House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY committee
Wednesday 10 January 2007
DR DAVID WILLIAMS, MISS PAULA FREEDMAN and DR ARWYN DAVIES
and AIR VICE-MARSHAL CHRIS MORAN
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 10 January 2007
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Brooks Newmark
Dr Desmond Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr David Williams, Director General; Miss Paula Freedman, Director, DTI Space, and Dr Arwyn Davies, Director, Earth Observation (at both BNSC and NERC), the British National Space Centre, gave evidence.
Q94 Chairman: Good morning to everybody and good morning to our first panel of witnesses this morning, David Williams, the Director General of the British National Space Centre, Paula Freedman, the Director of DTI Space within BNSC and Dr Arwyn Davies, the Director of Earth Observation at both the BNSC and the Natural Environment Research Council, NERC. Happy New Year to you all and welcome to our visitors as well this morning; you are very, very welcome. David, a fair amount of discussion in terms of our inquiry, and it is great to see it is so topical at the moment in terms of what is happening in the media, is really about the benefits and drawbacks of the UK's partnership approach to space rather than having an agency. I wonder if you could start by giving us your candid views as to what are the advantages of having that partnership approach rather than an agency because everybody else seems to have agencies.
Dr Williams: Not many countries actually have agencies. NASA is an agency, Germany do and France, but within Europe many of the countries operate at a departmental level or at the inter-governmental level. The main reason that we have a partnership rather than an agency at the moment is that one of the things we wish to do with space is to keep the tension across why we do things using satellite systems as opposed to other mechanisms. For example, in the science world, the partner that looks after space science, PPARC, decides whether it should use a satellite system or a ground-based telescope. The Natural Environment Research Council likewise decide which way they should do the science, whether it is a satellite-based system or a non-satellite-based system and keeping that tension in the system, I think, is an important element in the debate and in the way that space is funded so that we do useful things. If we had an agency, we could look at it the other way and say, "Well, the agency spends the money on space programmes", but you still need to bridge that gap and have the user community on side and agreeing that that is the way forward, so the important element of the partnership was to get that link across to the user side to make sure that we are doing things not just because it is a satellite system or a space system, but because it is useful in the area of application that it is being applied, and that is valid in the DTI as well for the more commercial things and in the MoD for the MoD activities.
Q95 Chairman: But surely then the issue with the BNSC is that you just do not have any lobbying power? This was the criticism which was made by CCLRC in its submission to us, that you do not have a lobbying power with government and, therefore, you are not taken terribly seriously.
Dr Williams: We have direct access to the Minister, I have direct access to the Minister and that in itself is enormously useful and important when it comes to specific issues, trying to promote things within government. We are directly linked into the Department of Trade and Industry mechanisms for access to, if you like, the financial regimes. Something like 80 per cent of the total budget on the BNSC comes through the Office of Science and Innovation in the Department of Trade and Industry into DTI directly, into PPARC and into NERC, so we do have a lobbying mechanism, it is just not a public lobbying mechanism. I think if we went outside to an agency, I could stand up and say, "Yes, I think we should do more in space", or, "I think we should do this", but I am not sure that that is more effective than my talking directly to the Minister and directly to the officials at my level and above and saying, "Let's work this into the system, let's work with the Treasury in trying to make this happen" in a more quiet way, so we do have a quiet lobbying mechanism and it is called the line management system in government rather than a public lobbying system.
Q96 Chairman: So why do you think that the CCLRC say that it is not an effective way of lobbying government?
Dr Williams: I think that is probably for the CCLRC to answer in the next session because that is their view, not my view.
Q97 Chairman: Miss Freedman, do you want to comment on that? Why not an agency?
Miss Freedman: I was going to add that of course there is an enormous network of stakeholders within the civil space activity, a very competent and energetic industry, a large number of scientists and academics and of course they are all very skilled at lobbying. Indeed, industry has worked on the Case for Space very much as part of their lobbying activity. The NAO, which reported on BNSC a couple of ----
Q98 Chairman: And was very critical of it.
Miss Freedman: In some ways it was, but it did comment on the agency status and said that there are a variety of organisational arrangements that exist among nations and that the UK's partnership approach is appropriate, given the UK's policy emphasis on the users and the users of space.
Q99 Chairman: My question is: is it effective? The indication from both of you is that there are no problems. The NAO thought there were significant problems.
Dr Williams: There are always problems when you want to try and get more money through the government system and the issue there is that it is a matter of priorities for the Government on how it spends money. Yes, the partnership brings problems in the interaction between departments because it really highlights the fact that what you have to do is demonstrate that the satellite system or the space system which is being developed really has value in the community that is going to use it in a way which is not 'hideable', you cannot hide that issue in that debate of why you do something where I think in some agencies sometimes there is a tendency to go off and do things because they have a budget.
Q100 Chairman: Let us just say then that some of the NAO's criticisms were valid. Has in fact the BNSC improved in terms of its effectiveness since that report and what now needs to be done to improve it further, or is it perfect?
Dr Williams: The NAO brought forward a number of issues and since then we have established the UK Space Board which has the main funding partners on it and allows us to debate in a controlled environment and an organised environment how we do things collectively with the major funding partners. We have the Space Advisory Council beneath that which brings forward ideas on where to go and that involves the wider partnership and industry, so organisationally we have strengthened that part of, if you like, the UK space management system.
Q101 Chairman: But how independent is the Space Board?
Dr Williams: The Space Board is very independent. It is chaired by the Chairman of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, there is the Chairman of NERC, there is the Chief of Policy in the MoD, the Met Office are involved at chief executive level, and I attend as effectively the executive officer along with staff, so it is independent in the fact that it is talking about the individual budget and it is talking about the collective and how we work together and it does not have external advisory members on it in that sense.
Q102 Chairman: What I am trying to get at in this first session of questions really, David, is that the BNSC seems to be responsible for space policy and advising the Government on space policy. I am trying to work out how independent they are as a result of the reorganisation that followed the NAO inquiry and also the setting up of the UK Space Board. In policy terms, is it independent and is it effective and, secondly, in lobbying terms, is it independent and is it effective?
Dr Williams: In policy terms, it gets independent advice and gives good advice which we take forward to the Minister, and I think we are all fairly happy with the way it works as the Space Board. We interact in different forms with industry, we have the industry group which advises on technology and we have industry people involved in other advisory bodies that report, so I think from that point of view we get good, independent advice coming in to the BNSC. If we come back to the lobbying, in terms of working the system for money, each partner works their own corner because effectively each partner has to go through a mechanism to get funding and, as the BNSC, we give overall advice to the Minister who then takes it into the system and works on the political side of the house to try and improve the overall position for space across government. It is a difficult task when you work in a partnership and the Treasury do respond well to joined-up approaches in terms of forward bidding, and we are putting a document in that all the partners will submit as a cover document for their CSR bid this year which shows that they are working within a framework of the overall space activity and that this is what we are trying to achieve overall, and individually each partner then has a programme. The Treasury are receptive to that approach, they do like the joined-up government approach, so I think we do have a mechanism that works. There is no doubt it is not perfect, but I am not sure that the agency would be any more perfect; it would have different problems.
