To be published as HC 253 -i

House of COMMONS





wednesday 12 June 2013


john auburn, dr hugh lewis and richard peckham

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 67



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 12 June 2013

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Jim Dowd

Stephen Metcalfe

David Morris

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Graham Stringer

David Tredinnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor David Southwood, Senior Research Investigator, Imperial College London, and President, Royal Astronomical Society, Professor Alan Smith, Director, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Professor Shaun Quegan, University of Sheffield, appearing on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Professor Richard Holdaway, Director, RAL Space, appearing on behalf of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), gave evidence.

Q1Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming in this morning. It would be helpful, before we formally start, if the four of you could introduce yourselves. We are a little thin on the ground this morning because, for reasons that totally baffle me in the way this place works, we lose several members to the Welsh Grand Committee, which happens to be meeting today. I am sure the Committee must have some important work on. Could I start by asking you to introduce yourselves?

Professor Holdaway: I am Richard Holdaway, director of RAL Space, which is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. We undertake R and D and commercial exploitation with the European Space Agency, NASA, industry and academia worldwide. We have been doing that for 30-odd years. We have a large number of pieces of hardware in space, and a lot of our current emphasis is on exploitation and the growth agenda, and as such we have spun out seven companies in the last five years to help that end product.

Professor Smith: I am Alan Smith, director of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, which is part of University College London. We are one of the largest organisations in the UK building and studying instrumentation for space research and involved in a large number of ESA and other national programmes. I am also chairman of the Space Action Network, which is an organisation comprising the heads of most of the large space groups in space science, earth observation and space engineering.

Professor Southwood: I am David Southwood. I am attached to Imperial College, but I am retired from the European Space Agency, where I worked in both earth observation and space science. At the moment I am president of the Royal Astronomical Society, which looks after the interests of the scientific community in astronomy and much of geophysics-much of earth science but not all. I am also a member of the steering board of the UK Space Agency.

Professor Quegan: My name is Shaun Quegan from Sheffield. I work in the National Centre for Earth Observation, which is the umbrella for a large part of the earth observation science carried out under NERC. I lead the BIOMASS mission, which in May was selected as the seventh Explorer mission. I have previously been involved in the Earth Science Advisory Committee of ESA. I previously led one of the research councils’ centres of excellence for earth observation.

Q2Chair: Thank you very much. Since the UK Space Agency was established, how effective do you think it has been? What do you think its main achievements are?

Professor Holdaway: It has been very effective in the transition into an agency from its predecessor, British National Space Centre. It is what the whole community, as well as Government, was looking to happen. That transition has gone pretty well. It is a small agency compared with the likes of the European Space Agency, NASA and France and Germany. It is a small agency with a large budget and a small number of staff.

You ask about its most important successes to date. Without doubt, that has been the outcome of last year’s ministerial, which has seen a significant increase in the UK subscription to ESA, which now puts us third in terms of overall budget.

That is very important for a number of reasons. It gives us a stronger voice in the larger programmes, both scientifically and from the technical point of view, and also sets the scene for the next five years of the ESA programme and the community within the UK that both supports and follows that programme. It is indicative of the current and previous Government’s support for the space sector, which, as I am sure you know, is one of the fastest growing in the UK economy. It is now worth over £10 billion a year. It is heading towards 100,000 employees and is growing very rapidly, not just in the UK but in terms of the global market, which is also growing very quickly. This puts the UK in a very strong position. The UK Space Agency, together with support from the community in general and industry in particular, has been very supportive of the lead-up to the ministerial and now has the onus to deliver growth and jobs and has to help grow the economy.

Professor Smith: I agree with all that Richard has said. From the space science perspective, it has been a very significant improvement over the BNSC and the division of responsibilities among the research councils, particularly STFC. The UKSA is a much more responsive organisation. It seems to have a more effective relationship with ESA in its new guise; it is more respected in that regard. We have just been through a process of negotiation of participation in some future space science missions. Those negotiations have been conducted more effectively, I would say, and the community has been very appreciative of the fact that this has been done in an equitable way but very effectively.

Professor Southwood: I agree with what my colleagues have said but would add a few things. It is still bedding down; it is not fully staffed, and inevitably that means people are dissatisfied because of concerns.

Q3Chair: Does that imply it is not properly resourced?

Professor Southwood: There is now a plan to increase its staffing to a more reasonable level. That has been done over the last year. There has been a modelling of the requirement, and new hiring is to come. The problem is that we are in an age of austerity, quite correctly-I am not criticising that-so there are procedures to go through when in other parts of BIS people are losing jobs and so on.

Q4Chair: Can you give examples of things that have not worked out as well as they should because of the resource pressure?

Professor Southwood: It is slowness of response and people having to spend too much time on human resources issues. In the submissions to the Royal Astronomical Society this was a concern of the community, without being able to point to any major disaster. In the last year there has been a Council of Ministers at ESA, and clearly that had to occupy the agency very fully. At the same time, the community felt that on day-to-day issues the response was slow.

