Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2007
Q200 Chairman: I find it really quite
strangeand you commented on thisthat you have a
privileged relationship with the US in the exploitation of US
space capability (and I understand that, and that is fair comment),
but on 9/11 when there was a major incident in America, the US
military blacked out most of the satellite capability and you
did not have access to a lot of that satellite activity because
they control it. Is that acceptable?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: I cannot
comment specifically on whether we did or did not have denied
Q201 Chairman: Hypothetically, if
that occurred, would you be happy?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: At the
moment, I think, we are comfortable with the relationship we have
that would guarantee our secured access to data. Of course, we
have our own communications satellites by the SKYNET 4 and 5 system,
so that is secure, and, as I say, our relationship has been very
sound for a number of decades now on ensuring access to other
space-based products. However, we do see, when there are shocks
occurring in the world, a need to potentially have a responsive
space-based capability, and that drives our interest primarily
in the small satellite capability. So we are looking to see how
that might be developed in an economical way such that we could
respond to events that happen in the world where we may have to
insert a satellite capability that is not there. That is what
is driving our interest in TOPSAT and, potentially, any follow-on,
small satellite technology that will develop.
Q202 Adam Afriyie: My final question
is: I am sure you have a wonderful relationship with the BNSC
but are there any ways that you could suggestone or two
quick waysin which that relationship could be improved?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: We are
working closely together, and the important thing is as partners
we are developing a dialogue to see where there are opportunities
to work together, and small satellites is one area. I am also
working as carefully as I can to develop an MoD strategy which
we can weave into the wider UK space strategy so that when there
are potential opportunities on the horizon, on a global basis,
we can help make a judgment as to whether the MoD can make a contribution
Q203 Dr Turner: Keith, you are about
to head up the new Science and Technology Facilities Council.
What impact do you think that is going to have on the development
of the UK space programme?
Professor Mason: This is an opportunity.
You know the Science and Technology Facilities Council will primarily
be a merger between PPARC and CCLRC. PPARC is already the largest
funder of civil space activities in the UK, and CCLRC has the
largest infrastructure in terms of non-industrial, international
space capability. So I think putting the two together clearly
creates an opportunity for a better unit and a more complete unit
for taking the space agenda forward. To be specific, we have already
discussed earlier today the possibility of an ESA centre coming
to the UK, and one of the things that makes that possible is the
infrastructure we already have in place. As has already been discussed,
a prime site of that might well be the Harwell Science and Technology
Campus. The other thing that this merger provides is a core technical
expertise which will allow us to be more effective, through the
BNSC, in terms of both horizon scanning and in running the programmes
that we currently have.
Q204 Dr Turner: Do you want to make
a comment, Richard?
Professor Holdaway: Maybe I should
preface my comments by saying that Keith is about to become my
boss! Having said that, I think it is a tremendous opportunity
with the creation of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
It provides, as Keith said, already a huge investment in terms
of infrastructure, and actually not just for space science and
technology but for science and technology in general, much of
which still underpins the space programme, through IT, through
advanced micro-technology and so on. There are huge opportunities
there. In terms of the possibility of a European Space Agency
centre in the UK, following the announcement by the Chancellor
in the Budget in March last year, with the Harwell Science and
Technology Campus, it is a clear and obvious placenot the
only oneto put such an ESA centre. One of the key opportunities
there is on the development of what I referred to earlier on,
which is the really early stage technology. We piloted a programme
with the Space Agency two years ago, called the Star Tiger Programme
and it tried to do what had never been done before anywhere round
the world, let alone in the European Space Agency, which was to
develop a piece of technology in four or five months that would
traditionally take four or five years. We did that by bringing
in the right experts from around Europe, by providing the infrastructure,
by providing the space engineering capability, and that programme
not only was successful but it developed the world's first terahertz
camera for imaging, but it has now spun out a high-tech company
employing 36 people which is developing hardware outside of the
space industry. So it is developing stuff now which has been trialled
in a number of airports round the world, doing things that no
other camera can do; it can detect metals and explosives remotely.