Q103 Chairman: So you have got a magic wand, it is the new year, what could you do to improve things further? Space is obviously a very, very important area for the British economy and it is important for all sorts of other public service delivery issues, so what would make your organisation more effective?
Dr Williams: As with all these things, I think we are very effective today and one of the points I have always wanted to make is that, although in the UK we do not contribute to all areas of space, where we do contribute and where we do work, we are very, very good.
Q104 Chairman: That is not what I asked. I asked: what would you do to improve things?
Dr Williams: If we wanted to improve, we would need more money to do new things. To do that, we need to persuade those parts of government and those parts of industry to invest more money to achieve those goals. One of the things I would like to do to improve it is to get more private venture into funding space, and the other one is to try and work to get more science vote we need into space and to get other departments working on space issues. DfT are very good at the moment, but Defra we need to work with to get them to bid for funds. It is a matter of working with the partnership to get more people bringing things in. On the other side, we could do more, I think, on the education side and on the skills and science side, and there we are looking at what we can do in the future to strengthen the use of space and the attraction of space in attracting people into science.
Q105 Chairman: The Science and Technology Facilities Council has been established. What impact will that have on your organisation?
Dr Williams: Initially, it will bring together the CCLRC and the PPARC capability. It will allow us to have a focus on the Harwell Business Campus for background technology and technology support and one of the things we have done already this year in the process of this CSR bidding for 2007 is to make a bid into government through the CCLRC for a national technology programme. That bid has gone in as a bid into the system. It will then merge with the PPARC bidding and, if it is successful, Harwell will become a focus for the UK activity of national technology, we will use it to work across the UK, and it will not all be done there, but we will do it in a good e-science mode by which the work will be done where the skills are rather than bringing it into Harwell, and we want to use Harwell to attract inward investment from Europe and from the European Space Agency to build the sort of core capability in the UK which will carry it forward a long way.
Q106 Chairman: It is a positive move, as far as you are concerned?
Dr Williams: A positive move, yes.
Q107 Graham Stringer: Dr Williams, as an outsider coming into this organisation, you must have made an initial assessment of what was right and wrong. What was the most surprising thing you found?
Dr Williams: I did know the BNSC from my previous life and I had interacted with it and in fact I have worked in it in the past. The most surprising thing for me was probably the decline in national activity, if we are looking at the programmatic side, in that we had lost some capability of the national programme, and that has been recognised in the NAO report, and that was beginning to impact on our ability to prepare ourselves to work with the European Space Agency, and that is reflected in the way we try to put emphasis on building that area up in the future.
Q108 Graham Stringer: You have partly answered this question, but I will ask it in a slightly different way. How do you believe you could increase the effectiveness of the Centre at co-ordinating the UK space programme?
Dr Williams: We can always look to improve. I think the way that we have established the committee structure at the top level is now good. What I want to do is work more with what I call the departments which are not fully funding space, but where we believe they have an interest, to try and strengthen the cross-departmental links in government where we see societal needs that space can answer, so I think that is important and I think I would like to work on that. I think we need to do more on the, if you like, skills in the society side of the house, trying to bring more of what we do on space into the system as a whole, and I think we need to work more on getting industry to recognise that you have to get to the point where private venture is a recognisable source of money for the development of space systems rather than it just always being government money and government money.
Q109 Graham Stringer: In the written evidence we have received, the criticism is that the individual parts of the Space Centre act individually and it is a title rather than an effective, co-ordinating body. Is that fair? Do different partners just act individually without regard to the overall policy?
Dr Williams: That has not occurred to me. I see it that, as departments, we interact very well. In the London headquarters, I have staff from the DTI, I have staff from NERC, I have staff from particle physics and I have staff from the MoD and we have people on secondment from DfT and Defra, so we have got a good collection of people who represent the different working departments and we have secondees from industry, so we have a team which works together in a very good way and very well. When you see the individual people acting, it is more on the publicity issue because you have always got the presentation of where does the credit go, and what I am trying to do through the communications programme is saying that we should be promoting UK space and giving credit to the relevant part of government or industry, according to how it works, but the first criterion is to promote UK space. I believe at the present time, within the constraints of a partnership and within the constraints that individual spends go through individual departments, we are working together and we are working harder to improve that inter-relationship between us and it is driving forward and going well.
Q110 Graham Stringer: Can you tell us about the relationship with the Ministry of Defence. Could it be improved? Are there difficulties?
Dr Williams: The Ministry of Defence have seconded staff into the headquarters. They help tremendously in understanding where the MoD work and how they do things and the policy aspects of the MoD and where we can interact. The MoD themselves are funding the meteorological systems because they require those, so they fund a significant element of the space programme itself and they have their own military programmes for military use. The difficulty we always have is in the background technology, that the technology is the same between civil and military. If you build a sensor, it is a sensor and its application is a separate issue. There is a problem, which is not the MoD's problem, it is government-wide, of spending civil money doing military things and military money doing civil things and how you get across that interface in a joint environment.
Q111 Graham Stringer: Is that just an accountancy problem or is it a real problem on the ground?
Dr Williams: It is probably more an accountancy problem than a real one.
Q112 Graham Stringer: Can you give us an example of where it has caused practical problems?
Dr Williams: The criterion is that you cannot spend civil money doing military things, so if we come up with a specification which is a military requirement, the civil world is not allowed to go into it and they are not allowed to talk to us about doing it, so they do it separately and we do not see that as a civil programme. On the civil side, we have had some problems on the Galileo programme where at the European level other countries have been saying, "We want to use this programme for military requirements", but it is very clearly a civil application and the UK has a very strong, loud voice in Europe, saying, "We must maintain this and we cannot allow it to drift across to the military side". It has caused, if you like, a lot of good discussion in the UK, it has caused a lot of discussion in Europe about the technical specifications and about the application of a civil system in a military regime and there is no doubt that, if you just want to use a navigation system to drive down the motorway, whether it is a civil lorry or a military lorry is irrelevant, it is when you go beyond that that you begin to run into problems.
Q113 Graham Stringer: That is interesting. How do you deal with departments like DFID which are not partners, but potentially have an interest?
Dr Williams: I personally at the moment have not had very much interaction with DFID, but we know that there is currently an initiative to improve education in Africa and in my previous life I did quite a lot of work in that field in Africa in terms of improving access to capabilities. We are keen to open discussion with them on how we can supply a system and supply information that will help them. We have in the UK a disaster management constellation which is a series of satellites built by Surrey Satellite Technology which are owned by different countries around the world, but which collectively respond when there is a crisis, and we have joined an international charter on crisis management so that, when a country has a disaster, we can call that charter into play and the satellites which exist are turned on to provide information. We are trying to bring that into the thinking of DFID so that they can bring it into their mainstream. There has been, I have to say, not a lot of direct discussion, but that will start in the next two or three months because it is an initiative in an area which is recognised as important.
Q114 Graham Stringer: Are there any problems with departments like Defra, which have a policy lead and they are interested in statistics and the information flows, but they are less interested in the hardware?
