Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 83

Submission from e2v


  e2v has space sales of circa £15 million per annum from a total of circa £112 million from its UK operations. Science driven sales of image sensors for advanced instrumentation have succeeded very well and UK/ESA space funding has been pivotal in enabling e2v to reach a recognized position as a global leader in this technology. Regrettably where no science driver exists market failure is evident. e2v believes there remain market opportunities that are not addressed early on and that could have a major economic impact given, for example, an appropriate early stage R&D funding scheme—prioritized by future economic impact not solely science return.

  1.  e2v technologies ( is a world leading supplier of specialist electronic components based on semiconductors and vacuum electronic tubes. In annualised terms circa £112 million of its £180 million sales originate from UK manufacturing activities based in Chelmsford (~1,000 people) or Lincoln (~200 people).

  2.  In the 12 months to March 2006 space-related sales amounted to circa £10 million mainly comprising custom image sensor chips (silicon CCD image sensors) for world leading spacecraft imaging instruments. Customers and end users include NASA (Wide Field Camera—3 for Hubble), Astrium, Alcatel, Lockheed, Ball Aerospace, JAXA, CNES and ESA. Being programme-driven this sales number varies year to year but circa £10 million per annum. is a good average across circa five to 10 programmes in various phases. The global leading position of this space image sensor business is recognized by our customers and competitors.

  3.  Through the early 80s the business originating from ESA science activities has been pivotal in the development of the world leading position for e2v—eg on ENVISAT (Ozone monitor sensor "GOMOS" and two others) and XMM with Leicester University. This has culminated with in 2005-06 the placement directly from ESA of a contract directly with e2v for the mission critical CCD image sensors totalling €19.9 million for the ESA-GAIA star mapping mission.


  4.  A direct result of the UK/ESA funding of science missions is the sustained demand for leading edge image sensor technology to satisfy the needs of the newest scientific instruments. This has been a major underpin for the continuing development of improved baseline capability that is at the heart of our circa £30 million per annum overall UK imaging business. For further clarity the UK/ESA annual requirements that have typically ranged from circa €1 million to circa €3 million per annum (GAIA being a major current blip) has been leveraged up by:

    (a)  Attracting NASA/JAXA and other national funded science sensors (eg Hubble, Hinode, Hirise on Mars Explorer, Stereo).

    (b)  Commercial space craft attitude control sensors ("star sensors").

    (c)  Spin off supporting terrestrial astronomy, life science and commercial image sensing.

    (d)  Spin off supporting a major product line in dental imaging.

  5.  The importance of the space business to driving the technology in this area is extremely high and this ahs led to the growth of our UK imaging business which now employs circa 200 people (mostly highly trained graduates/semiconductor engineers).

  6.  Reason for success in this area are:

    (a)  A business focus on specialist niche markets.

    (b)  Critically, an effective funding mechanism for early stage R&D into new sensors exists:

(i)  PPARC or ESA fund space primes or University groups (eg Leicester or Brunel or MSSL);

(ii)  Space primes or University groups fund e2v; and

(iii)  The instrument part of the space mission is seen as interesting and high profile and is easy to get funding for (close to the science).

  7.  e2v—Brunel University collaboration: the "e2v Centre for electronic imaging". To secure skilled PhD qualified engineers for the imaging business, and to develop jointly new technologies/applications e2v has committed circa £100k per annum to Brunel to maintain and grow a team of talented image sensors specialists. This support covers 50% of the salary of Professor Andrew Holland (relocated from Leicester) and the industrial sponsorship for the mainly PPARC provided team of circa six off CASE studentships. This is all matched by Brunel providing infrastructure and salaries for RAs and support staff. This arrangement has been in place for three years now and the group has secured leading roles in a number of space instruments including support work for GAIA and a lead in some AURORA Mars mission instrument concepts.

  8.  In a second area of business there have been some technology development contracts (GSTP/ARTES) for advanced technology in satellite communication uplink amplifiers. This has helped develop a circa £4 million per annum business in ground segment equipment. Importantly this capability was directly responsible for e2v's ability to produce quickly some electronic equipment for a recent UK MOD requirement (2005 and 2006)—resulting in sales of >£12 million. Further defence-related derivatives are possible.

  9.  Market Failures.

  10.  Whilst the above successes in space are notable there is in our view a major problem. This is in the area of non-science related new technologies. We believe that had simple, visible mechanisms been in place to encourage, drive and support some of the less scientifically appealing building blocks for space infrastructure e2v could have accessed additional market sectors. For example:

    (a)  During the 1980s: Space TWTs ("Travelling Wave Tubes") for space segment microwave applications—missed opportunity circa £50 million per annum?

    (b)  High temperature semiconductors—eg Gallium Nitride. This technology has been more significantly developed and invested in within the USA and Japan. There are major spin off applications in high temperature/high voltage electronics for both automotive and high power traction applications—missed opportunity 100s of £ million? ESA have recently recognized this and are now making some TRP money available.

  11.  A conclusion to address the above is to increase the scale of early stage R&D and assess applications by economic impact as a worthy measure rather than science outcome as an almost overwhelming consideration. A national programme of early technology demonstration to augment ESA is recommended by this author.

December 2006

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