Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 168)



  Q160  Mr Newmark: But that is a generic, meaningless statement. What does it mean when we talk about outputs?

  Dr Williams: There are established mechanisms to establish if you are good at science or bad at science and at the current time the UK is second in Europe on science, sorry second in the world on science behind the USA. Europe collectively could get to first if we put a collective effort in, using the existing citation methods that are accepted. In economic terms, the current policy says that Europe needs to remain strong in using space for commercial purposes and for societal purposes. We want it to say that it currently contributes £22 billion to the European economy and let us have a target of £60 billion. Give it a target rather than just words.

  Q161  Mr Newmark: And a road map on how to get there; a strategy or a plan as to how you get from 22 to 60.

  Dr Williams: Yes, and once you have got that into a policy, let us work back to how we have a strategy and an implementation plan to get that goal, rather than to talk about words. So that is what we are doing.

  Q162  Mr Newmark: How satisfied is the BNSC with progress on the Galileo programme, and could transparency—and I know we talked about this before—be increased with regard to costs and risks?

  Dr Williams: We, on the European Space Agency programme have a good understanding of where the risks are, and there are some problems with the structure of the way Galileo has been developed, in my view. The Galileo industries are seeing themselves as a monopoly and that is bringing problems to the surface. We cannot hide those problems but we have made a decision since I came into post to find extra money for Galileo on the basis that it was going the right way, and we need to get to the end of what we call the initial orbit verification in 2009-10 to show that it is viable. We are now holding the line that they must get to that point within the budgets available, and we are working hard with them to get there, but there are some significant problems.

  Q163  Mr Newmark: I was reading about emerging contingency risks. Is there anything specific we should be aware of?

  Dr Williams: They have had problems, as you know. One satellite has already been launched, which was very successful and British and was a small satellite, built by Surrey Satellites, and that is maintaining capability to hold the spectrum for Galileo operations. There are problems with the second satellite, which is built by a European consortium, and that launch has been delayed. They have had to make some technical changes to the satellite. We have people in BNSC working on the interaction on that and we work closely with DfT, but it is certainly not an easy issue, and the impact on the PPP and how the European Union and the industries are going to work on that has yet to be seen. There is going to be a lot of hard management going into Galileo with some very significant challenges coming up.

  Q164  Mr Newmark: What lessons can we learn from the UK's involvement in the global monitoring for environment and security? I just want to throw something at you as you reflect on that, which is that the trade association, UK Space, states that: "GMES remains 75% under-funded by the UK, seriously prejudicing the UK's role in the EU exploitation of Earth Observation". It goes on: "In relation to GMES and Galileo, it asserts that `user departments without the necessary expertise or remit in space were asked to identify and co-ordinate the UK position and decide on investment'", which to me was fairly damning criticism.

  Dr Williams: Taking the second one first, on Galileo, it is quite correct that if you are going to have a system that is designed for traffic management the department responsible, Transport, should be involved at a policy level, saying what they are doing in the future. On the funding, in fact, when I came in I led on getting the funding for the tranche that would approve this, and we had a long debate in government about whether it was affordable and whether it was sensible, and the conclusion of ministers was that it was. On the GMES, as I explained, with DfT, they are saying: "If we want to change to this system we need assurances about continuity of data", and we need to have a programme that does that. It is not a programme that is driven by the short-term industrial goals, and the programme at the moment—and the UK has said this publicly in ESA and in the EU—is driven too much by short-term industrial goals and not enough by looking at what the actual application user really needs to have the confidence to move over to using the system. Until we solve that problem, I think it would be wrong to move from the position we are in.

  Q165  Chairman: How do you solve that problem?

  Dr Williams: We work in the Commission and in ESA to get other people to understand that this is a real requirement and not just something driven by industry, and get them to change their position.

  Q166  Chairman: So this is an ESA problem, not just a UK Government problem?

  Dr Williams: It is an EC problem, on the way the programme has been constructed. It is not about the objectives of the programme, it is not about the instrumentation, it is about the structure of the programme.

  Q167  Chairman: I will have to leave that there. Can I just ask finally—I want a yes or no—in terms of the NASA lunar exploration programme do you actually provide the advice for Government on our involvement in that programme? If not, who does it?

  Dr Williams: The scientific advice comes through PPARC. I talk with the Minister and PPARC come in and talk with me to the Minister, and talk separately sometimes to the officials in London.

  Q168  Chairman: Any talk about human space flight is your responsibility then?

  Dr Williams: It will come through here.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Dr Williams, Ms Freedman and Dr Davies.

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