Dr Williams: Defra, quite rightly, are looking at the output. They are saying, "What we want is to deliver evidence-based policy". They currently have a mechanism to do that which works, but, as is the problem with all systems, it could improve. What we are doing with a satellite capability called GMES, global monitoring for the environment and security, is, at a European level, looking at whether in ten years' time or twelve years' time we have a more rational and a more equitable set of information to allow a European-level capability of monitoring to come into place. That is a fairly big challenge for a specific department because they are running a system today and yet they are looking five to ten years ahead at whether they can change that system to a new flow of information, and they are not going to do that until they have full confidence that that new flow will be real and will be useful and will not degrade the evidence-based policy-making. Therefore, they are having this balance of, "Yes, we've got to keep going with the existing capability. We have to have this ten-year R&D vision of where we want to be", and then it becomes a matter of priority for funding and it is causing problems. What it is also doing is highlighting that a programme like GMES has really got to focus on what the application-users need and it should not be driven by the short-term industrial requirements of Europe, which is where the balance is at the moment, in my opinion.
Q115 Graham Stringer: That is a really interesting analysis of how the problems arise where there is a lack of imagination. Can you be very specific about what those problems are?
Dr Williams: Well, if you want to build a satellite and you say, "We'll build a satellite and it will last for five years. Please will you use that and fund it to do your evidence-based policy", the Department has quite a good reaction of, "Five years is not a very long horizon. We have to train people, we have to buy new equipment, we have to change the system and, in doing that, it will cost us money and it will cost time and effort. What we want to see is a sort of ten- to 15-year horizon of the system so that we have the timescale to switch over gradually and move in and change the way we do business to this new method in a way which will not degrade how we provide evidence, but improve the way we provide evidence". The current GMES proposal is a series of single satellites which does not do that. If you look at the only parallel I know on that, you have the meteorological data service and there the initial programme was for a series of three satellites over ten or twelve years and that gave the met services the confidence to begin to use the data and over a period of 20 years it has now completely transitioned and the users are now fully funding and running a system, so we have got to get to that point. Defra are bringing a real challenge in saying, "Look, it's no use talking about one-offs, you have got to talk about continuity and the way forward", and we have to take that into the European theatre where there is a bit more of a drive for a short-term industrial return and convert the way they think to the same sort of argument. Otherwise, I think GMES has problems.
Q116 Chairman: You did mention DfES within your comments there. Do you have any meetings with the Secretary of State for DfES in terms of the educational impact of space and space programmes?
Dr Williams: No, I have had no direct interaction with DfES. It is a weakness that we recognise and acknowledge and it is an area that we want to address going forward in skills in science and science in society to try to build a bridge across that field. I was very pleased that, when the astronauts came over, the Secretary of State for DfES was there and made a short speech and I think he recognises that space has a role to play in promoting science, but we have had no direct interaction.
Q117 Chairman: And whose fault is that - yours or theirs or both?
Dr Williams: A little bit of both, I believe, and I am determined to try and rectify that as I settle into the post and move forward.
Q118 Dr Iddon: You are moving on, Dr Williams, from the UK Space Strategy 2003-06 and beyond to a new policy which will be 2007-10. Could you perhaps outline to the Committee please what will be the major changes between the existing policy and the new policy, as you see it?
Dr Williams: At the current time, I do not think we know what the absolute change will be. What we have done is establish a consultation process that was released this week, having taken quite a while to get into position. What we have done there is, for all the areas that we currently do activity, we have asked some strategic questions and asked people to comment on whether we should focus on these and what we may change, so the public consultation actually is a very important stage in getting the widest possible input on what society thinks we are doing right, what society thinks we are doing wrong and where society thinks we can improve the way we do space. Whether it will result in any dramatic changes remains to be seen because dramatic changes tend to mean extra funding and changes in the funding base, so it will be difficult to say that things will change dramatically. I think we are going to keep the focus at this present time on doing useful things with space and doing things that benefit either the commercial world, the science world or society at large, the societal world. It is difficult at this stage to say that there will be a dramatic change and that we will go back into launches, for example. I do not see that as baseline and I do not see us at this stage going into manned space because of the costs involved, but I do see us being part of the global endeavours to do exploitation and exploration in the widest sense.
Dr Iddon: You surprise me because the new Science Minister is putting it about that Britain is thinking about returning to manned space and certainly, when we meet astronauts, they are very keen on Britain getting engaged in manned space again. Why, for example, was the Science Minister on television only last night suggesting that Britain might get back into manned space?
Q119 Chairman: Advised by you.
Dr Williams: I listened to what the Minister said last night and saw the thing on television. He talked about the UK doing a lunar probe to understand the surface of the moon and the subsurface of the moon as the basis for people going to the moon. What he did not say was who was going to go to the moon. In the new global exploration and exploitation programme which is being developed by all the nations in the world with an interest in space, the UK is taking an active part. The way that that is going to emerge is that, unlike the previous round of exploration where you shared all the business and you had a little bit of this and a little bit of that, the new exploration programme is going to look at the collective of what needs to be done in the long term, how it can be done and what are the goals, and then it will be up to each country and, in the case of Europe, the European Space Agency as well to look at what it can contribute to that whole, doing something that is useful and important to meet this global exploration. The UK, in working in that, is looking at what novel science can do and what technology can bring into it, so we have seen robotics and communications in going to the moon as something where we have a skill and a skill which will contribute to the whole. It does not necessarily mean that we move to a man in space, but if you look forward 30 or 40 years, and there was a study of whether the UK should go back into manned space last year with some eminent scientists, some of whom are very sceptical, they concurred that in the short term there is probably no need to put man in space for the sort of objectives of the UK. In the long term, if exploration is really to take off, then man will go there, so at some point the UK will have to decide whether to return to that programme, but that does not mean to say it has to happen in the next year or in the next five years, but it is probably a long way in the future before that needs to be reconsidered.
Q120 Dr Iddon: Helen Sharman is the only British citizen to have flown as a British citizen and unfortunately the rest of the British astronauts, the latest being Piers Sellers, had to fly under another national flag. Do you think that is right? Why can we not get some collaboration worldwide so that the British-born astronauts can fly as British-born astronauts?
Dr Williams: Whether that will emerge in the future is to be seen. At the present time, there are four capabilities in manned space, the Russian, the American, the Chinese and the European Space Agency. The UK decided not to join the European Space Agency's manned programme in 1986 and successively nobody has challenged that in government and changed that decision. There are lots of reasons why we did not join it, but one of them was because you would have to be involved in everything associated with it. If, in 40 years' time, things change or in 20 years' time the system changes and there is a global astronaut corps, then it could be looked at at that time.
Q121 Dr Iddon: Can you see that Britain might return to funding launches?
Dr Williams: Although we are not funding launch work, we do find some money for launches and we do support a share of the Kourou site in French Guyana which is the area on the launch site which is part of the general facility of the European Space Agency. We also have a very small stake in the Arion 5 programme. I do not see at this stage why the UK would return to that market area and I think the market for launches has opened up enormously since the UK decided not to go major into launches because Arion 5 was originally a man-operated launcher, but it is not anymore because we now have the Russian market opening up, the Chinese launches, the Japanese, Indian launches and the American launches as well as the European, so the launcher market is a large market available. At the present time, I would say we can buy off the market rather than go back into development.
