Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560- 570)



  Q560  Chairman: Can you be very brief?

  Professor Southwood: Yes. It is my 78 million in a sense. It actually shows the resilience of the UK. There were two fundamental reasons. Number one was a massive change in the industrial structure in the UK which I think you are aware of. It was a sudden change and it takes a while for that to sort itself out. That took place in 1998-99 with the closure of the Bristol factory. Number two is we had in science one very big programme starting just after that time and UK industry did not bid in strongly to the programme called Herschel/Planck, partly because there were two competing prime organisations and the UK was in one consortium and not in the other, and that just happens. Because the programme was so big it did bias things. I am very proud to say that without really moving away from the industrial policy overall, as described by Jean-Jacques, the UK has come back and is now around 20 million deficit so we are within our requirement which is 94% return. We are back on target for a 94% return for the UK, which we should hit that this year. We have done this by a procedure of identifying at the beginning of new programmes the fraction that the prime contractor has to put into UK work. We have got two programmes now starting, one called Bepi-Columbo, a spacecraft going to Mercury, and the other called Gaia which is going to measure the position of all the stars in our galaxy, both with the UK shooting for 25-26% and we are getting there. It shows how resilient you are when you pull yourselves together and start firing on all cylinders.

  Q561  Adam Afriyie: My outrage is somewhat quelled, thank you. Are there any other Member States in a similar position to the UK in the current cycle? Secondly, obviously the current projects you have just mentioned, you say we are going to get a slightly bigger chunk of those and that is great, are you comfortable in the longer term the United Kingdom position is going to reach equilibrium?

  Professor Southwood: I would say I was worried about the United Kingdom two or three years ago and I am now feeling we have got you back on an even kilter. I do not want to mollycoddle anybody and of the big Member States it is the one I worry about most but I am feeling that we have got the solution. I have several other small countries where I have much more serious problems which are structural problems. You fundamentally do not have a structural problem in the UK, you have made a big change in the industry and that is now being resolved, and your GDP has been rising very dramatically.

  Q562  Adam Afriyie: Once again, I am marginally reassured there. We do not have any ESA centres in the United Kingdom; do you anticipate an ESA centre in the United Kingdom in the near future?

  Mr Dordain: We are working on that. There was a meeting one month ago, something like that.

  Professor Southwood: Less than a month ago, three weeks.

  Mr Dordain: On the Harwell Campus. We have decided to put in place a joint ESA-UK group to reflect on which type of ESA centre we could implement in the UK. We agree in terms of principle but we have to work to see which type.

  Q563  Adam Afriyie: Broadly speaking, when do you anticipate a decision will be made?

  Mr Dordain: I think that the decision will be made by Member States. I am committed to whatever is in the report that the joint working group will deliver on 31 May. That is what we are committed to. After that, we shall have to speak with the other Member States because obviously putting an ESA centre in a country is a decision by Member States, not only by the Director General.

  Q564  Chairman: But you support it?

  Mr Dordain: Yes, absolutely. I support that, not because I like the UK more than others but because I have a lot of expectations of the UK.

  Q565  Adam Afriyie: This is my final question that requires a fairly brief answer, I hope. You have mentioned bidding as one of the key components of this fairness in return, or one of the overall objectives. How could the United Kingdom improve its bidding position? What could we do to improve the way in which we bid for contracts at the moment, perhaps just one or two pointers?

  Professor Southwood: I think probably by upping the scale with which you are involved in programmes. The skills pool you have got needs to be kept working flat out, if you like, and you get lean and hungry organisations that look lean and hungry but not starving, if you see what I mean. The problem in the UK is you are on the edge, probably a little too lean and a little too hungry. I actually do not think UK bidding really is a problem, the bids that we get from the UK are very professional and you have got a very good skills base in this country.

  Q566  Dr Iddon: Director General, I want to turn now to the possibilities of humans in space. The UK has given the impression that it is willing to back robotic projects but not manned space projects, for example, we have not invested in the International Space Station to any degree, but we are investing in Aurora and, in fact, I understand that recently we became the second largest contributor after Italy.

  Mr Dordain: That is right.

  Q567  Dr Iddon: We all know that Aurora is planning human missions to Mars much later. Can you conceive of a time when Britain might get back into sending men or women into space?

