Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 79

Submission from Dr David Tsiklauri, University of Salford


  Total UK public sector expenditure on civil space is low relative to the US and some other European countries (Figure 2 from Ref. [1]). In 2004 national civil space budget as the percentage of GDP was about 10 times less than in eg US, Russia or France. This is manly due to the lack of necessary space launch facilities and technology infrastructure. Since the start of space era, UK has been relying on European and US partners for launching its civil space satellites. In that, UK's "partnership" approach to space exploration differs from the ones adopted in countries such as US, Russia and France. The latter have autonomous space programmes, but also participate in collaborative partnerships. The absence of space vehicle launching capability and necessary technology in UK's space programme significantly reduces our country's competitiveness in the global market. As an academic, I can see a direct link of a serous problem of the lack of popularity of the science-related subjects amongst A-levels student population with the virtual absence of an autonomous space programme. This problem directly feeds into the lack of well-trained science graduates. On short timescale, this problem can be offset by the influx of science graduates from overseas (mainly Europe). However, long-term solution necessarily needs to involve rising science education's profile nationally. The best way of achieving this would be investing more into the space programme, which has its own space vehicle launching capability, necessary technology base and infrastructure. In addition to the benefits of rectifying the above-mentioned problem, such investment will create science and technology-intensive jobs in the UK as opposed to contracting them out to our partners. In such approach, in addition to the government funds, co-investment from well-developed UK space industry should be sought and encouraged. It needs to be recognised that a self-contained, autonomous space programme will also lead to the advances in technology from related fields such as new materials, which is of paramount importance for UK's competitiveness in the global market.

  In addition, space technology often finds applications in different fields, beneficial to society, such as inland security. A good example of the latter is T-ray technology that has been successfully implemented in airport security and medical imaging [2]. At the same time, it is necessary to continue participation in current and future join ventures with ESA and NASA to maintain competitiveness and have access to the new technology developed by our space partners.


  UK's space exploration and astronomy is funded and managed by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). According to Ref [3], in 2003-04 Solar System research has received 5.1% of total PPARC's budget. This level of funding seems to be too small, given the fact that this is the main source of financial support for UK's space-related research. Ref [4] gives a well-balanced and adequate description of the current and, importantly, future research in this field. It also recognises main challenges and proposes strategies to achieve the best possible outcomes. Thus, in order to be able meet current commitments and increase the above percentage of 5.1, more funds need to be made available for PPARC.

  Understanding of physical processes in the solar atmosphere is of paramount importance both from a fundamental point of view because solar plasma is one of the best accessible plasma laboratories in space due to its close proximity; as well as from the applied point of view because physical phenomena like solar flares and coronal mass ejections affect our daily lives. Globally, about one satellite per year is lost due to these violent events. These phenomena are studied in the newly emerging field of space weather. The latter term refers to the conditions of space plasma and solar wind in the interplanetary space. In the US, the agency that oversees space weather is NOAA. It classifies hazards posed by the space weather in several categories. To signify importance of the space weather below the extreme examples are quoted from Ref [5]:

(i)  NOAA Space Weather Scale for Geomagnetic Storms

  Scale G5 Extreme:

  Power systems: widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur; some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.

  Spacecraft operations: may experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink and tracking satellites.

  Other systems: pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps, HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, satellite navigation may be degraded for days, low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours, and aurora has been seen as low as Florida and southern Texas (typically 40° geomagnetic latitude).

  Physical measure: Kp = 9.

  Number of storm events per 11 year cycle: 4 per cycle.

  Number of storm days: 4 days per cycle.

(ii)  NOAA Space Weather Scale for Solar Radiation Storms

  Scale S5 Extreme:

  Biological: unavoidable high radiation hazard to astronauts on EVA (extra-vehicular activity); high radiation exposure to passengers and crew in commercial jets at high latitudes (approximately 100 chest x-rays) is possible.

  Satellite operations: satellites may be rendered useless, memory impacts can cause loss of control, may cause serious noise in image data, star-trackers may be unable to locate sources; permanent damage to solar panels possible.

  Other systems: complete blackout of HF (high frequency) communications possible through the polar regions, and position errors make navigation operations extremely difficult.

  Flux level of = 10 MeV particles (ions): 105s-1-1-2pa

Number of events: less than one per 11 year cycle

(iii)  NOAA Space Weather Scale for Radio Blackouts

  Scale R5 Extreme:

  HF Radio: Complete HF (high frequency) radio blackout on the entire sunlit side of the Earth lasting for a number of hours. This results in no HF radio contact with mariners and en route aviators in this sector.

  Navigation: Low-frequency navigation signals used by maritime and general aviation systems experience outages on the sunlit side of the Earth for many hours, causing loss in positioning. Increased satellite navigation errors in positioning for several hours on the sunlit side of Earth, which may spread into the night side.

  Flux, measured in the 0.1-0.8 nm range: 2 x 10-3 in W.m-2.

  Number of events: less than 1 per 11 year cycle.

  The better understanding of solar and space plasmas is very important because, only solar physics fundamental research can answer questions such as, what triggers the above-mentioned violent space phenomena; how they propagate in space on the collision course to Earth and what can be done to minimize the impact.

  In this field, UK plays a leading role in Europe and worldwide through its network of PPARC funded theoretical / modelling groups spread across major universities as well as experimental sites such as MSSL and CCLRC in Oxfordshire. Two recent space missions led by Japan and NASA will soon provide large quantities of the observational data that needs interpreting and analysing. In addition, new, more advanced than existing, numerical codes need to be developed in order to provide a solid theoretical/modelling base for the analysis and interpretation of the new observational data. This can secure UK's future key role in this field internationally. In order to achieve the best possible outcomes, PPARC's budget needs to be increased, including the faction invested into Solar System research within the research council.

  In addition to the above-mentioned benefits, the space plasma research has a considerable value from the point of view of fundamental plasma physics. In particular, better understanding space plasmas will be beneficial for advancing our knowledge of thermonuclear fusion research. With the recent £10 billion ITER initiative, (international agreement for which is due to be signed on 21 November 2006 in Paris), the increase of investment in the space plasma research cannot be timelier. Thus, there is a clear indication of socio-economical impact of the space and solar plasma research, which calls for the increase in funding for PPARC.

November 2006


  [1]  POSTnote, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, March 2006 Number 262,—offices/post/pubs2006.cfm

  [2]  PPARC and Parliament Science at the Frontier, Issue 8, July 2006.

  [3]  PPARC strategic plan 2003-2008, p 23.

  [4]  PPARC Solar System Science Strategy 2002-12,

  [5]  Data from NOAA website

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