Q122 Dr Iddon: Some other people would say that we have missed out.
Dr Williams: Some other people would say that we have missed out and I would accept that. I think what you have to look at is, when you decide how much money you spend on science in general and how much money you spend on space, you have to be selective about what you do, so you do what you do well. The UK has been very, very good at being selective. Some people have lost out because it has not been their area, but other people have benefited enormously and we have been very good over the last 20 years at choosing areas and moving into them and being very successful at doing them. I do have to accept that that has not satisfied every area, but there are a lot of areas of science and innovation in the UK that would benefit from more money, but priorities have to be set.
Q123 Dr Iddon: Can I just examine how wide your consultation is going to be and whether indeed your new 2007-10 policy will be a really national UK space policy. Are you engaging with all the players in the field or just the partners within your existing partnership for consultation?
Dr Williams: No, the consultation is absolutely open. It is on the website and anybody can respond to it. We have taken the precaution of identifying all the industries, all the universities, all the departments whom we know have an interest and sent it directly to them so that they do not miss it en passant, as it were. It is completely open and anybody who is attracted to the website and picks it up from anywhere in the world in fact can respond to it.
Q124 Dr Iddon: So you are open to new ideas?
Dr Williams: We are open to new ideas, we are open to any ideas and then we will set up a little project group to take those through, working across the partnership effectively, to look at what comes in and to try and change it and convert it into a strategy.
Q125 Dr Iddon: Can I turn to something quite different now which is the Outer Space Act 1985. Things have moved on a lot since then, have they not?
Dr Williams: Yes.
Q126 Dr Iddon: I am just wondering whether you might be recommending at some time in the future that that Act is looked at again with a view to bringing in a completely different Act or even renewing the older Act. There are a lot of things which I might loosely describe as 'junk' up there. Do we regulate space adequately, do you think?
Dr Williams: There is a lot of junk up there because junk tends to stay a long time and a lot of the junk is very old, but we do regulate very well. Now, for any satellite that is launched into an earth orbit, and this has been so for a number of years, part of the launch philosophy has got to be what we call a 'staged de-orbit mode' so that, as the satellite reaches the end of its life, you have to have the mechanism which allows you to send it off into deep space for eventual disappearance or to bring it back to earth in a controlled way which will not cause damage in order to minimise the amount of debris that is left in space. That is an important part of the Outer Space Act and one that everybody abides by and which we really need to keep, so I do not see that changing, although it is not stopping all debris because you cannot stop ----
Q127 Dr Iddon: Who is policing that?
Dr Williams: It is a United Nations Act and it is policed by individual Member States and, on launch, a requirement of launch is that the launch company cannot launch the satellite unless it is satisfied that the satellite itself meets those requirements.
Q128 Dr Iddon: Are there any bandits ignoring the legislation?
Dr Williams: No, because there are not many bandits with a launch capability, so that is reasonable.
Q129 Dr Turner: Dr Williams, both you and Miss Freedman expressed some satisfaction with your current lobbing access and you thought it was pretty satisfactory, but, if you set this in the context of the UK investment in space research as a percentage of its gross national income, we spend very little on space research, 0.02 per cent for the UK when the ESA average is 0.048 per cent. It is much less than Germany, much less than France and infinitely less than the States, so the lobbing process is not producing much in terms of funding for UK space activity, so do you think it is acceptable that we should be such poor players in financial terms?
Dr Williams: The headlines give those figures. If you look at where we focus and the fact that we do not do launches and we do not do manned space, in the area where we focus we are up there with the rest of Europe which is behind the USA, so the headline figure masks the way that the UK is selective about what it does.
Q130 Dr Turner: Does this not put you at a disadvantage because the rest of Europe see you as piggy-backing on their efforts? Do they not see you as weaker than everybody else?
Dr Williams: I would like to think that at a European level, and it will become more and more so as Europe expands, it will be impossible for every nation to be involved in every mission and Europe will need to be more collegiate about how it approaches satellite and satellite systems and space systems. Therefore, the concept of subsets of Europe being involved in one area and subsets in another area will have to become more and more the vogue as you move to 27 countries because you cannot split a programme up 27 ways sensibly and efficiently. I think this idea that we do not do launches, it is not seen as us piggy-backing, it is just seen as the way that Europe partitions the work and the strategic input at a European level.
Q131 Dr Turner: How do you think the Government views investment in space? Why does it not appear to have been viewed by the UK Government as strategically important, especially bearing in mind, I seem to remember from the earlier evidence we have taken, that small though our investment in space is, the returns are highly significant?
Dr Williams: It is simply, in my view, a matter of priority-setting. There is on the science side a budget for science and within that it is for the science community to determine how much should be spent on astronomy science and how much on earth science and, within that, the community has to decide the best way of doing it. Therefore, by defining the science budget and looking at the priorities within that, you define what is done in science. On the societal side, in weather-forecasting, for example, satellites are indispensable and the budget has gone up enormously over the last 15 years. On the transport side, transport is funding, along with DTI and the European Union, a scheme that in ten years' time may allow for a more intelligent way of managing traffic as well as doing other things, and I have already mentioned the GMES, so it is about priorities. On the commercial side, I think the past investment by the UK, as the Case for Space has shown, is reaping enormous economic benefit to the UK and I think we need to recognise that and see that space is now there in everyday life in a large number of ways and that we need to keep that moving and keep helping industry stay in that business.
Q132 Dr Turner: Do you not feel, given there are considerable economic benefits to be had, that greater investment might lever yet more economic benefit and would you, as the BNSC, like to be in control of a single, unified national space budget?
Dr Williams: In terms of improving the economic return, again we have to look at it. If you look at the telecoms area, for example, space systems are a major contributor to telecoms in traffic, but a lot of the main businesses, what I call 'new economic services', the Vodafones of the world, they build on the basic infrastructure and the basic infrastructure is there as, if you like, an underpinning infrastructure technology to allow these service industries to flourish and blossom. In satellite television, the UK is one of the biggest countries in terms of managing that. In what we do, a lot of the benefit is in that secondary, downstream industry, and in the upstream industry, we do very well at in the areas we are focused on. Whether by putting more money into that and whether significantly more money would increase the market is something that we have to ask industry to answer and we have to work with industry in making sure that that is the case before we fund it.
Q133 Dr Turner: Well, you have a central co-ordinating role in preparing the current CSR bid. Would you like to tell us something about the headline parts of that bid.
Dr Williams: The main areas that we are looking at in terms of space are the national programme, which I have already mentioned, and PPARC will be looking at the Aurora programme which is continuing the Mars mission and looking at what we might do on going to the moon in the interim. On the societal side, the Global Monitoring Initiative is one of the areas we will be putting a bid in, on the transport side this time we are doing no more because Galileo is in place, and on the commercial side we will be looking to work with industry to identify opportunities to do more underpinning technology and more early market support for communications and broadcast areas.
Q134 Dr Turner: To what extent are you able to ensure that, where long-term funding is needed for projects, it actually happens and that programmes do not suffer from changes in the funding levels which actually undermine the effectiveness of those programmes? To what extent are you able to do that?