There is no system in the world that can do that. That is technology
that all span out of the space programme and all came from the
Harwell campus, and I think STFC is a great opportunity to build
Q205 Dr Turner: What impact do you
think the new council will have on the British National Space
Professor Mason: It will be an
even stronger partner of BNSC. We are certainly looking, as part
of the evolution of the BNSC, as I described earlier, to see how
the creation of the STFC can support that and take the agenda
forward in a coherent way.
Q206 Dr Turner: How would you resolve
the obvious tension in the new council between funding large facilities
which gobble up many tens of millions of pounds, and funding basic
Professor Mason: I think there
is no conflict, frankly, because large facilities rely on basic
science and basic science relies on large facilities. I am comfortable
that we already have mechanisms in place that can handle this
transparently and achieve an appropriate balance, and that is
what we need; there is no point having facilities if we cannot
exploit them and there is no point being able to exploit them
if you do not have the facilities, so you have got to have that
balance. We are putting in place mechanisms through peer review
and strategy teams which will be capable of looking across the
whole patch and making sure that balance is achieved.
Q207 Dr Turner: Presumably it will
continue to fund the sort of science programmes that PPARC is
already funding, like the solar system
Professor Mason: Absolutely. Solar
system research, as can be deduced from my comments earlier, is
a high priority within PPARC, and will be within STFC. It is a
growth area for various reasons, not least of which is scientific.
Q208 Dr Turner: Do you want to risk
a comment on the likely budget of the new council? Is it going
to be 2007-10? Is it likely to be simply the sum of the two current
budgets or two separate councils, or do you think you may manage
to achieve an increase?
Professor Mason: Of course, the
decision is out of my hands, but if we are to make a success of
this new council and realise its full potential we need to resource
it appropriately, and that requires some increasea modest
Q209 Dr Turner: Presumably, there
is a risk that the Treasury might see an opportunity for economy
by combining both in a smaller budget.
Professor Mason: In setting up
the new council I think the Treasury and OSI have both been very
clear that the aim is not to save money; the aim is to make the
UK more effective in the scientific arena, and to allow us to
compete. That implies that we need to invest, and certainly that
is the assumption we are making. We are putting together an infrastructure
that will allow us to back the UK more effectively.
Q210 Dr Turner: So you are optimistic?
Professor Mason: Yes, of course
I am optimistic.
Chairman: We are optimistic too.
Q211 Mr Newmark: Chairman, I am going
to have to declare an interest and draw Members' attention to
my Register of Interests. Prior to coming to the House I was a
partner at Apollo Management, which was the largest investor in
satellite technology. How well do academics and industrialists
work together within the UK space community?
Professor Mason: Extremely well
and improving. We talk about knowledge transfer being enabled
by the movement of people, and there has always been a very strong
tie in both directions between the UK space industry and academia;
they speak the same language and they understand each other. They
have always worked well together, but certainly within PPARC and
in CCLRC as well we have been very proactive in encouraging that
sort of working, and putting in place mechanisms and funding streams
that allow that to happen more easily. For example, our CREST
programme for technology development related to Aurora, where
we have involved industry right from the outset in defining the
mission and not as an add-on once we have got it all sewn up.
Q212 Mr Newmark: Maybe, Professor,
you could flesh this out a little more. Just looking at the process
whereby you take ideas, projects and R&D to market, how can
this process be accelerated, and, again, what role do you see
the commercial sector, private equity sector, venture capitalists
playing in this?
Professor Holdaway: First of all,
I agree with Keith that the community does work together pretty
effectively. However, as with everything in life, it can do a
lot betterand actually in the case of space it must do
a lot better. That is one of the reasons why there is very low
public perception of what the UK actually does in space. Now,
with the formation of the STFC and the changes going on within
BNSC, is the time to make a real push on public awareness, not
just on how exciting space is but what space does for the public.