  Mr Dordain: I would say that it does not depend only on the UK, it depends on what all these other Member States would like to do beyond the Space Station. These are the lessons learned that we have got from the Space Station. Again, the UK has decided not to contribute to the Space Station but the Member States which have decided to contribute have drawn some lessons learned from the Space Station. One of the biggest lessons learned from the Space Station was that the ESA Member States were much too dependent on the United States in the International Space Station meaning that, unfortunately, they had to face several crises on the International Space Station where they had no choice but to follow what the United States did. Again, it is not a complaint but this is a fact, we were too dependent on the United States because we had no transportation system which meant we could not launch the laboratory Columbus without the space shuttle, we could not use the ATV on board the Space Station if Columbus is not there. We were much too dependent. This is the reason why they have decided, but it was my proposal, to follow two parallel lines beyond the Space Station: one line where the ESA Member States can be in control and not controlled by somebody else, and one line where they could accept being controlled by another country. When you put that, the only domain where the ESA Member States can be in control, at least in the next 10 years, are automatic missions because we have no transportation system for astronauts. We missed the key access for European astronauts. This is the reason why Aurora is made up of two parts which gives a global exploration vision for ESA Member States but where Member States can choose to be in one line, in the other line, or in both. We have automatic missions which are today focused on Mars because the scientific community in Europe is much more interested by Mars than the Moon, and David can elaborate on that, and this is the Exo-Mars mission. Exo-Mars will be a sample return mission, and so on. The second line is how ESA Member States can contribute to a manned space exploration programme which today is led by the United States because it is a fact that the United States are the ones who invest the most in a manned space programme. We are conducting a lot of studies and activities today to see on what basis Europe can contribute to a manned exploration programme which is that second line focused on the Moon because the United States have chosen first to go to the Moon and then to Mars. No decision has been taken yet, we are reflecting, because the contribution of ESA Member States to this manned exploration programme could be providing all or a part of the Moon in-orbit infrastructure, the telecommunication and navigation systems around the Moon or providing all or part of the Moon surface infrastructure, which is a pressured module to be put on the surface of the Moon. It could also be contributing, because it cannot be all, to a manned space transportation system or providing scientific missions to the Moon. Since the United States do not want to co-operate on the transportation system we are working with the Russians on that. Today we are conducting two years of activity and the rendezvous for decision will be end of next year when the ESA Member States will have to decide on both lines. Do we make automatic missions beyond Exo-Mars? That is the first question; and do ESA Member States contribute to a manned exploration to the Moon driven by the United States, by providing one or more pieces that I have mentioned, the in-orbit infrastructure, surface infrastructure, part of the transportation system with the Russians or only scientific missions? This is where we are. Today the question is not so much UK in or out, it is more ESA Member States in or out because the Space Station development is now coming to an end, with the launches of Columbus and ATV this year. We have been working on that for 20 years and it is high time to complete that. This is where we are in terms of exploration generally speaking and manned space flights more precisely.

  Dr Iddon: Thank you, that is very clear. We will watch this space!

  Chairman: Oh, dear me.

  Adam Afriyie: Very good.

  Q568  Chris Mole: Finally turning to launchers, the UK has a little investment in Ariane 5, what are we getting from that? What have we missed out on up until now by not heavily investing in launchers?

  Mr Dordain: Again, that was an historical decision by the UK to stop their investment in launchers. When I started as an engineer my first work was to work with British industry and Europa 2 and I remember the first stage of Europa 2 was the Blue Streak, so there was a time when the UK was deeply involved in launchers but for whatever reasons your Government decided to stop investment in launchers, apart from, as you said, a small contribution to Ariane 5. You are not getting a lot because you are not investing a lot. In my view, on Ariane 5 you are getting more than you are investing. This is one of the examples where you are over-returned on Ariane because we need some pieces from the UK which do not exist anywhere else in Europe, which is fair enough. The UK has decided to stop its contribution to launchers on the basis that we can find a launcher anywhere in the world whenever we want but, frankly speaking, I am not so sure.

  Q569  Chris Mole: So you are not certain that the market will deliver launchers for the future?

  Mr Dordain: I am not sure because all the spaces powers are building launchers first for their own purpose. The United States are not on the market, there is no US launcher on the market. They are not even making any proposals. Atlas 5 and Delta 4 they are just for the domestic market in the United States, they are not on the market. The Japanese are not on the market. The Chinese cannot be on the market because of the United States, because there is not a single satellite in the world that is not using a US component, which means that, due to export control the United States are in control. So the Chinese are not on the market except for a few exceptions that the United States has agreed upon. Clearly the United States are controlling the Chinese launchers through the export control on the US components. Today the only ones that are on the market are the Europeans and the Russians, but the Russians, although they are on the market, are increasing their price by 20% a year for the last two or three years and this will continue. What is the price of a launcher, it is just man hours, it is just a question of salaries. When the Russian engineers were paid $200 a month the Russian launchers were cheap, but since the salaries in Russia are increasing the prices are increasing. That is the reason why I am not too sure that we can find a launcher anywhere any time on the market.

  Chris Mole: That is a good answer.

  Q570  Chairman: That was a superb response.

  Mr Dordain: In my view this is why it is good to have a guarantee of access to space. David was recalling that Skynet 5 was launched by Ariane 5 last week.

  Chairman: Alas we have come to the end of our questions. Could I thank you very much, David, for your support this afternoon, but in particular, Director General, may we thank you as a Committee, not only for coming over from Paris to share your time with us but to say that we have had the most fantastic session with you this afternoon. I think we would all accept the very openness of your responses to us has helped the inquiry enormously and we thank you very, very much indeed for that.

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