Dr Williams: In the European Space Agency there is almost an inbuilt safeguard there. Once you join a programme in the European Space Agency, you are legally committed to continue it until the end of the programme, so, if you start a programme today, an eight-year programme, you cannot pull out half-way through. You have to negotiate annually for the budgets you contribute within a bandwidth, but you cannot leave the programme, so one of the benefits of the European Space Agency is that, whilst it may take a long time and be quite difficult to get agreement to join a programme, once you have joined it you are in it for its life. The sort of problem you are talking about is at a national level where funding can fluctuate annually and there we are working very hard to show that the UK ten-year R&D strategy is an area that space is important for and that we should be recognised in that and, therefore, in the ten-year strategy space should have a baseline activity.
Q135 Dr Turner: I come back to your lobbying capacity. You have already given evidence that there are problems with national programmes because of annual fluctuations, so you really do need to beef up, do you not, the lobbying clout of the BNSC?
Dr Williams: I think I come back to the point that it is not just about lobbying loudly and in the newspaper, it is about working in the system. I am in the line management of the Office of Science and Innovation working for Sir David King and it is in that process and the interaction with the Department of Trade and Industry on the research R&D budget for OSI and the Treasury where the decisions are made at the end of the day with ministers. It is working in that system on a day-to-day basis at official level that I see one of the strengths of the current mechanism. It is not perfect, let us not argue that it is perfect, but I am not sure I would be better off standing outside shouting.
Q136 Dr Turner: It is not at all transparent, is it, this mechanism?
Dr Williams: It is to the Minister and to the officials and the people involved in defining budgets.
Dr Turner: That is not what we simple politicians call 'transparency' though.
Q137 Adam Afriyie: Why do you think the UK spend proportionately less on space investment than the rest of the world?
Dr Williams: Because it is selective, full stop. It does not do launches, it does not do manned space, it does not do the space station.
Q138 Adam Afriyie: So proportionately, if you take those activities out, we are on a par?
Dr Williams: We are, yes.
Q139 Adam Afriyie: What is the aim of the Joint Space Technology Programme?
Dr Williams: The aim of it is to ensure that over a period of years we maintain a basic capability in the UK so that we can exploit science space systems to the commercial and public good and that we can engage at the European Space Agency level because, in going to the European Space Agency with a proposal, you have got to have done some homework, you have got to have shown it is viable and that is where the national technology programme will come in.
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 view?
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 that successful.
Miss Freedman: I think it has been successful and I think we have grown the space community, but these opportunities are not quick whims and they need quite a lot of investment in terms of effort and understanding to secure the business.
Q145 Graham Stringer: How is our relationship with the European Space Agency going to develop over the next ten 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, and 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 will 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 science. 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 per cent 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 over 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 determined?
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, then 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 one with 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 ten 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 per cent of a managed programme to 17.7 per cent. That is a 25 per cent 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 DGs and telling them 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 Programme 7?
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 is what?
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 rep 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 ----
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 in the same way as you are good at science or bad at science and at the current time the UK is second in Europe on science, or 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, Surrey Satellites, and that is maintaining capability to hold the spectrum (?). 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 trials 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, Professor Williams, Ms Freedman and Dr Davies.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC); Professor Richard Holdaway, Head of Science Programmes, Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and Air Vice-Marshal Chris Moran, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, Ministry of Defence, gave evidence.
Q169 Chairman: We move straight on, and welcome - and a Happy New Year to you as well - Professor Keith Mason, the Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), Professor Richard Holdaway, the Head of Science Programmes for the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and Air Vice-Marshal Chris Moran, the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff of the Ministry of Defence. Welcome to all of you, particularly to those we have never seen before - in this particular setting. I wonder if I could start with you, Keith. How effective is the BNSC in co-ordinating and promoting the UK space programme? We have had a glowing tale earlier today. It cannot be as perfect as that, surely?
Professor Mason: Things are rarely as perfect as you would like them to be but I think the BNSC does a very good job within the constraints of its set-up and make-up.
Q170 Chairman: How could it be improved then?
Professor Mason: There are a number of areas in which one could seek to improve. Firstly, I think, the underlying issue is: what is the Government's and the UK's appetite for getting and maintaining its involvement in space, and does it recognise the opportunities? The key thing that is needed for that is a strong political mandate, and probably also earmarked funding for what I think is absolutely crucial, which is early stage technology development. I think the BNSC is already doing a good job in that regard but with better tools it could do a better job. Those are probably the areas where we could see the most improvement.
Q171 Chairman: What we are finding difficulty with as a Committee is this lobbying, co-ordinating and direction role, and we do not know whether this organisation is a child of the DTI or is it a child of all the partners? We cannot get a handle on that, really. What is your view?
Professor Mason: I think we have evolved the BNSC over the last couple of years in a very positive direction, and I think it was perceived (I am not sure it actually was) as a child of the DTI in some quarters, and we have taken some steps to explicitly demonstrate that that is not the case. It is now run by the UK Space Board, which I chair, and that provides a buy-in from the whole of the partnership, essentially, to the programme. So it certainly is not - and I do not think it ever has been - a child of the DTI, but it is a partnership and it is an agency that has no funding of its own and therefore it has to work by cajoling its partners.
Q172 Chairman: It just seems there are so many different organisations involved. You mentioned the UK Space Board and there is now the Space Advisory Council, both of which came out of the NAO report in many ways, to be fair. You have got the DTI involvement, you have got the departmental involvement, because they are the host of many of the programmes. Which body has, if you like, the independent oversight of the BNSC so that there is that area of independence?
Professor Mason: It is the Space Board that has the independent oversight, and the members of the Space Board are the major funders of the BNSC partnership - five of them - and they are all independent - the research councils, MoD, the Met Office, for example - and they have the independence, they are the independent voice, if you like, which sets the strategy for the BNSC.
Q173 Chairman: Professor Holdaway, do you believe that the co-ordinating role and the independent scrutiny role are all sorted now?
Professor Mason: There is still work to do. We are in an evolving situation, and it is absolutely right that we should be because we need to be looking to the future and adapting our systems to best serve the UK in the future.
Q174 Chairman: Are you happy, Professor Holdaway?
Professor Holdaway: CCLRC has always been very supportive of what BNSC does but recognises that the way BNSC was constituted it has a major problem ----
Q175 Chairman: You are fairly critical in your written evidence.
Professor Holdaway: It has one hand tied behind its back and it has to work within its constitution. As we heard in the earlier session, it is a voluntary partnership, it does have difficulty with its ability to lobby. It can do it through, as David Williams said, the line management route directly to the Minister, but it cannot lobby as widely as a space agency can do. In the CCLRC submission, although we recognise the weaknesses of BNSC, we do not actually say it should become an agency; what we say is that the debate should be held. There are a number of advantages to agency status and there are a number of disadvantages. We have not had that debate and I think now is the time to have it.
Q176 Chairman: Would you support that, Keith?
Professor Mason: I certainly support a debate and, like I say, the underlying issue though is not whether it is an agency or a partnership but is where is the political mandate to actually go ahead and compete in the world in the space arena.
Q177 Chairman: Do you feel there is sufficient lobbying strength at the moment through the BNSC to be able to achieve that? I was not convinced terribly about these quiet negotiations that go on, with ministerial confidence (?). Are you?
