UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 66-v

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE

 

 

SPACE POLICY

 

 

Wednesday 21 February 2007

PROFESSOR LEN CULHANE, LORD REES OF LUDLOW

and PROFESSOR MICHAEL ROWAN-ROBINSON

DR KEVIN FONG, PROFESSOR CHRIS KENNARD and MR MICHAEL GOURLAY

MR WILL WHITEHORN, MR JEFF GAZZARD and DR PATRICK COLLINS

Evidence heard in Public Questions 425 - 522

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 21 February 2007

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Adam Afriyie

Dr Brian Iddon

Chris Mole

Mr Brooks Newmark

Dr Bob Spink

Dr Desmond Turner

 

________________

 

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Professor Len Culhane, Chairman, UK Space Academic Network, and Emeritus Professor of Physics, University College London, Lord Rees of Ludlow, President, Royal Society, and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge, and Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, President, Royal Astronomical Society, and Head of Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, Imperial College, London, gave evidence.

Q425 Chairman: Good morning, and can I offer a special welcome to our three guests this morning, our first panel, and a particularly warm welcome to Lord Rees of Ludlow, the President of the Royal Society, Professor Len Culhane, the Chairman of the UK Space Academic Network, and Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society. Good morning to you, you are all very, very welcome, and welcome also to guests in the gallery and to members of the press. I wonder if I could ask you, Lord Rees, if you would chair your panel, if you wish to deflect questions to your colleagues, so that, if there is a problem, then you will be responsible for it. Lord Rees, we are very interested in this whole sort of food chain which goes on in terms of space and its importance in terms of this inquiry and I wonder if you could talk us through that food chain really from developing the funding for a space mission right through to it actually taking place. Could you just give us a quick view of what is involved?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Thank you, Chairman. Let me first say that it is a great privilege to be in front of this Committee and also to be here with two longstanding friends and colleagues; we have worked together on many scientific activities. I am here for the Royal Society, but of course we have very common interests with those two other bodies represented. I would just like to emphasise the interconnectedness of all aspects of space where even the purer science depends on technology and has often been used to pioneer technology which has led to applications, so there is an interlinking between the industrial side, the scientific side and also the public outreach side which is important for stimulating flow, and in our evidence we try to emphasise those links. I would also like to emphasise that it is an inherently international activity because, although we in the UK can do some things for ourselves, we are very much plugged into international collaborations and, in particular, the science, and in many applications we work through ESA. Perhaps I could just say a word about the perspective of ESA from the UK. If we look at Europe as a whole, Europe is clearly a match for the United States in its intellectual capital and in its level of economic activity, but space overall is one of the few areas of economic life where Europe as a whole does not match the United States and the reasons for that are straightforward. Essentially, the United States ramped up its effort through superpower rivalry and that is why it has a far larger aerospace industry and that is why NASA has a budget which is three or four times that of ESA. For that reason, it seems to me that in ESA there has to be a focus on some subset of the activities which NASA engages in. We, as a member of ESA, want to, as in all international organisations, maximise our leverage to try and get, if we can, more than our pro-rata share of the action, so those should be the goals. As to how we do this, I think the important point is to stimulate excellence in students going into the aerospace area, excellence in research projects, maximising our impact on the decisions made by the European Space Agency and maximising our collaboration between the science and the applications. In that context, one point which we made in our Royal Society evidence, which was echoed by the evidence given by a number of other groups, was that BNSC, although functioning effectively within its limits, we feel has too low a profile and that there should be some effort given to somehow enhancing its profile because there would thereby be two benefits. First, there would be some UK organisation which is perceived by UK citizens, particularly young people, as being a flagship organisation for space which there is not now, and also it would provide a more effective interface between the UK and Europe.

Q426 Chairman: I am actually going to return to that because clearly it is an important issue, but can I just pin you down on this basis: clearly you have described the interconnectivity, you say, between particularly academia and, for instance, industrialists in terms of being able to develop, and all three of you in your evidence have made that point, but how close is the interaction between the space science academics and the industrialists in the UK? We, quite frankly, have heard evidence that it is not as good as it should be, so, in your view and indeed the view of the rest of the panel, how good is it?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Well, if it is not, it is clearly important to improve it, but I would have thought it is crucial in that obviously the training of the people who go into the industrial sector of space in the UK depends on excellence in universities and strong research groups there and, even if we are building a space instrument or satellite for scientific purposes, then of course a lot of the work does involve industry, so there is the need for a genuine symbiosis there in the personnel and in sharing the technology.

Q427 Chairman: We would agree that there needs to be that, but the question is: is there, for instance, compared with France, where there seems to be a really close alignment between what happens in terms of French space industry and the academics working in the French universities? Professor Culhane, what is your view on that?

Professor Culhane: Well, I certainly take the point that, of the order of a decade or more ago, the interaction was not effective. In my comparatively recent experience, it has become much more effective and there are a number of things driving this, one of which relates to your point about the food chain. ESA, in establishing large missions in particular, increasingly operates in the area of so-called 'facility class instruments' and here, contrary to previous practice, an academic group which will become a niche player will not lead such a thing and there will be an industry prime, but the prime is absolutely dependent on the niche skills of the academics, so, for very pragmatic reasons, universities are allying with industry to make winning, hopefully, bids, and they are competitive, for these major new facilities. I think this is a structural change in the way ESA procures some of its large instruments and that has, for simple pragmatic reasons, led to this outcome, and I believe that is working very well. Certainly in our own institution, we have at least two major examples going through where this is happening and it is becoming general.

Q428 Chairman: Professor Rowan-Robinson, can you comment on that? Do you think it is working well?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Well, I think it works at the level of an academic group designing space instrumentation and then working with industrial contractors to develop the design and build it. I think what we felt was lacking was co-ordination by BNSC at the higher level of universities and the space industry and I think there were two areas where we thought there was a lack of co-ordination and leadership in BNSC. One was in the area of technology development in the industrial context and the other was in the level of training of young people which is sort of more or less left to the universities to do if they feel like it, but there is no real national plan for that.

Q429 Chairman: Do you think that is BNSC's role? Is it their responsibility?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Well, it may not be defined as their role, but we feel it is needed. We feel that whatever organisation is leading space in the UK should be taking the lead in co-ordinating these areas.

Q430 Chairman: Lord Rees, in terms of the sort of gestation period between a concept and actually putting a space mission into operation, what sort of timescale are we talking about?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: That timescale is growing of course because of the scale of the operations and I think for some of these satellites it is ten or even 15 years from the concept to the actual flight and then of course the operational phase lasts longer still. This of course does have a negative impact on how we train students and involve PhDs, and we have to try and get the universities to fund distinctive PhD projects, but that is a problem we share with students in particle physics, et cetera. Just as a footnote to what my colleagues have said, I think we have got to bear in mind that the level of our expenditure overall is much lower than in France, I think we are all aware of that, and I note that the evidence from the industrial sector has emphasised this, but that of course does make the linkages less effective and lowers our profile.

Q431 Chairman: So, in terms of the UK taking a leading role in ESA and bilateral missions, how could we improve that, other than just spending more money? Is it just a matter of money?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Obviously if we were involved in more of the so-called 'optional' programmes, then clearly we would have a bigger stake overall, but, if we look at our involvement in the science programme where of course, as you know, our contribution is based on a former relationship with GNP, then I think our key strength comes from the high standing of our academic community and also from our effectiveness in the decision-making process because of course there is tremendous competition in deciding which particular mission actually flies among the many proposals made to ESA, and the more effective we are in our interface with ESA and in arguing our case, the more likely it is that the projects that ESA chooses will be the ones in which the UK has the maximum stake and for which the UK can get the greatest pay-off.

Q432 Chairman: Could I suggest, Professor Culhane, that, in terms of bilateral missions with, for instance, Nigeria, with India, with China, we might be better and get more, if you like, bangs for our buck, if you will pardon the expression, by looking at that rather than putting all our eggs into one basket with ESA?

Professor Culhane: Well, in general terms I would agree, although I would not certainly pick up your examples in detail, but one has to be very pragmatic in selections. The key issue which is involved here is the comparatively small volume of our national programme as distinct from that which is directly covered to ESA, and our evidence indeed emphasised that our ratio of non-ESA to ESA spend is significantly below that of the major European countries. I think were we to increase that conceptually rather than simply fiscally place more emphasis on a national programme, and here BNSC, which you will return to, would obviously be a player, then we could very selectively and very pragmatically pick partners with whom we are likely to win. We do this at the moment, but, in my view, not on an adequate scale and we could get many more bangs for bucks, so to speak, if we were able to choose from a broader spectrum of partners.

Q433 Chairman: Professor Rowan-Robinson, would you agree with that analysis?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: I would agree, but I think the thing we would want to emphasise is that enrolment in missions should be decided on scientific grounds and you should go for the best scientific missions. Sometimes those will be ESA missions and sometimes there are very good opportunities with bilaterals, and I am involved in bilateral activities with NASA and with JAXA, the Japanese agency, and these are very effective where a real scientific opportunity arises. I am not so much in favour of saying, "Let's do a mission with Nigeria" just for the sake of it because it is cheap; it has got to be good science.

Q434 Dr Iddon: Can we reach an agreement with NASA that, when a British scientist goes up on one of their missions, they fly with a British passport? Helen Sharman is the only person who appears to have flown while holding a British passport and Piers Sellers of course had to convert himself to being an American.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: These were not really science missions, so I think the thing is that, if you are asking, "How important is it in the UK space programme that there be British astronauts with British passports?", I would say in itself it is not important. I think there are other reasons maybe for wanting to see British astronauts.

