Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 69

Submission from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL)

  1.  This is an independent submission to the Committee from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). SSTL has participated fully in preparation of the submission by UKSpace, and strongly supports the UKSpace conclusions. Nevertheless, SSTL would like to provide the Committee with observations from its own unique perspective as a UK-owned SME acting as prime contractor for ESA, UK and export missions. We will not reiterate points made by UKSpace, but rather will concentrate on additional areas we feel are important.

  2.  Our position can be summarised as follows: whilst ESA is essential and successful for large multi-national space missions, the UK needs a strong national space mission program in order to retain an internationally competitive, independent space industry, and in order to pressure ESA to provide the best possible value-for-money.

  3.  While the UK makes very effective use of technology investment, it is missions, not individual technologies, which drive a competitive, value-adding space industry. Missions and systems are where upstream technologies and downstream applications meet. If the UK is to retain control over this critical point in the value chain—capturing both downstream and upstream value—it must invest in missions as well as technologies.

  4.  All of the major ESA nations use regular nationally funded space missions to position their industry for major roles in ESA programs. France, for example, has launched or recently approved 18 small satellite missions and Germany is supporting SAR-LUPE and TANDEM-X. Italy, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Canada all have small satellite programmes under way.

  5.  As a result of these national programmes, these industries are also positioned to out-compete the UK in global and European export markets. In our experience, products from France, Germany and Italy, developed through national missions, are now eroding the UK market share overseas.

  6.  In the past, the UK has achieved outstanding results through investment in national space missions. We refer primarily to the Micro Satellite Applications in Collaboration (MOSAIC) program initiated in 2000, which successfully positioned UK industry to win both ESA and export contracts—achieving a five times ROI.

  7.  The MOSAIC investment in the UK Disaster Monitoring Constellation (UK-DMC) satellite catalysed the formation of the world's first coordinated constellation of nationally owned satellites. This directly resulted in orders for three similar satellites (the most recent having been signed only this summer). As a result of this success, a profitable remote sensing data service company (DMC International Imaging Limited) has been formed to exploit the constellation's data, and the BNSC has become a member of the prestigious International Charter: Space and Major Disasters. The DMC has now become an internationally-recognised exemplar for modern EO systems—led by the UK.

  8.  The MOSAIC investment in TopSat has placed the UK at the forefront of the new trend towards "responsive space" for security users. In addition, it provided the technological basis for SSTL to secure the £20 million RapidEye constellation contract, the £10 million Beijing-1 contract and expected £50 million in further export contracts to be signed before the year end.

  9.  The MOSAIC investment in Gemini has had a very significant impact, positioning the UK to win the GIOVE-A contract. GIOVE-A, the only satellite thus far launched for the Galileo program, was essential for Europe to meet the requirements of the International Telecommunications Union to secure the Galileo spectrum allocation. GIOVE-A has also demonstrated conclusively that the UK-led move to smaller, faster, better-value space missions can be used by ESA. If the lessons of GIOVE-A are properly understood and reinforced, European taxpayers could save tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of Euros on Galileo and other large space systems. The GIOVE-A success for Europe was only possible because of the UK expertise in small satellites.

  10.  In total, the £15 million of DTI funds invested in MOSAIC have resulted in at least £80 million of economic activity in the UK. On the basis of these results, we strongly recommend that HMG plan a further MOSAIC initiative—where modest government pump-priming funding is more than matched by industry to enable advanced small satellite missions. Now is an opportune time for such an initiative, which would stimulate specific industrial, public-sector and economic benefits. The paragraphs below highlight specific possibilities we feel would be of interest to the Committee.

  11.  Small missions for Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES): Whilst the European GMES programme is now entering its implementation phase, we are very concerned that it will become a massive programme subject to the associated delays, risks and political compromises. HMG might seek to stimulate a more affordable and rapid implementation of some GMES goals through small missions. This would also allow the BNSC to take a leading role within the UK in promoting the practical use of space by other government departments.

  12.  UK MoD Synthetic Aperture Radar Mission: SSTL is presently working with Astrium and other UK space companies to provide the UK with a highly responsive, UK-controlled, all-weather remote sensing capability. Such a system involves the very best of UK industry, exploiting decades of HMG technology investment and bringing the UK on par with France and Germany. In addition, it gives the UK a state-of-the-art quid pro quo in the security relationship with the USA.