To be perfectly frank, I am not saying it is not going to be sorted out. We are on a good path and there is a plan, but I would not be surprised if the average space scientist would be concerned about how overstretched the staff are. They are working enormously long hours. You can do that for a year or two, but you worry about people falling over. We are past the danger period, in the sense that people can now see there is a plan. The reason it is not in place yet is simply that you have to follow due procedures within the civil service, and so on.

Professor Quegan: NERC’s position is an amalgam of the previous three. The UK Space Agency played a very important role in getting a strong response in the ministerial, which has been crucial for NERC science through the earth observation envelope programme and the climate change initiative, which are central to NERC’s mission. Like David, the worry for NERC is the slow response time, and often it has not allowed the UK, say, to take full advantage of the organisations that contribute to it. It is rather slow or late in getting requests for information to organisations. If it involved seeking advice further down the line, it took too long. Information was asked for too late and people were not involved when it was rather crucial that the information be given, so the full information was not complete.

Professor Holdaway: To follow up what David said about resources, for an agency that is working in a sector that is growing rapidly and has just had a big expansion of the ESA programme for which it is responsible, it is important to have the right number of people. Most people recognise that it does not have quite enough staff. But a secondary issue, which is every bit as important, is about the right type of staff with the right skills. One consequence of the due process that David mentioned in how they recruit is its inability in the last six months or so to recruit people, first, with sufficient space and, secondly, business experience. A lot of what the agency does is strategy and policy, and there are plenty of people with that background in the agency, but the general feeling is that there are not enough people with space science, particularly space technology, and business experience.

Q5David Tredinnick: Could I ask a supplementary question before I get on to the relationship with the research councils? Where are you trying to make up that shortfall? Are you going to India, as certain companies are in my constituency? Where are you finding the graduates you need if we cannot produce them here?

Professor Holdaway: There are two questions. One is: where do we get the experienced people to work with the agency? A number of organisations-certainly both research councils STFC and NERC-as well as industry are helping by seconding people into the agency to work either part time or full time for a fixed period. That has been the case for some years and works relatively well but does not give the long-term continuity that is required.

The second half of your question is about how the sector itself is managing in terms of recruiting scientists, in particular engineers from universities and apprentices, who are every bit as important as engineers. For us-I am sure I am not alone here-our biggest problem is the flow or, rather, the lack of flow of suitably qualified engineering graduates within the UK. If you look at the numbers, about 2,000 engineers graduate within the UK; China has 200,000 every year. As most western countries do, we have a real problem, which is being addressed partly by organisations such as the research councils, UK Space, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Academy of Engineering, and there are a number of other initiatives around, but they are all making small step changes. What these really need is a quantum jump in the number of people coming through with the right technical background.

Professor Smith: Our masters courses in space research in those areas are populated largely by overseas students, who then return to their countries. Although the education is there, we are not seeing the throughput of UK individuals coming through that method.

Q6David Tredinnick: I don’t know how we want to pursue this. There are even further problems. On Friday I was at the Motor Industry Research Association in my constituency. I talked to the chief executive about the fact that, when we get graduates, so many graduates go off to become accountants because the mathematical qualifications are so much better. They all end up at Pricewaterhouse in the City, when they should be with you and the space agency.

Professor Quegan: From the point of view of NERC, through the National Centre for Earth Observation we train a significant number of postdocs and postgrads. In my experience, most of them stay within the sector. I have not seen any of my students go into the sectors you are talking about.

Professor Southwood: There is a distinction, in that astronomers tend to come from physics, and, if you are a geophysicist and you come out with a geophysical qualification, companies are lining up for you.

Q7David Tredinnick: From the Royal School of Mines.

Professor Southwood: They have already made the choice to pursue a career in earth science, if you like. I don’t think that is true for an astronomer. Therefore, they are tempted by accountancy and so on, because of the longer-term view.

Q8David Tredinnick: Are you saying that geophysics graduates of the Royal School of Mines and Imperial College would follow the path you are suggesting?

Professor Southwood: As far as I know, the graduates of earth science and engineering at Imperial tend to stay in earth science.

Q9David Tredinnick: How effectively do you think the UK Space Agency works with the research councils?

Professor Southwood: It has been a concern. The space agency, to be as effective as it has been over the last year or so, is and has had to be top-down. It has to look after the national interest. On the other hand, science people prefer, quite correctly, peer review and a lot more bottomup, deciding what the priorities are in science, from the science community as a whole. The space agency has left much of the science policy responsibility in the hands of the research councils. That is a trust, in the sense one is trusting that the research councils will not then decide that the space agency has its problems in building spacecraft, or whatever it does, and the councils can then say that space is not a priority for them. There has to be a partnership. Indeed, at the moment there are procedures put in place by the space agency with the research councils. They understand what the space agency is doing; they give them plenty of lines of communication.