Chairman: We will return to that later. That could take a whole morning!

Q435 Dr Spink: Let me take that one by the horns right now because the Royal Astronomical Society report of 2005 concluded, "There is science of profound interest to humankind that can only be pursued on the Moon and Mars by direct involvement of humans in situ". Now, we also heard Lord Rees earlier very eloquently saying that BNSC should raise its profile, of course implying it would need help to do that. You all can guess of course that, if the UK Government funded manned flight in some way, this would engage and focus public excitement and interest and it may well be of scientific value, according to the Royal Astronomical Society, and in fact the Royal Society did say that it would cost around about only 150 million per year for quite a few years to engage in full international manned flights, so why are we not doing it? Do you think we should be?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: I think I am on record in earlier contexts as saying that, as a scientist and practical man, I am sceptical about manned space flight, but, as a human being, I am strongly in favour. What I mean by that is that I really hope that some people now living will walk on Mars and I am an enthusiast about it, I fully realise the inspiration, but we have to realise that programmes of the kind carried out by NASA involve immense expense and very long time-frames.

Q436 Dr Spink: Do you disagree with the 150 million a year that the Royal Astronomical Society predicted?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: I think it depends how much you want to do and it depends what the price of the ticket is charged by NASA, as it were, because clearly in the short term this is going to be by NASA or (?) providing the launch. To go back to the general issue of the prestige of having people in space, there have been astronauts from many nations, even from Mongolia, and this has perhaps had some impact on the public opinion in those countries, but I think we have to bear in mind that, if we were to pay the full economic costs, then that would be far beyond us and I think it is good that the Minister, Malcolm Wicks, did make a statement that we were not, in principle, opposed to manned space flight and I think very importantly it is clearly an own goal if we say we would never do it, but we do have to ask how much are we prepared to pay, so I would say it is just a question of the price of the ticket and, if we can raise our profile by having UK astronauts, then that is great, but we have got to bear in mind that, if we paid anywhere near the full economic cost, it would overwhelm all we could do on unmanned. If I can comment on ESA generally -----

Q437 Dr Spink: Actually let us just stick to this, please. Professor Culhane, you have said in your evidence that we are living on past investment and perhaps suggested that the investment could be increased. Of course the 150 million per year for manned flight would be in addition to the 207 million for general space, but do you think it would be worth spending that to engage young people and the public in science more positively?

Professor Culhane: I think it would be very difficult to justify on purely scientific functionality grounds and, whilst in the past there has been an excessively doctrinaire opposition to the use of humans in space, I think we should nevertheless, as Lord Rees has said, evaluate the situation on its scientific merits. Now, if there are issues of public appeal, if it is a national matter judged worthy of 150 million a year to induct a large pool of students, that is a totally different matter, but it is not doing science.

Q438 Dr Spink: So it is political as well as scientific?

Professor Culhane: I believe at this point the case would be largely right.

Q439 Dr Spink: Professor Rowan-Robinson, do you take a view on this?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: You have quoted the RAS report and it is absolutely true that the independent commission which we asked to look at this found examples of science programmes that probably at the moment could only be done involving astronauts. For example, deep drilling on Mars, it needs people to say where the drills should go and so on, so it is just not very likely that you could do it robotically at the moment. To achieve those kinds of science scores, the ones we identify as needing humans, we are talking about a huge programme and I do not think, within this modest programme of 150 million a year, you are going to get to that goal.

Q440 Dr Spink: But the Royal Society, in its report of 2005, said that there were things that should be done on Mars and that it would be approximately 150 million per year for 20 to 25 years.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: This would allow you to have a real geologist firstly on the Moon and then later on Mars. I think that the goals that we identified are much grander goals which would require a very substantially enhanced programme. We were concerned about the way our commission was being quoted, for example, by NASA as, "RAS endorses human space exploration", which you, to be fair, are also doing.

Q441 Dr Spink: Yes.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: So we did recently poll our membership with a carefully worded statement, saying that we strongly endorse the benefits of space, we think that missions should be selected on science grounds and we recognise there are some goals which may require human space flight, but that they are only feasible within a greatly expanded programme, and we also recognise that it is an attractor for students into stem subjects and so on. This was supported by our membership in a poll the other week very strongly where 96 per cent favoured this kind of stance.

Q442 Dr Spink: I am sort of disappointed, Professor Rowan-Robinson, that you appear to be now rowing back on what is a clear costing and a clear conclusion of the 2005 report.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Not at all. The report says that there are some science goals that require human space flight which is a different thing from saying that the UK should now double its budget and go into human space programmes. What you will get for that is a -----

Q443 Dr Spink: You did not just say "some science goals", you said that some science goals are of profound interest to humankind.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Absolutely.

Q444 Chairman: We really would like to get some idea as to what would be the cost, the minimum cost, of us actually committing in our report, saying to the Government, "You need to go into manned space flight and you need to commit at least this amount of money to it". What would be your estimate?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: As I say, it depends what you are asking and what you are trying to achieve. As I say, if you are trying to achieve a UK involvement in the next phase of lunar explorations, so there would be a UK geologist with a British passport as part of that team, then I think the estimate of roughly doubling the budget is about right and we would have to negotiate with NASA because it would be heavily subsidised by NASA.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Just to emphasise that, we would be minor partners in an American-led project if we were to get involved.

Q445 Dr Spink: No change there then!

Lord Rees of Ludlow: The question would be what they would charge and what would be the pro-rata share. I think obviously we could have astronauts going around the Earth in a shuttle for something we could, in principle, afford, but I do not think that inspires anyone. I think the key thing is whether we are part of the next phase of manned exploration involving returns to the Moon and then going on to Mars, and that is an American vision spread over 20 or 30 years. Whether it will be realised, we do not know, and the question is to what extent we or indeed to what extent ESA should get formally on board as minor partners in an American-led collaboration.

Q446 Dr Spink: Professor Rowan-Robinson, what are the areas of profound interest to humankind that we could be doing with manned space? What are the specific projects? Are we looking at understanding climate change by going to Mars or what?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: No, it is very specific. The real thing that we identified is deep drilling, and deep drilling on the Moon would be of interest.

Q447 Dr Spink: What would that give us?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: The two science goals of this type of mission are: one, to understand the origin of life; and the other is to understand the formation of the solar system, so those are the big goals.

Q448 Dr Spink: Pretty profound.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Profound, absolutely, but which can be explored in other ways. You mentioned climate change and there is a good example of something where human space flight is not really helpful. What really contributes to monitoring climate change and the Earth are robotic missions, and that should be strongly supported.

Dr Spink: We have taken evidence here that Mars is a model for what might happen in terms of climate change on the Earth if we do not tackle it properly, but whether human flight is necessary to understand that, I do not know.

Q449 Chris Mole: We have touched on some of the training and skills issues so far. How do the panel think they would describe the current status of the space science community in the UK - is it healthy?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: I think we should see the issue of training people for aerospace as part of a general question. I think there are some green shoots in that some of the negative trends in the numbers taking A level and enrolling in undergraduate courses in physics and maths are going up now, so I think some of the effective programmes have started to have some effect, so, from a low base, things are improving. If I can think of the situation more broadly, the important thing is not only to ensure that young people are well taught in the sixth form and that they at least have a chance to meet someone with a degree in physics during their school career, which is a goal which is hard to achieve at the moment, that is one issue, but also I think it is very important to ensure that the careers which are perceived to be on offer, not just in academia but in industry, are attractive to people because one thing that concerns me is that, as in my own university, even many of those who are graduating in engineering are then going on to work in the City or management consulting. It is not a demand pull, as it were, it is not perceived that careers in industry are attractive and I think it is bad news for the UK if that trend cannot be reversed and if the allure of the City overwhelms the allure of manufacturing industry. It seems to me that the reason why this particular set of hearings is important is that the aerospace industry is clearly one with a potentially high profile, it is a really high-tech manufacturing industry and it does link together not only science, but also issues like climate change, communications, et cetera, which are important for the UK and for the future of the world in the 21st Century, so those reasons altogether, I think, mean that it will be good for enrolment in physics and related technologies if we do have a higher profile and effort in aerospace generally.

Q450 Chris Mole: Could I perhaps broaden it out to your colleague. Lord Rees, you have touched on the number of A level students doing physics, but what about the actual number of students studying space science? Has that declined, increased or remained stable? Are there actually enough coming through to create a sustainable pool of scientists to do research in those areas?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Professor Culhane can probably answer that.

Professor Culhane: I would think it is marginal, perhaps improving, but rather delicately poised and the higher profile would most certainly enhance the attractiveness, but, above all, I think, both from an industry standpoint and the academic science standpoint, the existence of healthy and functioning enterprise is an essential prerequisite to having the space science courses which will then attract the students. My comments earlier about the national programme and so on really are directed at enhancing at a comparatively small scale the ability of the instrumentation academic groups to function. They are the ones that offer the courses, and many of them presently do, they need a higher profile, I agree, and there need to be more academics who are devoted to this.