Professor Mason: I think they can be very effective. Of course, that is not lobbying per se, it is a balance. As Richard says, if one went to agency status there would be pluses and minuses, and it would depend on exactly how the details of how that agency was set up, what access it had to the Minister, etc, whether it was more or less effective than the current arrangements. It is well worth having the debate and looking at it very closely because it is a crucially important thing for the future. We have to be competitive in this area; it is the sort of high-tech environment where the UK has to compete in order to stay ahead in the world. So we should develop sufficient resources to examine how we can best do that.
Q178 Chairman: In terms of developing its full potential, what one key thing would you say is essential as we move forward for the BNSC? What is the key thing you would like to see happen?
Professor Mason: I would like to see it have a budget which it can control for technology development. I think that is absolutely crucial for the UK. We need to look at the skills set within BNSC, particularly the technical skills which it has to deploy in marshalling the arguments and controlling the programmes that are under its remit.
Q179 Dr Iddon: I know we are now in the consultation on the next written strategy, but what would you like, any of the three of you, to see implanted in the strategy? How is the strategy going to change?
Professor Mason: I am repeating slightly what I have just said but I think the key thing is to have a sustainable development of the space effort. It is a business where the timescales are quite long in terms of developing capability for the next generation, and we have to recognise that there has to be a central role for government funding in doing that, not only because of the long timescales and, therefore, the large risks but, also, in order to be competitive with the rest of the world because of the way the rest of the world works. We have to make sure that the UK is on a level playing field. I would like to see more ambition in the space agenda. As I have said, it is clear to everybody now that the space arena is going to be incredibly important to all of our futures, and if the UK is to be seen as an attractive place to invest generally then it has to have ambition, including the space arena. I am convinced that we should be examining very closely opportunities for extending our sphere of influence within the solar system, for instance, so participating in the exploration agenda. There are huge scientific, technical - but also commercial - opportunities in that area, and we should not be shy about facing up to them and saying: "Where do we want to be in 20 years' time?" That is the sort of timescale we have to think about. We have to ingrain that in government and in society as a whole; that is the sort of thinking that we need to put in place.
Q180 Dr Iddon: From what I have heard this morning it sounds as if the present focus is on commercial exploitation of space research. Do you think the balance should be shifted a little in terms of exploration and discovery?
Professor Mason: I think they go hand-in-hand. As you chart new frontiers, opportunities for commercial exploitation arise either directly or indirectly. That is what history tells us, and I think you can see that in the history of our space activity. One has to recognise that the space arena has always been led by scientific endeavour and it is a very challenging environment to operate. It is one which galvanises bright people into thinking about new ideas and generating things which can then be translated into commercial opportunities. Perhaps if there was one - at least within government circles - mistake that was made in the past it was to see those two things as separate activities: science on the one hand, and commercial exploitation as being something that can stand on its own remit. In fact, the links are so strong you have to see them hand-in-hand, and one leads to the other.
Q181 Chairman: Richard, would you comment on that, please?
Professor Holdaway: Yes. You are asking about the next phase of the UK space strategy. Of course, we live in a space-enabled economy. You mentioned earlier on that this broadcast is being carried around the world, and it is being carried around the world through satellite and through satellite technology. Actually, satellite technology affects pretty much every member of the population, whether it is through live TV broadcasts, whether it is through having information on disaster monitoring or underpinning the information on climate change. Even the whole banking system in this country now depends pretty much on that technology. However, the food chain that leads to that technology is research, then conceptual design, then the development of the technology and then the spacecraft, and it is the early stages of that where we have a real funding crisis in this country. That is the underpinning idea behind the joint science space technology programme, which is a core part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Q182 Dr Iddon: Do you think the Space Centre has the ability to scan the horizon - where are we going to be in 50 years' time? The Americans are already planning staging posts on the cold side of Mars to explore the rest of space. Are we thinking in those directions?
Professor Mason: We could do more in that, and that comes back to my ambition agenda. I think BNSC does an excellent job with very limited resources, but in the partnership as a whole I think we need a mechanism of doing that horizon scanning, and horizon scanning across the whole partnership rather than just within individual members. That is part of the evolution that I think we should be pushing forward to ensure that our space activities generally remain fit for the future.
Q183 Dr Iddon: When we had Piers Sellers in front of us a few weeks ago, before Christmas, and five of the seven crew which returned in July last year, we challenged them on robotic exploration of space versus manned exploration of space, and they were quite adamant that the only way forward is to explore space using human beings. I mentioned to the earlier group of witnesses that the science minister seems to be thinking that we have to keep an eye on manned exploration of space. What is the attitude of the three witnesses before us now?
Professor Mason: My attitude is clear: I think Piers Sellers would agree that what is actually required is a partnership between manned and robotic exploration. There are places where robots will do a better job, there are places where humans might do a better job. As has been rehearsed in the previous session, the UK currently does not have an involvement in manned space flight, and I think that was probably the right decision to have been made historically, in terms of not getting involved in the international space station, etc. I think history has demonstrated that was probably the right thing for the UK to have done at the time, but we need to keep an open mind for the future. The way I look at it, if in 20 years' time there is a reliable and sustainable infrastructure on the moon, for example, then in order to be doing the sort of science that the UK is currently strong in we would probably want to be involved in that. We have to at least examine that question with an open mind and plan our future accordingly. As Dave was saying earlier, we do not have to make a decision in the next five years but we should certainly be looking at the distant future, or the not-so-distant future - 2020 is not that far away - and saying: "Where do we want to be positioned at that time?" We are already getting involved in the global exploration strategy and currently we are emphasising our skills in robotics and small satellites, which is exactly the right thing to do. There are huge scientific and technical opportunities, huge commercial opportunities, and some of those might well involve human access in the future. We should maintain an open mind.
Q184 Dr Iddon: We have been talking about the current budget. If we made that important decision to get into manned exploration, how would that budget change? Would it double, would it treble? It is pretty costly to put people up there.
Professor Mason: This is one of the things we have to examine, and, of course, there is a cost-benefit analysis. It is more of a graded scale than, perhaps, people realise, and provided one works in partnership with, for example, our European partners in ESA or within a bilateral relationship with NASA the costs need not be unaffordable. Certainly the budget will need to go up from what it is now, by perhaps a factor of two, not factors of ten.
Q185 Dr Iddon: You have heard what the previous set of witnesses said about launchers. We can carry on buying space from other nations. What is your view? Should we get back into launcher technology or not?
Professor Mason: Launcher technology is one of these very exciting areas. Certainly what interests me, particularly, is small-scale launchers and marrying that with our small satellite industry, which we are very strong in. There is a growing and burgeoning private market in small-scale launchers, and you will be aware of efforts around the world to develop such things by private companies, essentially. In the very near future we will find a very healthy market for our needs and I agree with previous panel members that I do not think we need to lose too much sleep about not being in the launcher business currently.
Q186 Chairman: Before we move on to Adam, can I ask you, Air Vice-Marshal, whether you have any comments about manned space flight and launchers.