The question is getting that sense of ownership of the science, because the peer review for exploiting the science that comes out of space remains in the hands of the research councils. That is a trust, if you like, that is passed from the space agency to the research councils. We all believe that, for the best scientific solution, peer review is the testing thing, but, if you have peer review of a space programme by people who don’t do space, often they do not understand its full significance. The research councils have to get the right balance and recognise that they do not get the funds to build space missions, invest in ESA and so on. They get to tell the space agency what they would like to see done, but only if they tell them that the decisions come through the space agency. Once the data and so on start coming back there is exploitation. Just as we would expect to hand data that can be used commercially to industry and develop industry, so the space agency expects to see science handled by the research councils under the Haldane process of peer review.

Professor Smith: I would make two points in this area. While peer review for science is not challenged by me or the people I represent, when it comes to strategic relationships with nations such as China and India, the opportunity to engage in their science programme has additional benefits beyond the immediate science return. The immediate science return may not compare with what you might get in a major ESA or NASA mission. In those situations, research council peer review is unable to support such engagements because it will vote only for the best possible science given its limited resources, so there is no money to make strategic scientific relationships with these emerging nations.

Q10Chair: It must work to a certain degree, because certainly STFC funds a number of large-scale programmes that do not have any immediate obvious payback to the public purse. There must be a strategy there somewhere, surely. You don’t think there is.

Professor Smith: There may be, but I am talking in terms of space. Richard has been on many more, but we have been on delegations to China, India, Brazil, Russia and places like that, to try to drum up scientific relationships. When we come back to the UK there is no support within the research councils for that science, because it is not the top quality science that can be achieved through, for instance, the ESA programme. Therefore, it always falls below the line in terms of science. The additional commercial benefits-opening up trade and so on-of engaging with these nations in the longer term are not counted in that, because peer review of science cannot and does not deal with those things. There needs to be a mechanism whereby the UK Space Agency can support such things, but it cannot; it refers back to the research councils. I have another one, but that is one area. I have a feeling that some people want to dive in.

Professor Southwood: I would add another one of a similar nature. We now have a Briton, Tim Peake, training to fly on the space station. I don’t think that would ever have got a straight vote from a research council. Psychologically, maybe it is very important in empowering the British people. If you look at the public attraction that Tim Peake has become, you realise that it has nothing to do with science but something to do with being a human being.

Mr Willetts negotiated this successfully for Britain. It is not science; it is not going to be voted through by a peer review group looking at the value of the science that will emerge. Tim will do science; maybe it will be great-we don’t know. But an enormous amount more comes back strategically in terms of empowering children and the British people. Look at the number of MPs who went to the Commons Terrace to meet Tim Peake. That is more MPs than I have ever seen for a space event before. There are things where peer review does not work and there is a need for strategic action. I have chosen an extreme case deliberately. I would agree very strongly with Alan that, if we are to increase our nation’s leverage in countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China, we will have to start.

Q11David Tredinnick: What you are talking about is a lot of goodwill out there in other countries. It is not the first time we have had cooperation. I remember 20 years ago as a Member of Parliament going to Baikonur Cosmodrome to watch "the girl from Mars," as she was called, go into space. There was terrific interest in that, and we had receptions here too. The whole "good will" thing is very important.

Listening to you, Professor Southwood, is there not a problem with poor communication between the UK Space Agency and the research councils? It sounds as if it is not very joined up and there is a lot of work to be done.

Professor Southwood: We are working hard to join it up. Before today, I tried to find examples where I could really say it is broken. The system is working well enough. I cannot come with any hanging evidence to show that things are not working properly. What is missing is the sense of ownership of the science in the end by the research councils. They have given advice when asked, and they have peer-reviewed when they have needed to do that. They have not quite got used to the idea that they still own the ultimate product on the science side, but we are working on that. I am not entirely pessimistic about it.

Professor Holdaway: Can I clarify what is partly a misunderstanding here? There is a dual key mechanism between the agency and the research councils, as I am sure you know. The agency is responsible for some of the upstream R and D and the big missions; both research councils are responsible for the science exploitation. The question is: how well joined up is that? There is always room for improvement, as there is in anything in life.

There is very close collaboration between the research councils and the agency. The chief executive of STFC sits on the space agency board. There is a lot of cross-membership of the peer review groups within the research councils and the advisory bodies within the UK Space Agency. Everything that feasibly can be done is probably done. What is probably still missing at the moment, as the agency learns how to work even more closely with the research councils, is the long-term strategy. ESA has a very long-term strategy. The space agency mirrors that with its upcoming programmes, but what the research councils probably do not do in a sufficiently joined-up way is have a long-term science strategy that says, "When you, ESA, with the support of the UK Space Agency, approve this mission to fly in five or 10 years’ time, we, the research councils, will make sure that the science community develops to be able fully to exploit it in five or 10 years’ time." That is the bit that is missing.