Q451 Chris Mole: What about moving into industry, Professor Rowan-Robinson? Do you think there that the concerns are justified, that students are going elsewhere, having studied engineering or space science?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Well, I am not sure I have anything to add on that, but it seems to me that the degree in physics is the key to space science and of course many other areas of industry. There are a few universities which have these specialised courses involving space science and space technology, but most other universities with physics departments will have options on space science within the physics degree, so basically all physics students will get some taste of space science in their degree. I think that the UK Space group have made a very eloquent case for expanding support for the space industry. They demonstrated in their submission, which I am sure you have read, that modest investment in the space industry has a tremendous multiplying effect in the economy, so I think it is very important. It would be a very valuable conclusion to 'carriage' that kind of stimulation, and the universities would be ready to respond if demand increased.

Q452 Chris Mole: So it is basically that investment in space science generally will pull through for the industry?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Absolutely, yes.

Q453 Chairman: It is good to hear you say that, but it was very worrying when we heard from Avanti who said that 70 to 80 per cent of their postgrads working with the company were now recruited from India and China because we could not get them from the UK. I am sorry, it is for me to ask you the questions and for you to reply, but would you agree that that is a very worrying trend?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: A leading question!

Professor Rowan-Robinson: I am surprised about it, but yes, I would be worried. There is a lot of international mobility of highly skilled people. For example, for people who train in astrophysics and space science, it is very common, if they continue a career in that, for them to spend time abroad, and we are continually bringing in researchers from all around the world.

Q454 Chairman: But 70 per cent is fairly high, is it not?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: That is a bit high, yes.

Q455 Dr Iddon: Lord Rees, there has been an astonishing increase in the number of students studying astronomy in our universities; I think the number of courses is around 45 now. Is astronomy a good route into space science or would you advise a student who wants to go into space science to study physics instead?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Well, I think you are right in implying, Dr Iddon, that the introduction of astronomy as part of physics courses has been very beneficial for physics enrollers generally. If you can call your department a "department of physics and astronomy", you get more applicants than if you call it just "physics", so this has been beneficial and has been one of the causes, I believe, of the turnaround in the number of people studying physics. Most of the students will be doing astronomy as a sort of option, as an enrichment of the physics curriculum where it does have a role to play and more so astronomy mixed with base physics. Astronomy depends on space and astronomy uses high technology, much of which is space technology, so I think it is very important to emphasise that physics is important for all these advanced technologies. More generally, I am concerned in this country about the physical sciences as compared to the biomedical sciences. Biomedical sciences have support from a strong pharmaceutical industry, from the Wellcome Trust and from the cancer charities, complementing government funds. In the physical sciences generally, we do not have those complementary sources of funds and, for that reason, our strengths are more precarious and I think, therefore, we should try very hard to raise the profile of the sciences and the technologies which are attractive to young people.

Q456 Dr Turner: Lord Rees, you have already made reference to the BNSC and it is quite clear, from written evidence submitted by yourselves on behalf of all your respective bodies, that there is something of a feeling of a lack of a clear lead, an effective leadership in the space field in the UK and that BNSC, to use your words, I think, Lord Rees, "does not have the clout to do it effectively". What would you like to be seen to be done in promoting good, clear, co-ordinated and effective leadership here? Would you wish to see, for instance, as some people have advocated, a full-blown British space agency?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Well, it would be presumptuous of me to offer a firm recipe because clearly we know that the input comes from many departments and many interests, et cetera, but, if we look at what the weaknesses are now, I think there is a problem that, if you ask the average person in the UK, "What is the BNSC?", they will not have heard of it. They will have heard of NASA, they might even have heard of ESA, but they certainly will not have heard of BNSC and I think that is to the UK's detriment, so I think to raise its profile among the public would be good. Also, I think to ensure that we can offer a more co-ordinated interface with ESA and other foreign agencies would also be to our advantage in negotiations. As to how this is done and how much of an independent budget the beefed-up agency would need to have, I would not want to comment. I know that there was a suggestion in the industrial input that 20 million a year of free money might be of help to BNSC, but I would not want to comment on it in detail.

Professor Culhane: I think the key issue, as Lord Rees has touched on, is the constitution. It is a loose association of some 11 or more distinct government departments, and I believe that, with a budget, however modest, and with a remit to co-ordinate in a more proactive way the national engagement in space, a lot of good would flow from that. Again I hesitate with the details because a full-blown space agency, we avoided this shamelessly in our report because we were focusing primarily on science. However, even in the kind of science vision which we offered here, a space agency funded and with constitutional powers to run a coherent national programme would be of enormous benefit and I believe that is absolutely lacking.

Q457 Dr Turner: Do you think it would have more pull on the Treasury?

Professor Culhane: Well, that would depend on how effectively it presented its case. I believe a very effective case could be made.

Professor Rowan-Robinson: Currently the BNSC is advised by the Space Board and the Space Advisory Council which consists of members of the 11 partner bodies, so it is ruled by committee, and you just cannot get leadership, co-ordination and strategy when ruled by committee, so basically we say that, as a minimum, there should be an independent space council which advises the Director General of BNSC, reports directly to the Minister, is responsible for space policy and co-ordination, technology co-ordination, education and represents academia, the partner bodies, government and so on, but an independent body that runs BNSC is a key.

Q458 Dr Turner: Which minister would you have it report to?

Professor Rowan-Robinson: I suppose the Minister for Science. I am not trying to design the structure, but I think that, at the very minimum, that is a change that needs to be made. An agency would go beyond that because it would then control the budget presumably of these 11 partners.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Of course as to which minister is involved, there are so many. There is the DTI obviously, there is Defra, there is the MoD and there are others and this is one of the problems.

Dr Turner: The Government works in silos still. Anyway, we are now seeing the formation of the new Swindon Town Football Club. How do you think that is going to fit into the structure and what kind of role do you think it can play in the future in space science?

Chairman: This is the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Q459 Dr Turner: It is known as the Swindon Town Football Club.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: I would have thought this would facilitate some of the aims that we have articulated this morning because obviously PPARC is the body which has been concerned with space science and I would hope very much that the reorganisation that is now taking place will leave the internal structure of PPARC as unchanged as possible, but nonetheless provide a more effective way of setting priorities across the whole field of space.

Q460 Dr Turner: There clearly will be challenges for this body. Do you think it has the strength to make further contributions?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: It depends on its leadership and it depends on the interface with DTI and OSI, but I hope very much that there will be some benefit which will compensate for the disruption that such a change is causing.

Q461 Dr Turner: You do not think there is a risk that funding very large facilities like Behaviour, Collider, Diamond and so on is going to detract from other programmes?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Well, there is indeed, and that is why I was expressing the wish that the internal structure of PPARC which supports small-scale research as well will be left unchanged. There is indeed a tension between the big facilities and the small science, but I think the overwhelming concern is that the decision on the large facilities should be made in a balanced way, taking account of scientific priority and where the UK has an edge because the most important decision which the Council will ever make is to decide whether it is going to support facilities that make the history books or those which are perceived as white elephants. That is the most important decision they have to make and you have got to make sure that the body making that is as well informed as possible.

Q462 Dr Turner: Yes, of course, but the current component parts of Swindon Town are already involved with the BNSC. How effective do you think they are in that body and do you think they could be more effective in the future?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: I think the UK has been involved in successful facilities and successful projects, but there is always scope for improvement. When we consider how the scientific effort interfaces with the applications, Earth-oriented research, climate research, et cetera, I think there is tremendous scope for improved co-ordination.

Chairman: I think, on that note, we will bring this session to an end. Professor Culhane, Professor Rowan-Robinson and Lord Rees, thank you very, very much indeed for your presence this morning.


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Dr Kevin Fong, Co-Director, Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, Professor Chris Kennard, Chair, Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, and MRC Council Member, Medical Research Council (MRC), and Michael Gourlay, Quality Control Consultant, Marchbanks Measurement Systems, gave evidence.

Chairman: Could we welcome our second panel this morning: Professor Chris Kennard, the Chair of Neurosciences and Mental Health Board at the Medical Research Council; Dr Kevin Fong from the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at University College Hospital; and Michael Gourlay, the Quality Control Consultant at Marchbanks Measurement Systems. Welcome, gentlemen, to the Science and Technology Select Committee this morning and our inquiry into space policy.

Q463 Dr Spink: It might be prudent for me to start by declaring an interest because Professor Kennard is a consultant neurologist at Charing Cross and he may recognise my name because my son is a neurosurgeon there, so I declare that as an interest. I want to consider the usefulness of space medicine, particularly to terrestrial medicine. Does the impact of microgravity on the human body offer potentially greater understanding of medical problems that might in some way assist us in terms of terrestrial medicine, not just space medicine?

Professor Kennard: I think that the Medical Research Council looked at this very carefully, as I think was mentioned in the evidence from the MRC, in a workshop in 2002. I think that there are a number of areas that are potentially of relevance. One is in relation to what happens when you go into space, that you lose muscle bulk and the stresses on the bones change so that potentially there could be a model there for ageing and osteoporosis in relation to bone function. In cardiovascular disease, we considered the possibilities of seeing whether space research could actually give information about heart failure, a very common, major problem for terrestrial mankind. From the brain point of view, of course for the balancing of organs, the vestibular system is crucially important and there are a number of opportunities potentially there for looking at the way that the brain adapts to change and the vestibular system adapts to change. Again it is something that is relevant to ageing where the different inputs to the brain are changing at different rates, getting older, so the brain has to adapt, so it is a question of whether space travel can actually inform on this. After bringing all the experts together, there was a general view that there were not any specific areas that at that time, this is 2002, could be seen to really definitely offer benefits that could not be obtained by work in laboratories around the world rather than having to go up into space.