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: I am happy to make a couple of general comments, Chairman. First of all, we recognise the importance of space to defence. Some commentators have suggested that 90 per cent of defence capability is supported from space, be that in communications or data transmission, and if you look at precision navigation and timing, and so on and so forth. So we have a very keen interest in where space is going. Particularly, as an airman, I see space as a prism (?) of air power, and an extension of that capability beyond the upper atmosphere into space. In terms of the question you asked earlier, Doctor, on what contribution partners can make to the BNSC and what the MoD brings to it, I think Professor Mason has already pointed out the benefits of the technology needed in looking at space. We see that very much at the MoD end; we are looking all the time at disruptive technology and how actually we can exploit disruptive technology for the benefits of defence. We see there are a lot of exciting programmes on space that we would like to be at the front end of. So being a member of the board allows me to see the context of where space in general is moving inside the UK, and where we can find areas to work we have a number of people embedded within the BNSC: the head of technology, for example, is an MoD scientist who works inside it, so we have a very close relationship and understanding of where that is going. In terms of what we could do in terms of strengthening the general UK policy on space, I think the contribution the MoD would like to make is we have worked quite carefully over the last year to craft our own policy and strategy in space and where we would like to see it going, and we have a number of key areas which I would be happy to explain a little later ----
Q187 Chairman: The specific question to you was: do you have a comment about manned space flight and launchers?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: In terms of the other contribution we would like to make, it is: are there parts of the UK science and technology we think we can exploit? One of the areas that has already been mentioned is the area of small satellite technology, and we are very keen to stay alongside the small satellite piece and perhaps see how we can grow it. We have been involved in the TOPSAT programme and we are looking as well to see how we might develop from that. Allied with the small satellite programme, of course, is the question of a launcher, and at this stage while we do not have a firm plan to get involved in a launcher we would very much like to explore a dialogue with industry and others to see how we could develop a low-cost launcher system. We are very aware of what is happening inside the United States and what various entrepreneurs are doing there, and there may well be an opportunity here for industry to get together to exploit not just a UK market but a sort of global market.
Q188 Adam Afriyie: Would the MoD like to see manned space flight? Would that be useful to you?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: In terms of the manned space flight question, of course, the first things that excites people like myself, as an airman, is that it attracts people's attention, excites people about space and takes them forward. I cannot see, at this stage, a direct military application by having a man in space but certainly we would be very keen to be involved in understanding that space programme and the science that comes with it and the potential benefit that might come.
Q189 Chairman: Before giving you back to Adam, I would like an answer from you on launchers. Are you saying on behalf of the MoD that the MoD is perfectly happy not to have any launch capability whatsoever in terms of putting military satellites into space?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: Mr Chairman, at the moment, the MoD's ---
Q190 Chairman: Is it yes or no?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: The MoD's aim is to achieve short access to space, and at the moment we achieve that from a number of mechanisms. We see the benefits though, and we get that from other partners, as you know, not directly from MoD systems.
Q191 Chairman: I would like you to answer the question I am putting to you.
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: We do see the benefits of a potential, low-cost launcher to help support a low-cost small satellite.
Q192 Adam Afriyie: The boundary between civil and military space programmes is often fairly blurred; we had the analogy earlier about the dual use of satellites, so you may be using GPS for military purposes as well as GPS for civil purposes. We have heard that the MoD's involvement in BNSC is fairly low, both in financial terms and in commitment terms. Is that a fair assessment, given that there is a very pressing need for military and civil satellite space programmes to be combined in some way?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: I would come back to an answer I gave earlier, which was that our aim is to make sure we have a short access to space. We have, as you know, a very special relationship with the United States, which delivers most of our space-based products, but we do believe there are some areas - certainly disruptive technology and enhanced space capability (?) - that we are keen to get involved in. Where there are sensible investments we can make in small satellite technology, particularly, we are keen to look at that issue.
Q193 Adam Afriyie: So you are comfortable with a little bit of blurring of the lines, as they exist at the moment? I think BNSC were fairly clear in saying that whilst you could not outlaw somebody on a military operation using civil GPS, actually, conceptually, the MoD should not be doing that.
Professor Mason: I think the issue there, just to add a bit of clarity, is that we do not want military applications driving the design of assets for civilian use. That is the real nub of the issue.
Q194 Adam Afriyie: Would you be comfortable with that, or would you prefer to have the military driving some of the design, especially when you mention it would be helpful to have a low-cost launch capability, and something else you just mentioned about a great benefit from the use of space for military purposes?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: Our specific interest in this, as you recognise, is in precision navigation. At the moment, the MoD's precision navigation requirements, both now and as we see it in the foreseeable future, include GPS. What is important from a military perspective is that we can secure our access to precision navigation for the future, and we need to ensure that other people do not deny that capability. I recognise myself that as technology develops the quality of precision navigation in the civil market will increase, and therefore there may well be a point in future where some of the civil navigation systems could be used for broad-based military applications, but there is always going to be a military requirement for a more precise system, and in fact we need to be able to secure that precise system in the future and ensure that it is not blocked in any way, shape or form.
Q195 Adam Afriyie: Before I come to Richard, it seems that we are very dependent on the US for a lot of our military space support. Do you think that dual-use satellites, a review of the way the BNSC works, and a greater blurring of the lines, if you like, between driving research space programmes for military ends would be beneficial to reduce that dependency?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: I would go back to Professor Mason's point that it is important that you start off with a clear distinction between the two. What I would say, as a military man, though, is if there is a civil system out there which has a military application then, in the future, we would be amiss not to take that.
Professor Holdaway: I just want to make the point that one of the key issues is the dual use of technology between the civil programme and the military programme. Of course, there is an extremely good example of that over the last two years, which is the MOSAIC TOPSAT programme, which used a small satellite, developed at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, for a world-leading, very small, compact camera but for being able to see higher resolution images of the ground. That was a programme run jointly by the DTI and the Ministry of Defence making really good use of technology on both sides. Of course, that then has led to the spin-out of a high-tech company, which is just about to be sold to a multinational company. So you see the food chain from small amounts of seed corn funding right through to wealth creation through spin out.
Q196 Adam Afriyie: How effective has the TOPSAT surveillance programme been?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: So far, it has been a success with a successful launch and we have had a successful receipt of images. We are going through a process now of evaluating just how successful that has been, and we have already started a dialogue inside the MoD as to what we might want to do beyond the TOPSAT programme. We might develop a sensor (?) capability.
Q197 Adam Afriyie: So it has been a good experience and it looks like you may be pursuing that.
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: It is a good experience and we would like to try and explore now building on that capability.
Q198 Chairman: Just to finish with this, Air Vice-Marshal, do you accept that the MoD's involvement in space is fairly low in financial terms and in commitment terms to the British space industry? Is that a fair comment?
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: It is a fair comment in the context, Mr Chairman, that the MoD has significant access to space and space-based capabilities, and we achieve that at a relatively low cost. There are some niche capabilities we think we would like to exploit, and in that context, yes, our investment is low but, as we see the benefit of that, that could increase in the future.
Q199 Chairman: Your comment to Adam Afriyie in terms of the dual use of technology, it seems to me - and correct me if I am wrong - you will use it provided somebody else provides it.
Air Vice-Marshal Moran: I come back to what our aim is, to gain short access to space-based capability.