Professor Quegan: There are lines of communication both ways between the UK Space Agency and NERC, but the gap that Richard has identified is exactly there. For example, NERC wanted the UK Space Agency to support a mission in the selection that has just taken place, but it is not at all clear where the funding to support that mission will come from inside the UK. I am talking about the BIOMASS mission. At this point it is not clear at all whether there will be a chunk of money to support the mission, which was supported by the UKSA.

Q12Stephen Metcalfe: I have a relatively simple question. Does the UK get value for money from its engagement with ESA?

Professor Holdaway: The simple answer is yes, very successfully. Juste retour within the European Space Agency works very well for the UK, particularly for industry. Within ESA itself about 15% of the programme is mandatory; the other 85% is opt-in/opt-out, which makes it very democratic. Countries can opt in and out as and how they wish. They do not opt in if they are not interested in a particular programme. They opt in if, first, they are interested, and, secondly, they have the ability to provide hardware or science input, or, more particularly, exploitation of the mission afterwards. It does not matter whether it is a science mission, earth observation or, more importantly in terms of the economy, navigation and coms. So I think it works very effectively.

The European Space Agency has very strong leadership, which both personally and as a council has been very supportive of the UK position or strengthening that position. This is why we have seen ESA’s agreement to start up and expand quite rapidly the European Centre for Satellite Applications and Telecommunications at Harwell. We may come on to that later in the discussion. That is a very important benefit locally-i.e. in the UK-for the UK’s membership of ESA, so overall it works very well.

Professor Southwood: I would agree with that. The term I would use is "leverage". It requires industry also to leverage. The UK Space Agency through ESA can put things in front of industry. Industry then has to compete. We know they will get a certain fraction of wins, but you can win really useful stuff-the sharp end of technology, if you like-and the real test for me is less to do with the space agency, which is a facilitator, than industry, making sure that it bids and wins the things it can then leverage elsewhere. That has been pretty good in the past. It is up to the space agency to know what our industry can do to make sure there is a level playing field and that UK industry can exploit the fact that it is involved in a much bigger programme but you are getting the jobs that will allow you to build up commercial activity outside, otherwise it becomes very incestuous. On the whole, the UK has done rather well in avoiding that thus far, but it requires an intention on everybody’s part to do that.

Professor Smith: I agree with all of those points. From a space science perspective, the source of science available to us through the European Space Agency, both in space science and in earth observation, is unparalleled. It would not have been possible for us to undertake the science programme that we do in the UK without access to those missions. So value for money is not really the word. I worked in ESA for a few years. ESA tries to benefit its members in a very active way. Its job is to benefit the space industry of its nations, and it really does that. I genuinely believe I see it doing that. I believe it tries its best to deliver that.

Q13Stephen Metcalfe: Are any countries doing better than us in getting greater value for money?

Professor Smith: You can look at the juste retour figure and the way that, for instance, France or Germany is organised. France, Germany and Italy have much larger national space programmes than the UK. In fact we do not really have a national space programme. Their very large engagement gives them leverage, access and so on, which perhaps we lack, but we have a major space prime in the UK, which gets a lot of leverage out of that. If you look in detail, it goes up and down. In the past, the UK underperformed on its juste retour; at the moment it seems to be doing very well. Other nations might be doing a little better.

Q14Stephen Metcalfe: Generally, you are happy with the return we get.

Professor Southwood: I don’t think juste retour is guaranteed; it is a question of the quality of juste retour. It is also what the country wants out of it. In Britain, we want an industry that is innovative, creative and so on. We have an industry that does that. It is rather free-rolling in its approach to space. The French want guaranteed access to space, so they have a large emphasis on launchers. They certainly get value for money on launchers, but we are not interested in that. The à la carte nature of the agency is very critical here, but using juste retour as the only test is, in all fairness to my old colleagues in ESA, not quite good enough. You have to ask: what is the national interest? What does the UK want out of it? We know that, if there is a space policy in the UK, it is about having an industry that is creative, innovative and a community from which that feeds. Juste retour is fine; that is guaranteed. Look at the leverage you get, and it is a challenge to industry and to the agency to make sure that industry puts its effort into the things that will bring a return, because we are a nation of shopkeepers, as the French would describe us.

Q15Stephen Metcalfe: Quite; thank you for that. Professor Smith, you touched on the fact that the benefits of being involved in ESA are not just about value for money. You also touched on the fact that you get access to larger projects for space data that you would not otherwise get. Can you give specific examples of the projects with which we are involved that we would not otherwise be able to pursue on our own?

Professor Smith: In space science, XMM was a mission built by the European Space Agency. It was the largest X-ray telescope to look at processes in galaxies and within our galaxy, which pushed the bounds of physics. That very expensive mission was completely unaffordable to the UK. There are the four Cluster satellites studying the Earth’s magnetosphere, which is completely unaffordable to the UK. There is the visit to Saturn. The Mars Express and Venus Express Missions are completely unaffordable to the UK. As to future missions, Gaia will fly this year and it will study a billion stars in our galaxy. That is completely unaffordable to the UK by order of magnitude. I could give you another five or six of those. There are so many examples. We would not be able to do one of those. More importantly, we have communities of scientists in all these areas. If we decided to pull out of ESA and put all our money in one area, we would be able to support only one narrow area of science to that degree; all the others would disappear overnight.