Q464 Dr Spink: Dr Fong, do you have any views on this?

Dr Fong: I was at that workshop and I think the areas that are highlighted are the relevant ones. I think there is science that can be done and microgravity is a unique environment for many organ systems in which I think some useful science might be done. I agree with the findings of the MRC's overall report, that there was no single area that justified the programmatic expenses, however, I think that medical science is just a small part of the benefits from engaging in programmes of space flight. I think that microgravity does represent a unique tool for the investigation of human physiology, but I think unfortunately it comes wrapped in programmatic costs and one needs to find an alternative way really if we are going to engage in those programmes.

Q465 Dr Spink: Michael, you are interested in the implementation of equipment. Do you think there is any crossover of equipment that is developed for space which might have terrestrial uses or any spin-offs from that?

Mr Gourlay: Undoubtedly. We have got a piece of kit that measures variations in intercranial pressure, ICP, which was selected to go up into space to check the variations in ICP in the astronauts to try and find a pin or a holder as to what causes space sickness and then we can take remedial action either through drugs or whatever. This product is so close to being up in space, but it was just knocked back in March/April time last year by American cutbacks on space because their equipment is kind of old and so on and so forth. Now, the product has been selected to go to Mars in 2035. As a result of all that work that we have done on space, we have found applications in the UK and one of the prime ones is that, during an anaesthetic procedure, if it is a long one, ICP can go up and that does lead to problems with cognitive powering or cognitive reasoning and also, if it is a very long one, it can lead to permanent deafness, so there are a lot of applications in the UK on the deck, as it were, rather than on the space which we believe needs funding, needs exploiting and I think yes, it will happen.

Q466 Chairman: But you could have found that out without going into space. You could have developed that technology without going into space.

Mr Gourlay: We are trying to resolve that just now.

Q467 Dr Spink: But you did not, so you would all agree, I guess, that there are many reasons to go to space. One is the pure scientific, one is the inspirational and one is the spin-off, all of these should be considered, and perhaps the decision as to whether manned space flight is feasible or not should be a political one, bearing in mind all of those and not focused on just one of them. Would you all agree with that as a summary?

Mr Gourlay: With this product, yes.

Q468 Dr Spink: Do you agree?

Dr Fong: Yes, wholeheartedly. I think the problem with human space flight is to try and dissect it out and look at individual arguments and wonder whether or not the whole programme is worth it on the basis of that single argument alone. Human space flight is something in which the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts and I think we should look at it in those terms.

Dr Spink: Let me throw a negative at you. Do you see any problems from the possible development of space tourism?

Chairman: No, we will move to that later.

Q469 Adam Afriyie: Dr Fong, funding is always the key issue, naturally. What level of funding do you consider is required in the United Kingdom to undertake research into specifically space medicine? Do you have a range of numbers which you think would facilitate that?

Dr Fong: I do. I think that we cannot engage in programmes in space medicine and space physiology really realistically without being part of the human space flight programme; one goes hand in hand with the other. You heard earlier that the costs were as modest as 150 million per year. I think that the programmatic costs will be something like that. I think actually, as a first investment, as a seedcorn investment, it can be done much more cheaply. Actually I have just returned from Houston where I am working with the Johnson Space Center at this time and I think that, between now and thinking about programmatic engagement, there needs to be something to help us evaluate the real benefits of these programmes and I think you need to make a seedcorn investment, and I think that could be as little as 50-100 million over five years.

Q470 Adam Afriyie: Mere loose change!

Dr Fong: Well, not my loose change, but somebody else's.

Q471 Mr Newmark: You are a taxpayer?

Dr Fong: Yes, I am! I think that a programme like that would help us evaluate the true benefits of human space flight as a whole and it would allow us to do some space medicine in a targeted, bilateral and strategic way.

Adam Afriyie: But you state categorically that you think that the UK needs to take part in international human space flight programmes. Can you see any other way of undertaking this medical research in the absence of joining a space flight programme?

Q472 Mr Newmark: Specifically in a simulated environment. Could you create a simulated environment on Earth to do exactly what is going on in space? Why do we need to spend 150 million to fly into space to do this?

Dr Fong: You can use simulated environments, but they are simulated, so they are things that do not represent what is really happening in space, it is not perfect. The simulated environments on Earth are generally part of a wider human space flight programme with other agencies. All of the simulated facilities like that are ESA or NASA facilities or Russian facilities, so again we need to be part of the programme.

Q473 Adam Afriyie: Of course we all want a good return on investments, so, if we spend 150 million or even if we spend 1 million, one wants a good return on that. Is there any evidence that spending money in medical research in space gives a better or more cost-effective return on that investment than spending the same money in a terrestrial laboratory, in particular reference to terrestrial medical research?

Dr Fong: I do not think you can talk in general terms. There are some specific elements of science that can best, and only, be done with a microgravity laboratory. Generically, you cannot talk about space versus ground, I do not think. There are other benefits to medical science, and again we have talked about inspiration already, but you have heard earlier that biological sciences are not in trouble. Well, they are, and I presented at the Department of Health's Chief Scientific Officer's conference this year, the leading lecture of which was that there is a poor supply of biological scientists to our medical research base and we are importing them as well. Again I think that the benefits of programmatic engagement in programmes of human space flight go across the boundaries of science, education and research to the supply and demand of scientists as well.

Q474 Adam Afriyie: We have had quite a lot of evidence given from the Case for Space team on the reason for government funding or providing seedcorn funding for manned space flight and other research in space. I do not think they made a very good case because they did not bring together all of the elements that you are talking about. You are saying you cannot necessarily justify it on one particular strand of research or one particular aspect of the return. Do you have anything in addition or would you suggest anything additional we should be looking at other than the Case for Space information which maybe would convince some of us a little bit more that there was an overall case?

Dr Fong: I would like to pick up the Case for Space. I would say as well that the decision is not sooner or later, it is now or never because again, having just come back from Houston, if you look at time-lines for launch scheduling, we either decide to get involved in the next couple of years or the next time is in about 20 years' time. Now, coming back to Case for Space and the educational argument, we have closed 24 physics departments in the last ten years, we have 48 left and, in 20 years' time at that rate of decline, we will have none. Now we turn to the Case for Space document and there was a lot in that document about the ability of space to inspire the young. It highlighted the fact that there was very little that was objective. There are three elements in there which, they say, they have some objective evidence for. They were Space Camp Alabama, the Challenger Learning Experience in Leicester and Scottish Space School. Now, it did not say what the details of those programmes were. Space Camp Alabama is a camp for children that has people walking around in blue suits pretending to be astronauts who are actually astronauts. The Challenger Learning Experience is a simulated space station mission.

Q475 Chairman: We have been there.

Dr Fong: It is predicated on human space flight as the point of interest. Scottish Space School use a dozen NASA astronauts through that programme every year and it has been extremely successful. Therefore, implicit in the Case for Space document is, I think, fairly convincing evidence that human space flight is useful.

Chairman: Clearly MRC is not convinced and they are the funders of medical research, so what we are very anxious to get from you this morning is the hard evidence which shows that, as part of a manned space mission, actually putting resources into medical research in space is really going to be worthwhile, that we can only do it in space and we cannot do it in a simulated situation. You have not said that to us this morning.

Q476 Mr Newmark: Specifically, as a supplement to that, we have heard that, with regard to topics such as signalling in cells, bone growth and muscle and fluid behaviour, you can only do that by going out into space and not doing it necessarily in a simulated environment on Earth.

Dr Fong: I am trying to think of the best way of illustrating it. Science is all about taking a system and introducing a perturbation and looking at the response of that system to that perturbation: in the case of physiological systems in which gravitational loading is a big perturbation, muscle and bone in particular, but also the cardiovascular system and the neurovestibular system, removing entirely the stimulus of gravity, which you cannot simulate on the earth, or you can if you get in a lift and cut the cord but it does not last very long and it is not very pleasant.

Q477 Chairman: It is a lot cheaper.

Dr Fong: Temporarily. In the absence of that, you have the opportunity to use a tool which has square wave perturbation which allows you to perturb these systems and look at them and the fundamental properties. We do not really understand at cellular level how bone works and how muscle works. The focus in medical science has gone away from whole body integrated systems physiology towards molecular, and understandably, but these are areas which would benefit.

Q478 Adam Afriyie: In general terms you are saying there is benefit for medical research in space. We acknowledge there are benefits but at the moment you do not necessarily have any quantifiable way of establishing what the returns in the long term would be to somebody investing today.

Dr Fong: With the line that MRC take, that they should not top slice their own budget to fund this, I think that is correct. They have agreed that funding in responsive mode is good and I think that is right. We need to have a different funding source for medical science because it is part of the human space flight programme.

Dr Spink: Do you think there is ever any solid way of estimating the financial benefits from medical research, whether it is terrestrial or space, or is research, by its nature, problematic and variable in terms of output?

Q479 Chairman: First I would like a response to Bob's question very briefly but also I would like your response to what Dr Fong is saying.

