting of lithium ion batteries, calibration sources and electronics for scientific instruments, lidar receiver equipment and imaging lidars. At present the major part of the business is the battery product, which is based on the use of commercial cells. We have been awarded in excess of 50 contracts worldwide since initiating the product development in 1997, supported by the BNSC National Programme. We have supplied all the calibration sources to European Space Agency (ESA) programmes since 1995. The lidar products are in development solely from contracts from ESA and expect flight contracts to be awarded during 2007. The product uses a technology, capacitance stabilised etalons, that is recognised as a sole source within Europe.


  It is clear that the level of investment provided through the ESA budget continues to be under severe pressure. More importantly though, the lack of a BNSC National Programme during the last few years, that in the past supported the risky early development activities needed to compete for the ESA programmes has reduced UK companies' competitiveness.

  Our battery product development utilised both National Programme and ESA funding that allowed our innovative concept to be adopted for the vast majority of ESA spacecraft since 1998 and many contracts worldwide. The National Programme contribution of £600k has resulted in excess of £15 million of orders (this is an update to the 2002 input).


  The BNSC Space Technology Advisory Board (STAB) identifies the key technologies where the UK has significant expertise and is of strategic importance to the UK's space policy. This approach ensures that the UK has a focused approach to development of space technology that leads to commercial benefits to the UK industry and subsequent wealth generation by the down stream sector. However it is becoming increasingly difficult to be competitive with other European companies, that have national funding, in the ESA technology development programmes without some support from a National Programme. Obviously this is not the case for products that are developed and have the all-important flight heritage. In the medium- to long-term this will have a detrimental effect on the level of commercial benefit that our space-based technologies can make to the UK economy.


  From an industry perspective there appears to be a lack of ability by a variety of Government departments as end users to make a consolidated case to support both the service required from the space asset but also how the required funding will be derived. Examples of this recently have been the Galileo and GMES programmes.


  This is considered a key activity by ABSL and in addition to the training we provide to our staff we provide undergraduate courses with topics for final year projects. Over 30% of our staff are graduates and we spend considerable time providing on the job training in addition to attendance at specific space related courses. Not only do we benefit from this but it also services other areas of industry:

    —  Trained people often go out and start small space companies.

    —  Provide a trained resource to other space companies.

    —  Provide a trained resource to other local industries such as medical companies in Oxford Instruments and Oxford Magnetic Technologies.

  It has been clearly demonstrated that school children find space a very attractive focus to enter further education in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. The interest becomes particularly heightened when the UK is directly involved in a space programme.


  ABSL has shown significant growth in the last three years increasing our number of staff from 25 to 38 with the proportionate increase in turnover. This has been possible as a result of the BNSC National Programme that assisted in the development and provision of an early flight opportunity. ABSL now invest internally to maintain the world class position we have obtained as a supplier of lithium ion batteries.


  Investment in the technology chain for front end space asset is essential for both the operators and service providers to flourish and provide the wealth creation, that is one of the Governments objective. This investment will also maintain our scientists at the forefront of the world science community. This benefit come directly from the ESA programmes but a National Programme is necessary to meet the economic, wealth generation, excellence in science and the take up by young people into the key further education subjects.

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