Professor Holdaway: Membership of ESA is absolutely essential not just for the science community, whether it is outward-looking, the astronomy side, or downward-looking, earth observation. It is essential for British industry as well. You have to have big satellites to do certain pieces of physics. The laws of physics prevent you from doing everything on small satellites. A large satellite such as the Herschel spacecraft was very successful and was turned off yesterday. That was a multi-billion-pound programme. No single country could afford that, so you do it by joining together with others. That is happening more and more globally. Even the European Space Agency works very closely with the Russians, who are not members of ESA. It also works, through an initiative David started some while ago, with the Chinese. The whole programme scientifically as well as technically is becoming more global, and, for the UK to participate to get the greatest benefit for its scientists, it has to do this on a global programme. A smaller satellite, in which the UK leads the world, can do some very clever things, but it has limited scope. It is a little like what car you drive. If you want something to go very fast and to be very sleek, you buy a Ferrari, but if you don’t need that, yes, you can do it with a Mini, but if you go for something small it has limited capabilities.

Professor Quegan: On the earth observation side, there are seven earth explorers. All of those are optional, like the space programme. The UK is the principal investigator on three of those, so, even though we may not get exactly in the particular call the one we want, in those three out of seven we are the leading PIs. We have had tremendous scientific value from that. We gain from all the other ones, of course, because we could not have built any of those instruments as a nation.

Q16Stephen Metcalfe: You would describe the operations of ESA as being efficient, but in every organisation, however efficient and well organised, there is always room for improvement. What areas would you identify where there could be improvements?

Professor Holdaway: One of the biggest problems the community has with the European Space Agency, although it is no different from working with the European Union or even NASA for that matter, is the time it takes for decisions to be made. There is the obvious problem with ESA that it has a large number of member states, all of whom speak relatively different languages. Documents have to be translated into different languages, and that itself takes time. There are lots of different cultures. That takes time. Although ESA is often criticised as being a not particularly efficient organisation, most people regard their own organisation, whatever that might be, as inefficient. ESA has tried very hard over the last five or six years to become more efficient and quicker in its decision-making process, while recognising that, although many space programmes are 20 years from start to finish, you can do things much more quickly if you speed up the process at the beginning, particularly in terms of procurement. That is one area where ESA is making major moves to speed up the process, so that between approval and getting something launched is much nearer to three or four years than 10 or 12 years.

Professor Smith: ESA is taking on more and more complex space missions as time goes by. In order to cope with that complexity it needs to be more elaborate in its processes, and that becomes expensive, and the relationship between the two is not linear. As things get more complicated, the cost goes up and up. Outside ESA there is a sense, not that it is out of control-that is too strong-but that it needs to be reined back a little. Some of these processes are now becoming quite expensive to follow.

The other side of it is that, to be selected for an ESA mission before any money comes from the nation to ESA, the level of technological development that is expected to have been funded nationally is now very high. It is quite expensive. Typically, ESA selects only one in four or five of the missions that have reached that level. You can see that quite a lot of nugatory technological development has gone on. It may have benefits elsewhere, but it is still relatively nugatory technological development. ESA’s mission selection process and the offloading of risk into member states before selection need to be addressed.

Professor Southwood: I have worked for ESA. I am always a bit cautious about saying too firmly that an organisation is efficient. You need endlessly to question that. One does need to ensure that, within the agency, there is endless consciousness of the concerns outside of the customer, if you want to call them that. That varies across different parts of ESA. We are tending to concentrate on the space science. There was a major review of that about seven years ago and that did shake things up, because everybody has to ask why they are doing things. It is like bringing in management consultants. Often, the act of bringing them in is the best thing for the organisation, as much as what advice you get. It is simply people having to ask, "Why do we do this? Do we have to do this?"

I would not want you to get too complacent. It is an organisation that needs to look at itself from time to time and continue to have this sort of criticism from the outside to respond to. Because of the fact that it is, by and large, an à la carte programme, joining different parts of the agency, with different parts having rather different management cultures and levels of efficiency, it should be endlessly looking at itself and trying to establish best practice. I would not want to be overconfident that everything is rosy.

Professor Quegan: In comparison with NASA, their missions are much more expensive and their procedure tends to be much less efficient than ESA’s. When ESA makes a decision to fly a mission, it does not suddenly change its mind two years later. You get these five-year periods, and if you get something that will take about five years it is going to happen down the line. In NASA it does not happen like that.

Chair: We are rapidly slipping behind time, so we need to be a bit more sharp, colleagues.

David Tredinnick: I will try and speed up. I want to ask about the Harwell campus, but may I just correct the record? The reason I mentioned the woman from Mars was that she was the first British cosmonaut. She did not actually go to Mars, but it was known when she went up from Baikonur that she had worked for Mars, as in Mars bars.