Professor Kennard: It is one of the big dilemmas that the MRC has had: how to put a figure on the benefit the research that it funds delivers to mankind. There are lots of different mechanisms that have been looked at but none of them have been shown to be really valid in all situations. It is a very difficult task but one which the MRC still continue to try and fight. It is crucially important that the benefit is seen not only in terms of lives saved but also in material benefit for the money that is put in. What I was going to say was that the MRC does not just exclude and say we are not going to have anything to do with space flight. As Dr Fong said, we do consider applications that come on response mode so there are a number of individuals who link up with space programmes elsewhere who want to do experiments and come to the MRC and they are judged along with all the other applications that come through. We have not actually, for reasons that I have given, decided to top slice. The other thing that is important to differentiate, what Dr Fong was talking about, is aspects of normal physiology. You can get information about how normal man works from microgravity. From the pathophysiology, when you actually have disease that is influencing the normal physiology, then that is where it is very questionable as to whether there is any benefit from microgravity.

Q480 Adam Afriyie: In January 2003 the Wakeham Review recommended that the government should definitely invest in microgravity in space. Has MRC made any assessments since then of that conclusion and the viability of funding microgravity research since that was declined?

Professor Kennard: My reading of Bill Wakeham's report was that there were marginal benefits in a number of different areas but if you put it together it then made the case. We feel there are potentially marginal benefits in certain areas, particularly physiology, but overall there is not justification for changing the view.

Q481 Adam Afriyie: You mentioned response modes. Applications come in and you sift them and then you do not discriminate against space medical research. Have you some statistics to hand as to how many applications you have had and how many have been successful vis--vis other types of application?

Professor Kennard: I do not have that information to hand but I can get it for you.

Q482 Adam Afriyie: Is it hundreds?

Professor Kennard: No, it is a handful.

Q483 Mr Newmark: Given there may be commercial benefits spilling out of space medicine, by not participating are we losing out or is it wrong to even think in those terms of when we have return on capital employed? Should we be thinking more about blue sky thinking, that this is much more a long‑term project and we should not be always thinking for every pound we put in we have to get X return today?

Professor Kennard: What you are saying is to what extent should funding be strategically driven as opposed to response mode. Again, there is a big debate going on.

Q484 Mr Newmark: Specifically with space medicine.

Professor Kennard: Should there be a strategic push to work in that area? The view of the MRC is that the funding we have is very limited, 500 million a year, for all the different diseases we try to tackle and we cannot see any real benefit, even long‑term, from identifying a small amount of money to put into this that would generate a real benefit.

Q485 Mr Newmark: A small amount of money is what in your terms?

Professor Kennard: Some of the pushes that we have had had 5 million or $10 million for specific funding streams.

Mr Gourlay: The basic problem, as I see it, is if you are putting somebody up in space and they become ill, which is a very high percentage ‑ I am not sure of the exact figure ‑ that puts them out of the game for 24 to 48 hours. With our kit we can find out what is causing it. Is it ICP, intracranial pressure, variations or whatever? If we can solve that, we have astronauts, human beings, up there doing work virtually from day one. That is why we are using this kit, or we want to use it. NASA has funded it to the tune of something like $400,000. It is unfortunate because it should have been up in the last Shuttle and we cannot help that but it will definitely be going to Mars to find out what is going on. We are talking with Virgin Galactic as well to see if we can screen passengers before they go up because we do not want them ill up there although they are only six or seven minutes in outer space. The spin‑off we have seen, since we started working on this, is this anaesthetic correlation with ICP. There is a raft of other applications that we just have not had the time or the funding to do. Yes, it is absolutely key, we believe, to get up into space.

Q486 Chairman: Apart from that one device where you have given an obvious spin‑off in terms of what would happen in terms of long‑term operations under anaesthesia, what other spin‑offs have you seen in terms of medical advances that come out of the manned space flight?

Mr Gourlay: This is the only one that is scheduled or designed to go up in space. That is the limit of my experience on that.

Q487 Chairman: Could I just ask you, before I move on to Des Turner, are you happy with the current funding mechanism, i.e. the response mode mechanism which obviously Chris Kennard talked about, or is there some better way in which to actually fund some of this medicine in space?

Dr Fong: I understand MRC's position on this. Am I happy with it? No, but that is because the problem we face as a community of people who are interested in space life sciences and physiology is that we are a nascent community who are easily killed off. You cannot develop capacity without some seed called funding. The response mode funding, where we go toe to toe with people who have had years and years of infrastructure building, does not leave us in a good position. I believe to develop our community that sequel funding will have to come from some other process. I have given it some fairly careful thought through the last decade of engagement on my part and the space life and medical science community will not be developed unless we engage in human space flight programmes which is why I keep pushing that point. As a next stage we need to do it soon and we need to do it for the costs that I outlined of about 100 million over five years.

Q488 Dr Turner: I have a question following up what you just said, Dr Fong. Do you think it would be fair to say that the UK government is waiting for other countries to demonstrate the viability of space research in medicine before dipping a toe in the water, by which time it may be too late?

Dr Fong: I think that is entirely true. It is interesting to see the way that human space flight and space science is treated compared to other sciences and how closely it comes under that sort of microscope. You can kill any nascent project of research by saying we will wait and see what everybody else does. We are now on our own in the G8 nations. Beyond the G8 nations we are the only developed country that does not have national astronauts at this time and with that the accompanying programmes on physiology and medicine. I think that is a poor position. By the time we decide it is good, it is just like the stock‑markets, it will have gone past us and we will not be able to catch up.

Q489 Dr Turner: Obviously you are in a position to speak from personal experience. What does the situation do for the relationship between UK scientists and NASA? Do you find yourselves as poor relations?

Dr Fong: Extremely poor relations. I am fortunate enough to have arranged a bilateral agreement at the level of laboratory to laboratory to allow me to go out there and continue to look at what they do. I have spent the last decade doing this. We used to engage with ESA and NASA but ESA have pulled out their support for any programmes I run in this country because they do not see that we will ever engage with them at programmatic level. NASA are our remaining hope on this front as far as I see it. Yes, all of the countries we engage with recognise potential, they are just wondering how we are ever going to manifest that.

Q490 Dr Turner: We need a certain amount of specific funding for this and you think that would plug the gap?

Dr Fong: I think you need what essentially amounts to a governmental version of venture capital to be invested in this project to allow you to see where you may gain. The point is we have had multiple independent reviews over the last ten years which have provided reasonable evidence there may be something to gain from further engagement in programmes of human space flight. We cannot spend the next ten years doing further reviews of this kind because we will learn nothing extra. At this point we need to speculate to accumulate. At this point we need to make some small investment so that in 20 years time if we are doing first‑class fundamental science on the surface of the moon and beyond that we have understood fully what our position should be in that. We will not do that by sitting around tables and talking about it. We need to have something to start with.

Q491 Dr Turner: Presumably you are not in a position then to attract and provide opportunities for UK students in the field. Are they having to go abroad in order to pursue their interests?

Dr Fong: They are. Spin‑offs and brain drains are overused words when we talk about space flights but the brain drain is real. I can name three people, Piers Sellers, Mike Fold and Nick Patrick, all of whom were formally citizens of the United Kingdom who are now American citizens. I also know of dozens of people around Johnson Space Centre who did not pass the astronaut selection, and one particular individual who is studying at MIT who will likely not be a British citizen for much longer. Yes, they are going abroad. We have a community at the moment in the UK who we support but we cannot support them indefinitely. After that their option will be to turn away from space science, and therefore not be part of your capacity building, or go abroad.

Q492 Dr Turner: You have made an eloquent case for the problems in your field. Can you make an equally eloquent case for the benefits of making it happen, the benefits to the UK and the UK economy?

Dr Fong: Yes. As my witness statement suggests, the benefits of engagement in human space flight go across the traditional boundaries between scientific disciplines to education and to culture. All of those are interrelated. Unfortunately, under the modes of funding we have, we are usually unable to appreciate that. We talk about the excellence of our science programmes at the moment and yet the supply is under threat. We do not know how to address that threat of supply although we have something here that might help with it but it is suddenly somebody else's problem. It is DfES's problem or it is Culture's problem but it is not RCUK. We fall on that sword. We fall between the stalls on those things. If you are asking me what is my argument, my argument is that a small early investment now, and a little bit of vision in five years time, may deliver us what is the greatest benefit of the human space flight, the next generation of scientists to deliver our economy. There is a lot out there to suggest our economy is in trouble because of the lack of supply of scientists.

Q493 Chairman: On that rather depressing note, if I may say, although I must admit the idea of long lift shafts is a very attractive one for other ideas, if I could thank Professor Chris Kennard, Dr Kevin Fong and Michael Gourlay very much for being our witnesses this morning.


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Will Whitehorn, President, Virgin Galactic, Jeff Gazzard, Board Member, Aviation Environment Federation and Dr Patrick Collins, Director, Space Future Consulting, gave evidence.

Q494 Chairman: We bring our third panel of witnesses to this Science and Technology Committee space inquiry. Welcome Will Whitehorn, the President of Virgin Galactic, Dr Patrick Collins, the Director of Space Future Consulting and Mr Jeff Gazzard, a Board Member of Aviation Environment Federation. I must confess, gentlemen, this is a session for which I have been waiting for a long time. It is customary for our Committee to have interesting visits and we did feel that it would be good publicity for each of the members of the Committee to be given a ride in Virgin Galactic! With those remarks, I will ask my colleague, Mr Newmark, to begin the questions.

Q495 Mr Newmark: Is space tourism science fiction or science fact? Where do you think we will be ten years from now?

