Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2007
Q140 Adam Afriyie: How much money
are you bidding for?
Dr Williams: It is currently of
the order of £20 million.
Q141 Adam Afriyie: So it is quite
small in the scheme of things.
Dr Williams: It is quite small,
but, as a percentage of the space spend, it is significant.
Q142 Adam Afriyie: But you are hopeful
that you are going to get a successful outcome for that bid because
obviously, without it, it would undermine the entire space programme,
I would imagine?
Dr Williams: I am hopeful that
we will get somewhere on that bid, yes.
Q143 Adam Afriyie: This is a question
for Paula. What action, from your point of view, have the BNSC
partners undertaken to reduce the obstacles which are faced by
small- and medium-sized enterprises? During the inquiry, we found
that smaller businesses do not necessarily feel that they have
access to these investments and this downstream funding and the
opportunities that larger businesses have. I know that in the
DTI there have been some changes recently in the way that things
are funded, so what action has been taken by partners, in your
Miss Freedman: Small- and medium-sized
businesses are very important. A company like Surrey Satellites
started as a very small company and they are now quite a large
one. We have a programme of helping to educate companies about
doing business in Europe both through the European Space Agency
and to secure EU funding through the Framework programmes and
we try and engage with them and help them through the process.
We also give a lot of information on our website to help companies
look at commercial opportunities.
Q144 Adam Afriyie: Do you think those
actions have been successful? Just looking at the results obviously
since 2004 when the changes were made, it does not seem to be
Miss Freedman: I think it has
been successful and I think we have grown the space community,
but these opportunities are not quick wins and they need quite
a lot of investment in terms of effort and understanding to secure
Q145 Graham Stringer: How is our
relationship with the European Space Agency going to develop over
the next 10 years?
Dr Williams: Well, the European
Space Agency in the run-up to a Council meeting in 2008 at ministerial
level are looking at how they should evolve and how they should
change for the future and that is largely driven by the enlargement
of Europe. We have a good working relationship with them and we
recognise the value of the European Space Agency in developing
missions which individually no country in Europe would need to
develop on its own and probably could not develop on its own,
so we want to keep that skill and we want to keep that capability.
What we want to do also is get them to recognise that, with 25
countries, they will have to change the way they do business to
some extent, the juste retour principle, of everybody getting
a bit of every programme will probably disappear. Some of the
voting procedures may have to change because some decisions are
unanimous, and some are simple majority which poses a problem
for the countries that put most of the money up because you can
be outvoted by a lot of countries with little money when you put
a lot of money in and that in itself poses a problem at times.
Perhaps the most difficult bit for the European Space Agency,
and it is a UK perspective, is how big it should be and what it
should do relative to what should be done in countries because,
if you set the European Space Agency up today, you probably would
not set it up with three big centres in Europe, but you would
set it up in a much more open, European-wide-style system with
e-science and e-capabilities between sites. I think whether they
address that or not is one of the big issues for them and one
of the issues we have to push.
Q146 Graham Stringer: Are you trying
to get a major ESA facility in this country because, given our
contribution, it is rather surprising that we do not have one,
is it not?
Dr Williams: I had a meeting with
the Minister and the Director General of ESA two months ago and
in a follow-up to that I discussed with ESA the UK having a facility
in the UK and he gave a lot of encouragement to that and said
that yes, he thought it would be sensible and he thought it would
be important. We are now trying to identify what sort of capability
we could look for to come to the UK and then go back to ESA and
start debating that and seeing how we can manage it.
Q147 Graham Stringer: So is that
a done deal, a 90% chance?
Dr Williams: Politically and psychologically,
it is a done deal. I think we have to identify something we can
bring in in a tangible way which will bring benefit to the UK
without overloading the system in the UK.
Q148 Chairman: What do you think
that will be?
Dr Williams: There are number
of candidates. One is, looking long-term, a return sample site,
the samples from extraterrestrial planets, and in the shorter
term we may be looking at perhaps bringing in some of the science
evaluation, science programming or the application areas to the
UK where they do the planning, so there are a number of areas
we can look at, and making better use of the facilities we have
in the UK at the expense of central facilities in ESA.