Chair: We know that, and our audience will know that.

Q17David Tredinnick: Professor Southwood, you have said that the European Space Agency has been prevailed upon to set up a British base on the Harwell campus. What would you and your colleagues like to see the centre at Harwell achieve?

Professor Southwood: As an ex-ESA person, I would like to see some of the more innovative ways of doing things that have developed in the UK over the last 20 years or so seep into the more staid and institutionalised areas of the agency. That is one of the arguments. The other argument is that the UK is going to invest in space.

From the point of view of British people, I want to see leveraging of UK involvement in ESA but, at the same time, acting as an irritation that will ultimately give rise to a pearl in the organisation itself. It has been set up in a way different from any other ESA centre. It is right next to the catapult centre, which has been set up on a national basis. The challenge is out there not just to us scientists but also UK industry and ESA to make that gel. As far as I am concerned, institutionally, we have done about as much as possible to try to see if we can change the ESA culture our way by Harwell, so the measure will be its industrial success.

Q18David Tredinnick: How would you expect the Satellite Applications Catapult to progress over the next year?

Professor Southwood: I want to see it concentrating on applications downstream, partly because that is an area that in a way is much more open and there is much more variety ahead. Indeed, you can take the skill set we produce in astronomy, geophysics or whatever and it naturally fits into that environment and moves into commercially productive work. I want to see academia feeding into it. I want to see industry not regarding the money going in as anything but something against which it has to play. It has to be leverage. UK plc, the Government or whoever-us, the taxpayer-need to ask, "Where is the return?" The target areas are clear. They are mainly downstream, but it may be a mix of upstream and downstream. You change sides when you launch, if you are wondering what that means, but it needs to be watched and to make sure it does deliver. I think we have done a lot to get things new.

Professor Holdaway: For sure it needs to be watched, but it is a lot more than just watching. The real point behind your question is: what is the Harwell space cluster about, and how does the ESA centre and the catapult fit into it? The answer is very clear. The internationalisation of the Harwell space cluster was announced by Peter Mandelson as one of the last things he did under the last Government. That mantle was then picked up by David Willetts and the Secretary of State, Vince Cable.

The remit was very clear. It is to do something that started in the summer of 2005 when David Sainsbury, the Minister at the time, and I sat in the back of the ambassadorial car in China and said, "What can the UK do that France, Germany and Italy are better doing in terms of value for money for the taxpayer, in particular for exploitation of that skill base for the economy?" By the end of that car journey we had come up with a concept, which was a little like CNES in France. It brings together industry, academia, the ESA, research institutes and entrepreneurs.

If you fast forward eight years, that is exactly what you have now at Harwell. You have ESA with its Space Applications and Telecoms Centre; you have the catapult as well where the remit is very clear; it is about innovation and taking that through to market. You have RAL Space, my outfit, which is the largest R and D science and technology outfit in Europe. You have the ESA Business Incubation Centre, which is very important. It is getting ideas out of the science and technology base into industry. It is the guys behind us to whom you will be talking in the next session who will be doing that exploitation, but they cannot do it without these other facilities on the campus providing the science and engineering that can then be pulled through to industry. It is that whole package that the current Government expect to deliver the wealth, the jobs creation and the growing of the economy.

Q19Pamela Nash: I will start by saying that I have a long-term enthusiasm for space, so I would refer anyone who is listening, or reading this at a later date, to my declaration in the register of interests. I want to start by looking at the European Commission’s work on space policy. It is currently pursuing a separate space industrial policy and this will continue in Horizon 2020. How do you think this will affect UK space policy? Do you think this works well alongside the work of ESA, or could it be problematic?

Professor Southwood: This is a very tricky one, and the answer is probably different in different areas. We are part of the European Union and space is big infrastructure. It is big and so, in a sense, we do it with other Europeans. Therefore, it is very rational to see the activity within the European Union.

The problem is the suitability of the administration of the Union-that is the Commission-to handle things. The distinct question is whether we have a European Commission that is right for handling something like space. Different countries might have different vested interests. For the UK in many of its interests, there is the very direct approach of ESA and you can call it juste retour, but that is not the test of whether the thing is good; it is the way you try to leverage things. On the face of it, that is not present in the Commission environment and may equally well have no technological structure that one has in the European Space Agency, the UK Space Agency and the research councils. It is really not the right way to handle something that is so technologically demanding.

On the other hand, when it comes to integrating space into our lives-we already have it integrated into our lives-it is manifestly inappropriate to do that through an R and D agency. It should be done through the European Union, which is a quasi-governmental agency.

Finally, you come to the issue of what you do in areas where, as yet, Europe does not determine policy-for example, defence. In defence, space is very critical. If you are not aware of that, you do not know what space can do. There again, it is very hard to say that we should hand over everything to the Union at a point where we have not got the full political environment that is appropriate. Space comes into so many different things that we need to keep some national handles on the controls, and at the moment that is probably more easily done through the European Space Agency, particularly on the development side.