Mr Whitehorn: It is worth saying that space tourism was perceived to be science fact back in the 1970s after the Apollo missions when the Shuttle programme began. Many in Congress believed at that time that the Shuttle programme was going to become so regularised that you would be able to use it for commercial purposes. To my mind the entire concept of the Shuttle programme was flawed in its essence. It was using a technology which had been adapted from the military technology of rocketry of the 1950s to get man to the moon quickly and it did not think about some of the aspects of regularising space flight in the future.

Q496 Mr Newmark: When you say space flight, you mean suborbital or space flight in general?

Mr Whitehorn: I mean both: suborbital and beyond the earth's orbit. One of the exciting things that has happened is, since the Challenger accident and the subsequent accidents to Shuttle where the public began to believe that space flight of the type that we are talking about today was science fiction, we have rapidly moved in the last three and a half years back to science fact again. The X Prize was fundamentally important to the future of space flight. It proved that a man called Burt Rutan, funded by Paul Allen, for US$30 million could put two people into space in the space of two weeks with a reusable vehicle which came back with minimal environmental exposure of the planet to the effects of that space flight. It was a very, very dramatic event.

Q497 Mr Newmark: So no airline passenger duty from the Chancellor.

Mr Whitehorn: Exactly, that was one of the nice things, and no bilateral problems with the US government over rights to operate in the United States because we only went to the same place as we came back from. The reality of what happened with that project has created Virgin Galactic. What we are looking at at the moment is we are three quarters of the way through the construction project to build SpaceShip Two. This is a unique system. It is using some of the most advanced materials technology in the world, an all carbon composite aircraft which is incredibly efficient and going to be a showcase for both Airbus and Boeing, since neither are capable of building an all carbon composite glider at the moment the size of what we are building. The spacecraft itself is again all carbon composite, has a new design and a very safe hybrid rocket motor which is again unique technology that has been developed for this project. It has something called a feathering device which allows a care‑free re‑entry back into the earth's atmosphere which has never been done before. You do not have to try and fly a flight profile back in, you can bring your passengers in safely floating down a shuttlecock and then you turn it back into a glider to land. The unique thing about this space launch system is it can not only get six people into space for an environmental effect less than a single business class ticket to New York compared with the Shuttle which takes that number of people into space for the same environmental output of the entire city of New York and its industry for nearly a week. This is really a dramatic breakthrough. The exciting thing about it is not just space tourism, not the fact it is inspiring people, not the fact that over 15,000 kids in the last five days have been through the Science Museum and sat in our mock‑up of the interior and been inspired by it, not the fact that 100,000 kids in Britain alone sent emails to Virgin Galactic wanting information about what we are doing, not the fact we believe we can make a profitable business out of space tourists to start with, not the fact that we are not being funded by any government to make this $200 million investment, but the really exciting thing is this system is capable of doing science and payload in space. It is capable cheaply of doing microgravity experiments. It is capable of having a launcher attached to it, apart from the SpaceShip Two launcher we are designing at the moment, which could launch space satellites into orbit.

Q498 Mr Newmark: Great sales pitch.

Mr Whitehorn: It is not a sales pitch; it happens to be the reality of what we are doing.

Q499 Mr Newmark: There is a difference in the cost between taking a suborbital trip, an orbital trip and going out into space. Secondly, there is a certain amount of training involved. I know that when people go out in space they need to go through far more rigorous training, which is expensive. I know a guy who has done it and spent six months in Russia as opposed to your two‑day training course where you go up on your ships and everything is fine. Is it really going to be that simple? I want you to differentiate between orbital, suborbital and going out to space with what you are proposing, and also the cost. Clearly the first guys up cost a lot of money so there is a learning curve and a costs curve that come down over time. If Adam and I decide to pay you 100,000 or 170,000, or whatever it is going to be, to take the first trips up next year, in ten years time, if we decide to send our teenage children up there how is the cost going to come down with that?

Mr Whitehorn: First of all, the cost for the early flights is $200,000, around 100,000, and we have 200 people who have paid that deposit and signed up, which is about so far 10 per cent of the investment we are making in building the system. It has been very gratifying they have done that.

Q500 Adam Afriyie: How many British people have signed up?

Mr Whitehorn: About 35 British people.

Q501 Adam Afriyie: Any Members of Parliament?

Mr Whitehorn: Not yet. Lembit is obviously very keen to go and see if there are any asteroids out there.

Q502 Chairman: There are very few Conservative MPs who can afford it!

Mr Whitehorn: For anyone who is really unpopular we can arrange one‑way trips potentially! The reality is that our business plan at the moment, provided that the investment programme goes ahead as it is going at the moment, and we are so far into the programme we are very confident on the numbers, we believe that within five years we can get the costs down to between $75,000 and eventually, maybe after nine years, $50,000, which is 25,000. That will allow people to get up into space with three days' training and see the planet Earth. They will not stay there very long, they will only experience weightlessness for a few minutes, but the most important thing about the experience is they will understand this planet a lot better for doing it. It will, as a project, regularise and give the public an understanding of the fact that space is not a devolved place from us; it is only an extension of where we are now. The reality of the atmosphere is to some extent it goes out tens of thousands of miles, and some could argue right out to the Lagrange point to the Sun. We tend to the think of the planet as being this bubble that we live in and space is something that is uninhabitable and out there. Of course what has happened with the culture of space since the accident in 1985 is people have begun to believe that actually robots can do everything in space that needs to be done and man does not need to go there. I fundamentally do not agree with that. I do not draw a delineation between a suborbital programme, an orbital programme and a leaving the earth's atmosphere programme. The exciting thing about our technology is that it can be evolved very quickly into a very, very low cost orbital system to either launch payload and science into orbit, and eventually take people into orbit, at costs well below today. The most important thing of all is by using an air launch system, by carrying our spacecraft above the atmosphere to 60,000 feet and launching it there, we can avoid almost all the environment impact of the current space launch systems which are based on 1950s technology. I do not see a delineation between proving suborbital and moving forward.

Q503 Mr Newmark: I would like to ask both of you, is he in cloud cuckoo land or is he being realistic? What are the risks you see associated with what Will is saying? What are the benefits? Can we really develop a space tourism industry and how will it benefit the UK?

Mr Gazzard: It would be inappropriate for me to say that any branch of the Virgin empire is living in cloud cuckoo land. Will has done a great sales pitch and you sit here in admiration for that. The facts are that what he has told us is what the environmental impact of this project is not but he has not quite told us what it is. It is not as big as a weeks' output of New York City, it is not self‑evidently as big as a SAT 5 with a space exploration project on top of it, and I accept that. We have had said in our short submission that the impact of these launch systems, as they are currently proposed, is pretty minimal and it would be stupid to say otherwise. Self‑evidently they are only licensed, such as the licensing is, for use in the States. We submitted some evidence about the passenger legislation and Federal Aviation and space transportation requirements, you have covered that in your statement about a couple of days training. These people are not astronauts; this is not science. This is, as Mr Whitehorn said, the play thing of people like Paul Allen, the co‑founder of Microsoft. Interestingly one of the areas of the media that gets most coverage for these projects is Microsoft's own news network. I know Paul Allen is not involved any more but you can see these links. They are not intergalactic, that is self‑evident. We did describe this, after some thought, as a play thing of millionaires and that is probably our view. Although if it does get down to the kind of level of which even Liberal Democrat MPs can afford it obviously we would have to have a look at that. What we are talking about here is a kind of Virgin Galactic with a bit of technology attached to it. It is not true to say that the technology, for instance, of carbon fibre structures in aerospace is being led by this project. I have not been to Seattle but I have met senior people from Boeing. I have been to Toulouse on several occasions in the last year discussing all of the ways in which air frames can be built more efficiently, the thing we are concerned about, the space exploration, a different subject, and the technology transfer back into commercial aerospace. Even we are interested in more efficient aircraft. If you saw what they were doing with structures you would understand that it is the commercial aerospace and, in fact, the Formula One industry that is having as much impact on the kind of technology that Virgin Galactic would be using as what they are doing themselves. Having said that, this is a small enterprise and it is quite interesting technologically. There is no doubt that if it does get off the ground, aeronautical pun intended, it will have some environmental impact but that will be quite limited. What concerns us is the third party and societal risk elements of this and that they are promoted and not just the environmental impact assessment which we said we want to see listed and publicised so we do know what it is rather than what it is not. The thing that does concern us is the third party risk on society or indeed the individual risks.

Q504 Chairman: We will return to that.

Mr Gazzard: I listened very carefully to Will Whitehorn's projections. This is a small potential business even over ten or fifteen years. At that level, providing that the environmental impact assessment of launch sites and material and the safety aspects are thoroughly considered and publicised, then God bless all who want to fly.

Q505 Mr Newmark: Basically what you are saying is it is a rich man's or rich lady's game, something they can talk about over a bottle of Petrus at a dinner party.

Mr Gazzard: It is worse than that. It is a bit like multimillionaires outbidding each other at a charity dinner as to who is going to have the signed football.

Dr Collins: Is space tourism science fact? It can easily become fact. I disagree with the idea that it has to remain expensive. There has been a lot of talk today about how expensive it is to get to space. We are used to this idea. What most people do not seem to realise is how very extraordinary it is that launch costs today are exactly the same as they were 50 years ago. I call space agencies anti‑space travel agencies because they spend colossal amounts of money, over a trillion dollars so far, but never in a way to making getting into space cheaper. The cheapest way to get into space is the Soyuz, which was the first ever rocket that ever launched a satellite. To give an example about how easy it can be to make getting into space cheaper, this is a picture of the SR53, a British supersonic rocket plane which flew in Britain 50 years ago this May. There is a British company, Bristol Spaceplanes, which has a design of a passenger space plane, drawing very much on that technology, which could make suborbital flights at a cost of 3,000 a head. There is simply no difficulty at all. The technology was already there 50 years ago, and materials and so on have advanced a great deal since then.