Q200 Chairman: I find it really quite strange - and you commented on this - that 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 access.
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 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 have to insert (?) 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 suggest - one or two quick ways - in 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 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 to that.
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 place - not the only one - to 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 on that.
Q205 Dr Turner: What impact do you think the new council will have on the British National Space Centre?
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 science?
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 2007-2010? 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 increase - a modest increase.
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 better - and 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 venture capitalists 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 areas - more PIs and more co-investigators than any other country other than the US - but 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 ten and 20 years' time, we still have world-leading scientists capable of producing the sort of data - whether 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 contracts.
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 ten 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.
Q220 Mr Newmark: So the taxpayers' funding of expenditure on research ultimately will have a benefit to society but maybe shifting the financial benefits to the private sector. That is what it looks like is going on here. Is that right? We are putting in money as taxpayers and society is benefiting, but the financial benefits are not being seen by the taxpayer but by the private sector.
Professor Holdaway: The financial benefits come through to the taxpayer and to industry in 10, 20 years' time. That is the real crux of it; we need the investment now.
Professor Mason: It contributes to our GDP which benefits the taxpayer.
Q221 Adam Afriyie: It seems to me from what I have been reading that PPARC - Keith, yourself and your team - are energetic, talented, hardworking and you have played a key role in the negotiations ----
Professor Mason: What is coming next?
Q222 Adam Afriyie: You have played a key role in the discussions in Edinburgh over the last couple of days. To what extent would you say PPARC is managing the UK's relationship with the European Space Agency as opposed to the BNSC?
Professor Mason: First of all, BNSC co-ordinates everything, so everything we do works through the BNSC. Our director of space science is also a director in the BNSC. Where PPARC takes a lead through BNSC is in the mandatory space programme, because that is entirely paid for by PPARC without subscription to that, and also now in the Aurora programme. So our director, Dave Parker, is seconded to the BNSC and that is the way the partnership works; he takes the lead for PPARC but he is also a BNSC person.
Q223 Adam Afriyie: What are the main outcomes of discussions over the last few days?
Professor Mason: On what?
Q224 Adam Afriyie: On the discussions with the European Space Agency. You had a stakeholder consultation over the last few days.
Professor Mason: Are you referring to the conference in Edinburgh?
Q225 Adam Afriyie: Yes.
Professor Mason: This is part of an ongoing series which is aimed at putting together this global exploration strategy we have talked about. This was primarily European focused but it also involved space agencies from around the world and is increasingly becoming a worldwide effort. There are no concrete outcomes; this is part of a planning process for putting the process together that will deliver a global space exploration strategy. So it is one cog in that chain, but I think it is very gratifying to see the enthusiasm with which our partners are approaching this and, indeed, the enthusiasm with which they are seeing our efforts to play our full role in that exploration strategy.
Q226 Adam Afriyie: You mentioned that you are instrumental in the discussions of the Aurora programme. ₤75 million was given towards the project to 2009 because that was mainly to do with robotics and the mechanical exploration of space. It seems - is there something sneaky going on - that the next stage may be manned space flight, in which case part of our investment may be undermined. What is your view of the situation?
Professor Mason: No, I think that is not the case. If you recall, the history of the Aurora programme is originally as a bright idea started off very much with a man focus. Largely due to the efforts of the UK, it was diverted into the short to medium term, into robotic exploration. As I said before, I think we do need to take a sensible, grown-up look at the role of humans in space for the future, and I think we are entirely singing from the same hymn sheet as most of our European partners in that, in that there are no current efforts in that direction but we are looking at the options. This is part of the strategy construction, part of the consultation we are doing to decide how we should position ourselves for that in looking at the 15, 20-year horizon.
Q227 Adam Afriyie: My final question is really about the contract area (?). It would appear that we are not achieving a proportionate return for the investment we are making in ESA. I think we are supposed to get a return of about 0.9 of our subscription fee of £60 million and we have achieved 0.79, so we have, approximately, a £7 million deficit on what we put in to what we get out. Do you think that situation will continue? Is it a temporary blip and how did the situation develop in the first place?
Professor Mason: David Williams, in the previous session, gave you a more detailed answer on the underlying causes, and there is no single cause - a change in the GDP of the UK, the fact that our funding is doing well, etc - but I think it does also play into the concerns we have about technology development, because in order to win contracts we have to be prepared, we have to be competitive with our international partners. Certainly if we move into a situation where the ESA rules on juste retour are forced to change because of enlargement we will have no protection against not getting a contract. Right now we do have the protection of juste retour. The only way we are going to achieve that in the future, if the rules change, is to be competitive. So we have to really consciously make sure that we put in the R&D in order to ensure that we are competitive.
Q228 Chairman: Finally, Keith, there is a huge amount of interest in NASA's $100 billion programme, and particularly the invitation to the UK Government to be part of that. I think that has fuelled a lot of the interest at the moment in terms of human space flight, so I think that is understandable. You have talked today about ESA and we have mentioned NASA briefly, and certainly the special relationship we have with the US in terms of satellite surveillance. Where do we stand with other nations, like China and India, perhaps even Nigeria, who are going into space policy in a much bigger way? Where do we stand on that?
Professor Mason: I will refer to Richard in a minute because he has been directly involved in this, but we have an ongoing dialogue with both the Chinese and the Indians, and some real hard collaborations, through ESA, in those areas. I found it very gratifying that in this global exploration strategy now the Chinese are involved as well, which is a new development (as of a year ago they were not); the opportunities are certainly there and if we need to capitalise on them we need to invest. This comes back to the idea that we do need a resource in order to enable some of these, frankly, huge opportunities that are appearing over the horizon. Richard has been directly involved in these activities.
Professor Holdaway: It is a very interesting issue. Of course, the UK already works with China and we have one operational science programme with them, although the interface is through the European Space Agency. We are two years away from the launch of an Indian mission that will carry UK scientific instruments on board, and we are just about to start negotiations with the Brazilians. With the Chinese the issue is really interesting because the Government, as you know very well, has a strategy for doing business with China, and although we have been doing business with scientific business with China for many, many years we are only now just beginning to work with them on the technology side, on the spacecraft instrumentation side. What we have missing in this country, however - we have the funding to go and talk to the Chinese - is we have no money to start initial programme developments with the Chinese, and that would be part of the CSR bid. Certainly the Chinese now are offering a lot of support to our programme; they are offering technology that we do not have access to; we are offering to share unclassified technology with them, and those discussions, led by the previous Minister (and I am sure the current Minister will take over) have gone extremely well, and we are just about to have a second set of joint meetings with the Chinese. It is looking, I must say, extremely promising.
Q229 Chairman: So we are not putting off those avenues.
Professor Holdaway: No, absolutely not. Nor with the Indians, nor, in fact, with any other country. We currently work in my own laboratory with 34 different countries.
Q230 Chairman: It would be very useful to have a note on what negotiations you have with which countries, so we can include it in our overall report.
Professor Holdaway: Yes, we will provide that.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank Professor Mason, Professor Holdaway and Air Vice-Marshal Moran very much indeed for the session. I am sorry we have gone through it at a pace but we are very grateful to you, and thanks to the Committee for being so patient.