Q149 Graham Stringer: Is the location
Dr Williams: The location is not
determined, but the idea is that, if we can focus a national programme
on the Harwell Business Campus and we can use that as a vehicle,
whether it is on the campus or somewhere in the UK as a second-order
decision because within the UK we should not be prescriptive and
we should follow the same idea that you can be open with e-science
about how you develop and locate things.
Q150 Graham Stringer: Dr Iddon asked
some questions about manned space flight. What is the timescale
when we will have to make a decision about whether or not to opt
into the Aurora programme?
Dr Williams: Well, in the next
session Keith Mason can answer that probably better than I can,
but we are in the Aurora programme and we need to continue to
be in it.
Q151 Graham Stringer: But in the
manned space flight?
Dr Williams: I do not see a need
to make a decision on that certainly in the next 10 years and
then we could probably consider it at any point in time.
Q152 Graham Stringer: What are the
benefits and disbenefits of opting in and out of that programme?
Dr Williams: It is not a disbenefit,
but the problem of opting in is a cost one. If we had a lot more
money, we could do it. It is really a priority issue for the Government
as to how it spends money and where it can afford to spend money.
Q153 Graham Stringer: I like the
answer that we are going to get a facility here, but how effective
are we in co-ordinating government departments, industry and academia
in bidding for ESA contracts? Do we do as well as we should and
are we punching below our weight?
Dr Williams: We have historically
punched at our weight. When I came in, it was clear that we were
down on industrial returns. The system is that for industrial
contracts, for every pound a country puts into a programme, once
you decide how much you are going to spend on industrial work,
you expect a pound back, and that is to develop technologies.
We have fallen behind in the last three years and there are a
number of reasons, there is no single reason. One is that the
UK economy has done well, so we have gone from being 13% of a
managed programme to 17.7%. That is a 25% increase in subscription
which takes time to filter through to industrial work because
all the existing planning is on the old figure and we have got
the new figure. In space science, one programme, the Eddington
programme, was cancelled and the UK was hoping to get work on
it and, therefore, we lost some input there, and there has been
a restructuring of UK industry which has lost some of the capability
in a major company and, therefore, the ability to win work as
we choose, so I think there are a number of factors coming together
and we are actively addressing that with the DG of ESA and telling
him that this has got to be rectified and rectified quickly and
to get us back on track.
Q154 Graham Stringer: I was interested
in your previous answers about the Galileo project. You said there
was a debate about whether or not there should be a defence capacity
in the Galileo project. I am fairly certain that, when the Transport
Select Committee did an inquiry into Galileo, Alistair Darling
told us that under no circumstances would it be used for defence.
Are you saying that that is not accurate?
Dr Williams: No, I am saying that
that is accurate and that has been the crux of the debate in the
UK. We have been very strong that that is the way it must be,
but, as I explained, if, in 15 years' time, Galileo exists and
you can buy a GPS receiver for a car and there is a military person
driving that car, do we have to tell him not to use it? There
is a sort of de minimis point below which you say, "Well,
it would be used to some extent", but it is in the more active
military area that it must not be used, in what we call the "applications",
and that is where we are being very strong, working very well
across government and working very strongly in the European Union
and ESA to make sure that that does not happen.
Q155 Graham Stringer: So you are
saying that our decision is holding, but it is still an active
debate to use it for more than the de minimis position
for military application?
Dr Williams: Because other countries
have different views and you have to work that position.
Q156 Chairman: Your view is that
we should not?
Dr Williams: The UK position is
that it is a civil system for civil application.
Q157 Chairman: Your view is that
you are supportive of that view?
Dr Williams: Yes.
Q158 Mr Newmark: You have sort of
answered some of the questions I am going to ask, but, in general,
what role has the BNSC played in the development of the European
space policy and, specifically, to what extent has the BNSC been
involved in the development of the space programme in Framework
Dr Williams: We have a strong
involvement. We have people dedicated to work on that and, on
the European space policy, I spend quite a bit of my time going
to the meetings and being involved, so the answer is that we are
very strong and we are very positive.
Q159 Mr Newmark: But being involved
Dr Williams: Being involved means
trying to drive the policy itself and shape it in a way which
will suit the UK and that is to have it driven, on the policy
side, by output and not by input, and we are working with the
UK representation in Brussels on that. If you read the first draft
of it, it was sort of good European speak. What we are trying
to do is convert it so that we say things like, "Europe should
become number one in space science". At the European level,
space currently is estimated at