Q506 Chairman: Do you have any evidence to support that claim? That is the most astounding claim you have just made, that you could do it for that sort of cost.

Dr Collins: This vehicle is in the RAF Museum and it flew on May 15, 1957 and flew supersonic in 1958. It was a military plane.

Q507 Dr Spink: Do you have a report or analysis that enables you to arrive at the 3,000 per head? There will be something I am sure.

Dr Collins: That is right.

Q508 Dr Spink: Could you send it to us?

Dr Collins: I will do that. This was intended as an interceptor for Russian planes. In fact missiles were much better so they did not develop a higher altitude version, but suborbital space flight is that straight forward so it could have been started as a passenger business in the 1960s. There is no doubt about that. Going from suborbital to orbital is a big step; it is from Mach 3 or 4 up to Mach 26 so it is a big step and requires a much bigger investment. Based on a successful business like this, it would be quite a logical and low risk investment. I am a great fan of Virgin, they are doing terrific work, but if no governments were to make any effort and it was just left to Virgin it is still going to take a long time to get to orbit, but for a tiny investment and a modern version of this for 50 million, a one‑off investment, in three years you would have a prototype which would be flying, within five years it could be certified for carrying passengers, and within ten years it would be down to 3,000 a head. Suborbital flight is a very straight forward low cost investment. One of my frustrations, as someone who has been aware of this for a long time, is the absolute refusal of the BNSC to even comment on the subject. As I mentioned in my submission, in 2000 the Trade and Industry Committee referred to this. It pointed out that satellite investment is not profitable in an ordinary sense. It has all sorts of spin‑off effects which are excellent and they do not want to stop it but it is not satisfactory as a commercial business and urges them to do something about looking to space tourism. What it means is low cost space travel which is the secret to allowing everything to happen in space but the BNSC and the then Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, have simply refused to say anything in eight years.

Q509 Adam Afriyie: Why do you think they have refused to say anything?

Dr Collins: I think it is partly what I call space agency disease, which is that space agencies are not interested in space travel.

Q510 Chairman: We do not have a space agency?

Dr Collins: That is right but NASA and ESA and other space agencies do not do anything to make space travel cheaper; they never have and they are not now. They are not planning anything like that in the future which is why the SpaceShip One flight was so very important. By the way, even by BNSC's budget it would only be three or four weeks of its budget to build SpaceShip One.

Q511 Chairman: To be fair, and for the record, BNSC recently did sponsor a major conference on space tourism in the UK. It is unfair to say they are not doing anything and are not interested.

Dr Collins: I spoke at that conference and it is true they lent us the DTI conference facility, which was excellent.

Q512 Chairman: I was just making the point because you said they are not doing anything and I wanted to rectify that.

Dr Collins: In the eight years of the previous Minister's tenure they turned down applications to work in this area every year except for one after SpaceShip One had flown.

Chairman: I was just trying to correct the record.

Q513 Adam Afriyie: Will, Dr Collins, and possibly Jeff, is insurance a barrier to space tourism and can you say just a very few words on how you see that issue? Following on from that, can many of the experiments that are done in orbit outside the earth's atmosphere be done within orbit? We only have a few moments.

Mr Whitehorn: Insurance is not a barrier; it is a big opportunity for the UK. Already Lloyd's market insures almost all the world's satellites and almost all the world's space equipment. Space tourism is a big opportunity. There are going to be issues with early insurance for the first 100 or 200 fights. We are going to have to sign a waiver under the US government regulations. The US has legislation in place, to answer Jeff Gazzard's point, which will mean we have to publish the environmental appraisal of the vehicle. We have to give a full acknowledgement of all third party risk. Can I say fundamentally that Jeff Gazzard, much as I respect him, is utterly wrong in what he said about space tourism and this system. NASA last night at midnight signed a co‑operation agreement with Virgin Galactic to develop this technology for science and payload in space because NASA, who have signed an agreement with us, believe fundamentally. They are now lending us people to work on the project with us, including some of their most respected scientists, and under the agreement they are also going to buy seats on Virgin Galactic for early parts of astronaut training. They believe in the science and technology of it and who I am to question that. When it comes to the very long‑term question about suborbit versus orbital, which I did not get around to answering properly, this system which makes it different from the Bristol Spaceplane, is we are talking about an air launch system here with a unique aircraft that can then launch orbital payload into space. Jeff Gazzard is also wrong in saying that the technology we are using in composites is not that advanced. In fact, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites is the world's most advanced composite manufacturer and he has taught everybody what they know about the subject. He designs parts for some of the most advanced aircraft in the world. His company is partnered by Northrop Grumman, who are the company building this for us, and it is at the cutting edge of technology at the moment.

Dr Collins: Can I say something about the insurance? Space travel is a very straight forward extension of air travel. It is much better to see it in that sense rather than as something from space agencies. We see this clearly in the States where NASA has nothing to do with the space travel industry that is developing now, it is the FAA who is leading that. The FAA is extremely keen that it should grow because for the FAA it is a whole new field. That is a structural thing that would be very good to look at in Britain. The CAA might be given a budget to get this to happen because the space community, the gentlemen this morning, are excellent space scientists but they are a quite different world from air travel. We have this word aerospace but they are two quite separate fields, aero and space. BNSC in their submission do not even use the word, they do not discuss this subject at all, yet it is now recognised this is probably the most promising new field in space. Getting the aviation industry to look at this as a growth of aviation and overlapping with space may be a way to get around this blockage of lack of funding by space agencies.

Mr Gazzard: I do not even have a dramatic five to midnight last night story but what I would say, very briefly, apart from being slightly flippant, I feel like I am in the pages of The Eagle here. The point about insurance is you can insure almost anything if you are prepared to pay a high enough premium. The premium for a space flight as a commercial space agency is between 20 and 25 per cent of the launch and payload costs which is significant money. The second point about composites, I know the background of the people who are involved in this project and they are cutting edge world leaders but that is not the same as saying this project is a cutting edge world leader in terms of autoclaves and carbon fibre weave and weft and all the rest of it. If you talk to the manufacturing people at Airbus and Boeing, they are as advanced as anybody on these issues.

Mr Whitehorn: That is not true.

Q514 Chairman: You can fight outside. I Chair this committee, I am not a referee. I do not want to go there and I think you have made the points about that. Just before we finish this session, Will, you said that the commercial launch system could alleviate pressure on government regarding human space flight and there would be avenues of involvement. Very, very briefly those avenues of involvement, this thing that you talked about last night in terms of scientific pay‑off, what were they?

Mr Whitehorn: And commercial pay‑off. We are talking to people like Surrey Satellites at the moment, QinetiQ and Astrium and they are fascinated by this system. They realise this system is cutting edge and what it can be applied to now in terms of lowering the cost of getting payload into lower earth orbit is quite dramatic. I would say we are five or six years away from that. We have to prove this systems works over the next 18 months. We have to get our licence from the FAA to start flying. We have to fly people in space first because they are the first available market. This so‑called rich person's toy, most of the people who going up on this system in the early part of its use are scientists who can luckily for them afford to go up on it because they are fascinated by the system and understand its ramifications. One of our launch customers is Professor Stephen Hawking and I do not regard him as just a rich kid with a play thing.

Q515 Chairman: No, and we will leave Stephen Hawking to another day. In terms of this involvement, you would see your system delivering payloads, in other words, you would use it as a launcher system.

Mr Whitehorn: Yes. That is what we wish to develop it into because that is where the real market long term will lie for it.

Q516 Mr Newmark: Richard Branson is one of the great entrepreneurs of my generation and I think it is great he is doing this and, as a venture capitalist, which both of us are, it is great that you are not relying on government at all to do this. I was being a bit facetious before. Do you see any role for government to help support what you are doing or should it just be purely a private enterprise?

Mr Whitehorn: I see a great role for government in the UK in space but we will leave that aside for the moment. The role for government in our project is quite simple. We need to have a legislative background in the UK which would allow this type of commercial flight to take place here or we will lose a massive opportunity. Already the US government has passed a new Act to allow us to fly, the Commercialization of Space Amendment Act 2004. It has set up a branch of the FAA to license this system because they realise this is not like an aircraft but it is like a aircraft. It is crossing that barrier we were talking about with aerospace. The Swedish government has signed an MOU with us to develop a methodology to allow us to fly from Sweden from the Kiruna space base up in the north of Sweden. In the UK I have been to see the RAF. Lossiemouth is an ideal location to operate early flights from the UK or St Mawgan down in Cornwall. We are going to approach the MoD as soon as we are at the next stage with the FAA, who will give them the full breakdown on what we are allowed to do under IATA rules. We would like to operate here but at the moment there is no body and no locus to allow us to do it.

Q517 Mr Newmark: It is not a cash issue for you but government facilitating your ability to get on and develop your business as you would like.

Mr Whitehorn: I believe the government needs to set up, and this group should look at this, how do you enable commercial space flight to happen from the UK with systems for which there is no understanding at the moment, which are neither ground‑based rocketry nor traditionally aircraft going into space. It would be a really important thing for the Committee to look at.

Chairman: We take seriously the point you have made.