On the regulation side, it is clear that regulations in space go global quite rapidly. You have national regulations, but it is a bit like the environment. We share the environment with the rest of the Europeans; we share space with the rest of the Europeans, so there is a lot to be said for making sure that regulatory authority and so on goes through the Union. As for agencies for regulatory purposes, or civil public services, again, the Union is the natural place to put them, in my view.

Professor Holdaway: For me, the key part of the question is: how do the two organisations work alongside? It is a little like the debate we had earlier on about the agency versus the research councils. Bearing in mind, as David says, that ESA is primarily R and D, whereas the European Union is much more about how it affects the member states’ individuals, it is more operational. That is why the EU now has responsibility for Galileo and for GMES. Through that responsibility, the EU is now the largest single funder of the European Space Agency, and therefore it is perfectly right that it has a voice there, but that is not the same as saying it has the majority voice, or even subsumes it.

It is very important that ESA maintains its ability to be responsible to its member states through things like the opt-in and opt-out programmes, but there is a great win for everybody if that relationship can be put together in the right form. That is what the member states are doing at the moment. They will be discussing it six months before the next ESA ministerial. At that next ministerial, they will make very clear their position on how ESA should interact with the European Union, and that will be informed by, among others, the British Government.

Q20Pamela Nash: Are you confident that that will result in greater coordination between the EU and ESA?

Professor Holdaway: My glass is always full, so, yes, I am relatively confident, but there is a lot of work to be done. That comes back to something we were talking about earlier. That will be very much led not just by the Minister’s office but by the European Space Agency. It has to have the right people with the right skills to make sure that the UK position is very clear and has the full support of both industry and the academic sector as well as Government.

Professor Quegan: This is to do with the logistics of support, which applies at the moment to the ESA programme. There are options for programmes within ESA support for projects, but if you go to a different funding model, as would normally be applied by the EU where everything is competitive, there is no great attraction to opt in to a programme if you don’t get juste retour-it simply vanishes and goes to a different bidder. Those two systems interact with each other quite badly. We need a different system to make things work.

Professor Smith: I have worked with the EU and ESA in both these areas. I have a couple of quick observations. ESA has a much more profound understanding of space technology than the EU-enormously more profound-so, in working with them, you are working with people who understand the subject. Working with the EU, you tend to be working with people who don’t, which makes it very difficult. The EU also tend to be more constraining in the way you work with them, so they will put in place many more rules about who you can work with and what you do. Those compromise the quality of what you can do. It is horses for courses here. I believe we should be very careful. But the people who understand about space R and D in Europe are ESA, and we should turn to it for advice in that area.

Q21Graham Stringer: In one hour of questions we have had one mention of Galileo. Is there any scientific payback for this country from the Galileo project? We have a huge financial commitment to it.

Professor Holdaway: Galileo is not primarily a science mission.

Q22Graham Stringer: I know, but it is a huge project that puts satellites for GPS systems around the world. I just wonder whether there was any scientific payback for this country from that huge project.

Professor Southwood: First and foremost, it is not directed at science and it is not run as if it is science; it is run to provide a public service. Scientists are pretty creative, and they will use the signals from Galileo to measure how the tectonic plates are moving and that kind of thing. It will give high-resolution capabilities that, if we were not building Galileo, would not be available to us, because GPS will have to match Galileo. It is opening up scientific capabilities. It probably has other uses in that the signals are very well defined. You can use them to investigate the environment by picking up the signals, say, bouncing off the surface of the sea. There are all sorts of ancillary use of it, but, if I wanted to solve those problems and was given all the money that was given to Galileo, I would not do it that way, but scientists are creative.

Professor Smith: The upper ionosphere is studied through delays in the transmissions to these satellites. It is a very difficult measurement to make any other way. There are some, but it is not built for a science mission.

Q23Graham Stringer: How do you manage the risk of these expensive satellites being whacked by space debris?

Professor Smith: That is a different issue.

Graham Stringer: It is a different issue.

Professor Southwood: It is a separate issue. The Galileo orbits are not the worst case for space debris, so the concern there is less about Galileo itself. It is in orbits that, as far as I know, are not threatened. You are far more threatened in the low-altitude, low earth orbit where much of earth observation is done, simply because it is getting very crowded, and of course in geosynchronous orbit for communications. The most serious concerns are in low earth orbit. There is a growing space debris concern there. We have people up there in the space station in low earth orbit, and we do experience hits from bits of debris damaging sensors and so on.

At the moment we are probably not totally dependent but very dependent on the American defence system NORAD, which is extremely good, but it is not ours. As space becomes more and more integrated into our lives, we need to make sure that we have the capacity to keep knowledge and mitigation ready to deal with space debris. At the moment in operations, we rely on NORAD to give us the warning, "There is something coming towards your spacecraft orbit. Turn it away so that whatever it is, if it hits, will hit the side of the thing and not right in the eye." That is provided as a free service by the Americans out of the goodness of their heart. That is very nice. When you move to things like Galileo, where you might be using the system, for example, to land aeroplanes all over Europe or control lots of aspects of civil life, honestly we should have our own eyes watching out for the risks.