In terms of the practicalities of industry and academia working
together, the BNSC council, which I chair, has on it not only
the funding partners within BNSC but all the other partners as
well, and also now incorporates industry, representatives of the
universities and representatives of the investment community.
That is becoming increasingly important, as you have heard in
your session before Christmas, with the HYLAS programme, which
is led by the other David Williams. There is a very good example
now of private money coming into the space programme, and that
has to be good for all of us, not just for technologists but scientists
as well. In relation to the example I mentioned earlier on, of
the terahertz imaging camera, actually the initial funding for
that was seed-corn funding from the research councils; the next
stage funding was from the Rainbow Seed Fund, which was set up
by government, and the third stage of funding actually was with
venture capital from outside the UK shores, from the venture capitalists
Porton Capital based in Hong Kong, who are seeing opportunities
for investment in the UK space programme. So I think things are
beginning to move in exactly the right way, but we need to do
more of it and do it in a more co-ordinated way.
Q213 Mr Newmark: You talk about the
long-term nature of all this. Is there some concept where you
think about what you are doing, a return of equity and the transferring
of risk from the taxpayer to the private sector, or does that
not really come into it?
Professor Holdaway: For telecoms
and navigation that is fairly straightforward and is beginning
to happen quite radically. It is a little bit more difficult,
of course, for space science, for which the UK is second only
to the US in the world. We have absolutely outstanding space scientists
in this country in a number of areasmore PIs and more co-investigators
than any other country other than the USbut their ability
to do their science is generated by the technology, by the instruments,
and so we need to work much more closely than we do even now between
scientists and technologists to develop those instruments so that,
not in two years' time but in 10 and 20 years' time, we still
have world-leading scientists capable of producing the sort of
datawhether it is data on answering some fundamental questions
like: "Are we alone in the universe?" or more localised
questions, like: "What is the real effect of solar activity
and human activity on climate change?"
Q214 Mr Newmark: That is the practical
side of things. Just focusing back on how we do with other countries
and, specifically, how do other European countries support R&D
and prime their industries to prepare them to be competitive,
I draw Professor Mason's attention to a comment he made exactly
a year ago, where he said: "We need to seriously look as
to what sort of R&D and underpinning investment goes into
these areas in industry in order to prepare them to be competitive,
because we have a different way of doing things in the UK compared
to many other European countries. It is not a level playing field,
so we have to look and see what is out there."
Professor Mason: This refers back
to comments I made earlier, but, essentially, every other major
European country, in addition to supporting space through ESA,
has a large domestic programme, which feeds ESA programmes and
also develops capabilities that the ESA programme does not. The
UK is alone in not having such a domestic programme, and that
is what puts us at a disadvantage because it is that sort of early
stage investment nationally that positions us to win international
Q215 Mr Newmark: Therefore, your
conclusion is what?
Professor Mason: We need a dedicated
funding stream for technology development, which is what we said
earlier, which is essentially a national space programme.
Q216 Chairman: The previous panel
did not actually support that. You think they did?
Professor Mason: Yes. You mean
today's? Yes, I think David was quite
Q217 Chairman: We want a central
budget for R&D.
Professor Mason: Yes, a central
budget for R&D which supports technology.
Professor Holdaway: That is the
basis of the joint space technology programme, as far as the CCLRC
Q218 Mr Newmark: That is the basis
of it. That is my final question.
Professor Holdaway: The key issue
there, of course, is that the benefits we are reaping now
Q219 Mr Newmark: How do you measure
its effectiveness then?
Professor Holdaway: By the science
it will generate and the wealth creation it will generate, not
in five years' time but in 10 and 20 years' time, because the
benefits we are reaping now are as a result of investments 20
years ago. What has happened in the last 20 years is that the
funding for the very primordial research and technology in science,
and technology in particular, has fallen, and part of it is because
we have next-to-no national space programme.