Q518 Chris Mole: Do any of you believe there is a role for the UK government in providing financial incentives for the development of the space tourism industry and what incentives should they be?

Dr Collins: Yes, very much indeed. If the DTI is sincere in saying they wish to encourage the maximum commercial development of space, which is what it is, they should invest in this because it is a much, much bigger matter than just Virgin Galactic. The fact that a British company wants to buy some Boeing vehicles does not mean that Europe should not set up Airbus. The idea that if they are allowed to bring the American vehicle over to Europe and fly it then that is enough and Britain should not do anything is crazy. In the DTI's report they just refer to this in a few lines where they say they are going to lead by regulating. This is simply nonsense. This refusal to speak about it, which all space agencies and near space agencies have, they should be obliged to make a cost benefit analysis or a feasibility study. People have been requesting funds for a feasibility study for 15 years and they turn them down every year. Now SpaceShip One has flown and proved the case that for a tiny investment you can make a passenger vehicle. The British aerospace manufacturing industry is in urgent need of new projects. It does the Airbus wings and it does military stuff but nothing much else. Talking to the guys they are saying "What is next?" This is an absolutely ideal area, one where Britain specifically has already a great deal of expertise. I am not saying we do not need new legislation, we do, but it is not so very strange because this vehicle was flying 50 years ago. Rocket planes are nothing new at all and the CAA has handled it before.

Mr Whitehorn: I beg to differ. The CCA has not handled that; that was a military plane. It did not have any CAA involvement at all and that is one of the issues we need to address.

Q519 Chris Mole: What challenges would Virgin Galactic face if it wanted to build a space port in the UK?

Mr Whitehorn: Very few challenges in the logistical sense. The biggest challenge here is the weather in the UK for taking off an air launch system. We believe we could operate in summer out of Lossiemouth because it already has all the right elements. We do not need a space port that has ground‑based rocketry, we need a very long runway and Lossiemouth has that. It also has cleared military airspace in the Moray Firth so our re‑entry would not interfere with any commercial aircraft. All the elements are already there. At very low cost we could develop a space tourism business here for summer operation. I think that would be a great thing for the UK to participate in. Already you have countries like Sweden which moved very quickly on this. Dubai is trying to get into this act very quickly. I think the UK needs to and we need to look at some enabling legislation through Parliament to make sure that we can do what we do, otherwise we will have to do it under a military licence through the MoD in some way and that would be a shame for a project like this. Enabling legislation is the main thing needed because the space port facilities for the type of system we have exist at a number of RAF bases in places where they already have cleared airspace at the extremes of the UK, in the far west of Cornwall and up in the far north of Scotland.

Mr Gazzard: Could I make a quick point about government policy and intervention. Dr Collins has mentioned that the British National Space Council is now in the middle of a consultation document, I think it is about forty pages, and does not have any mention of space tourism anywhere in it. Despite the fact they have had a day's conference on it, there is their consultation document that is a pretty well written document with a middle, beginning and an end. It speaks in virtuous terms about the scientific possibilities of space exploration, as indeed we do in the early part of our evidence, but there is not a single mention of space tourism. Just in passing, the word "environment" is mentioned 25 times in the document but never in terms of any policy or impact at all.

Q520 Dr Turner: Coming to the environmental impact, and especially Will Whitehorn, given the way in which you have been singing the praises of the lack of environmental impact of your technology, I would like you all to give an environmental impact assessment of space tourism and put it into the context in comparison with the current environment impact of commercial aviation.

Mr Whitehorn: I can do that very simply. If we look at a ten year programme of Virgin Galactic flying people with 50,000 flights, for example, I would assess that our environmental impact would be less than two Shuttle launches. That puts it into some context for you. The environmental impact of the system has also to be looked at in the context of its ability to launch payload with far less environmental impact than ground‑based rocketry. Ground‑based rocketry will always be necessary but solid fuel rockets launched from the ground have a massive environmental impact which people have been prepared to pay the cost of over the last 40 or 50 years but I do not believe that society will in 20 or 30 years' time. Developing these new types of air launch systems with new technology material aircraft and new technology engines with new technology fuels is going to be very important. One of the things we are looking at for the SpaceShip Two project in its later phases is going to be the introduction of a new fuel which cannot be used in commercial aviation yet. Butenol is the name of the fuel. It is a different alcohol to ethanol but one that freezes at a much lower temperature, has a much more similar characteristic to Jet‑A1 aviation spirit and can be produced from biomass. If we could develop that new fuel we could even lower the environmental impact of this system even more, and because of its special licensing procedures for the FAA this might be the place to experiment with this fuel outside of commercial civil aviation in a way which could not be done in a normal CAA or FAA programme because the engines we currently use have to be certified with the current fuels because of the safety regimes for passengers. As to the environment impact, I cannot tell you precisely what it is yet because we are going through the licensing manufacturing process to lead to the test flights next year. All I can tell you is that it is eight people to space for less CO2 output than a business class ticket from London to New York to put it in those round terms. From the point of view of the re‑entry, the really fascinating thing about the re‑entry with the SpaceShip Two system is it has zero environmental impact because you are on a glide. You come in on this re‑entry, this shuttlecock, and then it forms into a glider and glides back down to the runway so there is no environmental impact at all on the way back into the earth.

Mr Gazzard: When we were discussing in more general terms, first of all I accept that obviously a two‑engine plane, with payload slung beneath it, air launching this rocket‑powered capsule with fuel at the moment, which is a mixture of the nitrous oxide and a butadiene component and solid fuel ‑ tyres ‑ is going to burn for 76 seconds. Let us not be churlish, that is a fairly minimal environmental impact even in space. If the launch site is confined, which it probably will be, to sunnier areas of the world for obvious reasons, they will also be confined for regulatory reasons in the States as well. I accept what Whitehorn has implied about bureaucracy attached to EU and UK agencies which alone will probably kill any European launch, but fundamentally from the safety view point you have to have clean, clear and protected air space and that to me signifies these will always be launched from Mojave or New Mexico. That is fine. This whole question of whether this is a viable project, it is tourism and tourism does have impacts. These may well be minimal once we have seen the statement but equally people have to get there. They have to take a transatlantic flight so, whilst the space flight might be somewhat less than a transatlantic flight, unless they can walk on water, and I know there are some pretty powerful entrepreneurs who have booked for this, there will still be a transatlantic flight involved in this self‑evidently. Let us not go for that kind of comparison because that does not quite work. This business of it is always jam tomorrow, my understanding of space launches is that you need to put payload into the atmosphere; you need to get it into orbit. You use these current propulsion systems and you get a guaranteed result apart from the risk of it exploding and not going into orbit. What we are talking about here is you are not going to launch a satellite from below your aircraft launcher. Presumably this is going to be a payload section with an opening bit in the two and a half minutes that you are in space orbit. That is going to be some sight to fly up, open the doors, launch the satellite, hope it spins, shut the doors, cross your fingers and hope you are back with your shuttlecock feathering to land somewhere along the line.

Mr Whitehorn: No, a different launch vehicle altogether. I said a payload launch system to launch a different type of payload.

Mr Gazzard: To summarise, fairly minimal controllable environmental impacts if they are limited to one or two sites. Safety aspects we can come on to. I still feel, and we did discuss this around the office and chuckled about it but we did take it seriously, we did actually really think that this is extreme irony in space. I cannot see any benefits to this. If there are payload benefits as the system develops, fine and dandy, but these are at least ten years away maybe more. At the moment it is just like sitting here going to the opening of a car door and celebrating that as far as I can see. I am sorry if that is a bit rude. I can see no benefit for anybody, apart from Virgin's branding, in this project, and the fact that because they can they will.

Chairman: You would have been unhappy with Columbus.

Q521 Dr Turner: You obviously feel that space tourism per se is a bit of a frivolity.

Mr Gazzard: Yes.

Q522 Dr Turner: If the technology could be used to project payloads into space, is there a prospect that you could use this technology platform to replace rocket launch delivery of payloads which we have already all agreed have a very significant environmental impact? Is there a prospect of replacing the rocket launcher with this system and thereby avoiding some of the climate damage which currently results from use of the present technology?

Mr Whitehorn: Absolutely. I think I would want to re‑emphasise the fact that we would not be investing $200 million in this project if it was just about taking a few people into space to have a look at the sites because it would not justify the investment in the long term. I would like to state that this system can not only be used exactly as you just described, to avoid ground based rocketry for certain types of payload and science launch in the future, but beyond that this can also be the beginnings of a system whereby when we do need to move people right around the planet we can consider doing it outside the atmosphere instead of inside the atmosphere. We have the SpaceShip Three concept already in our minds, and a SpaceShip Four beyond it, but we have to walk before we run. I do feel reminded of a debate that happened in this chamber in the 1830s about train travel. I remember the very words being used about a frivolity for the rich and "by the way it is going to be dangerous and they might even not be able to get oxygen properly and what is the point when we have canals and horses". I am sorry but I simply cannot agree with almost a word that Jeff has said.

Mr Gazzard: I can take you to Manchester, near where I live in South Manchester, and show you a plaque where the MP was killed by the train.

Mr Whitehorn: William Hoskinson was his name and he was a very brave man and right to stand up for train travel.

Chairman: You have lived up to expectations. This has been a session of tremendous interest and Will Whitehorn, Dr Patrick Collins and Jeff Gazzard we thank you enormously for your contributions this morning. We do regard this as an important element within the whole report and it is important we report on that.