  13.  UK-Led Lunar Exploration: With Europe, the U.S.A., China and even India planning extensive solar-system exploration for the coming decades, now is the time for the UK to stake its claim to a substantial industrial role in these programs. Using existing UK technology and knowledge in robotic space missions, demonstrated through a national or bi-national lunar exploration mission, UK industry can position itself for future roles both in international scientific exploration and in the provision of critical communications and navigation services at the Moon and Mars. SSTL is aware of strong support within NASA for a UK led bi-lateral lunar mission with the USA based on Surrey's small satellite expertise, and this could become a centrepiece for a UK national initiative. Such an initiative would enable the UK to develop and enhance its expertise in robotic space exploration and allow the UK to "punch above its weight" in support of international exploration projects by providing essential infrastructure elements and addressing key scientific or technological issues.

  14.  We are aware that our promotion of a UK national small satellite mission initiative may be seen as parochial and self-serving. We believe, however, that such an initiative would benefit HMG and the entire UK space industry—from instrument suppliers to value adding operators. SSTL's mission is to "Change the Economics of Space", not simply to benefit our own Company, but because we believe that this brings better value-for-money from all space endeavours and creates more opportunities for the exploitation of space by UK stakeholders across the government, scientific, industrial and commercial sectors.

  15.  Because the preponderance of UK government funding for space is spent through ESA, we are aware that a national initiative alone is insufficient to substantially improve value-for-money for UK taxpayers. In addition to a national initiative, we recommend that HMG place the utmost pressure on ESA to reform its procurement and technical approaches, including the management of the science programme.

  16.  The GIOVE-A mission demonstrated that the pragmatic value-for-money approach to space engineering pioneered by SSTL in the UK can be effectively applied to critical European programs. We believe that this success should lead ESA to adopt a more flexible approach to procurement, reserving the more traditional and expensive processes for launch vehicles and the largest missions, and following cost-effective commercial processes elsewhere. Not surprisingly, there are substantial conservative pressures within the industrial and institutional structure of European space. Without pressure from the member states, ESA will naturally retain its existing processes.

  17.  Finally, we have come to take space for granted—so much so that we do not realise how deeply embedded it has become in our everyday lives. Most people would recognise that space provides us with satellite TV, weather pictures, images of far galaxies from Hubble, the rovers on Mars, but all too few outside the space community realise that their personal in-car navigation system is using transmissions received directly from a constellation of US military satellites. Indeed, as a nation, we have become fundamentally reliant on space to underpin our lifestyle and security. Fortunately the UK possesses a vibrant and capable space industry—both manufacturing large & small satellites and exploiting their use once in orbit contributing billions into the UK economy and creating a world-class technical workforce. However, space does not at present command significant attention at the top levels of UK government—and this represents a substantial risk to the UK.

  If, hypothetically, space were to be "switched off", the UK would experience major infrastructure problems.

    —  Disruption to telecommunications to remote locations around the world; to ships or aircraft in flight; no live news feeds from many parts of the world; no ability to support disaster relief operations; no satellite TV and consequential loss of revenues to the UK.

    —  Loss of accurate weather forecasts—with a £1.5 billion/year impact to the economy of the UK alone. We would be blind to the progress of global warming.

    —  Loss of SatNav—most vehicle fleets could not operate efficiently; our military campaigns would falter—or increase collateral damage and civilian losses.

    —  Loss of universal timing—used to synchronise power and telecoms networks; banking and share trading; the mobile phone networks—most of these would stop operating.

  Very rapidly the UK economy would falter—we would experience severe problems with food distribution, availability of cash, communications and our national security would be vulnerable. These considerations are not lost on other nations—such as the US, France, Germany, Italy, India and China—and developing countries have been quick to realise the importance of space in providing the tools for development and improved economic security (for example, Algeria, Nigeria, Turkey now have their own Earth observation satellites ...).

  In this context, the UK government would be wise to place space further up its agenda—not because it is exotic, but for the benefit, well-being and security of the country without dependence on the assets of other nations.

  18.  The UK currently enjoys a world-leading position in modern small satellites that now enables the UK to access space affordably and exploit its use for the benefit of the nation. We should not miss this opportunity.

November 2006

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