Professor Smith: Galileo is a multi-satellite mission programme, so if you did lose a satellite it would not be the end of coverage. Nevertheless, it is a risk. A more concerning risk is in the space weather side of things, because, there, a single event could take out multiple satellites. All the satellites are designed the same, so if one is vulnerable they are all vulnerable. We have joined ESA’s space situation awareness programme focused on space weather. We are the second largest contributor to it, albeit it is quite a modest contribution to the programme. There is an awareness. For collision avoidance and issues like that, it is a global problem and it has to be dealt with globally. If we are going to be taking stuff out of space, one nation cannot do that on its own.

For space weather, on the other hand, it is entirely possible that we would try to protect our assets through some sort of early warning system and so on, and we could make a major contribution to that. It is a serious issue, and we should be taking it very seriously.

Professor Holdaway: The whole issue of the security of space utilities is now being raised at a multi-national level. Security from the point of view of near-earth objects is pretty well understood. There have been seven known collisions of debris with spacecraft over the last 10 years. It is going to happen from time to time, whatever we do, and there is no realistic way of vacuuming up old satellites, even though that technology has been looked at.

A much bigger problem, as Alan has just said, is space weather. The issue is solar activity. It is not because solar activity is getting better or worse as time goes on, but that our technology is increasingly more vulnerable to it. We know how reliant we are on GPS and, in the future, on Galileo, and it is not just the civil-military debate about GPS on how accurately you know where you are; it is everything else on earth that depends on accurate timing from GPS.

Q24Chair: Isn’t part of the problem the lack of joining up between space, both civil and military, and power engineering on the ground, homeland security issues and those sorts of matters?

Professor Holdaway: It is indeed; it is all those issues. Space weather and the threat from space weather is now the number two item on the National Risk Register; it is second only to pandemic flu. One of the reasons for that is the continuing vulnerability of the technology. The other reason is that you may recall that back in 1859 there was a very large solar event that knocked out the telegraphy system.

Q25Chair: We don’t still talk about that.

Professor Southwood: I recall it was a Tuesday.

Professor Holdaway: It was a Monday, I think. However, in July last year there was a solar event as big as the Carrington event. Why didn’t that affect us? The answer is that fortunately most of the coronal mass ejection went out at right angles to the earth’s sunlight. Had that been one week later, a massive storm would have hit the earth. Therein lies the imponderable: what effect would it have had on the security of ground-based utilities, like the power supply, as well as space-based utilities? A lot of emphasis is now going into understanding that problem. The European Space Agency is starting that programme probably 10 years later than it should have done. The UK, through the office of John Beddington, when he was chief scientific adviser, was a major force in working together with NOAA in the United States looking at the whole space weather protection system. That is now growing apace, and the UK has a major lead in that.

Q26Graham Stringer: I think this Committee helps push space weather and the possibility of future Carrington events up the risk register. Five years ago the Government thought it was science fantasy rather than a real threat. Is there a clear institutional responsibility for looking at the risk of another Carrington event?

Professor Holdaway: Scientifically, yes. The UK Space Agency is working with the European Space Agency, but it is much broader than that. The Department for Transport, Defra, the Ministry of Defence and Met Office are now also party to the overall UK programme to look, first, at quantifying the size of the problem, and, secondly, the mitigation strategy. Other than through the chief scientific adviser’s office, there is no central organisation looking at it. However, Cabinet has a committee, which one of my guys chairs, that brings together all of these parties. Although there is no single Government Department that currently has that responsibility, it is now becoming a shared problem across Government.

Professor Quegan: A recent report lays out the problem and the issues involved, and the actions that should be taken in terms of understanding and mitigating the risk, which is rather a matter for engineering.

Professor Southwood: There are now plenty of people aware of the problem and working on it, and there is plenty of communication about it. As you said, though, there is nobody who ultimately carries the can if it happens. It would probably be sensible to identify clear institutional responsibility. If there were a hurricane, you would expect the Met Office to tell you in advance, as far as it could. That responsibility is quite clear. I do not think you can point to a clear agency here. There are many people working on the problem and developing our capacity to predict, but it would be a good national step to have somebody identified as having ultimate responsibility for warning of the risk-if you like, the owner of the risk or at least the owner of the responsibility for telling people about it.

Professor Quegan: Does it have to be in the UK? For example, NOAA has its own space weather centre based in Boulder. They make these observations.

Professor Southwood: Since it is global, you can look at the NOAA site. The Americans do that. It could be European. I am not saying it has to be the Met Office in the UK, or anything like that. There should be somewhere where people who have systems that are at risk know to keep looking to see whether the risk is red, yellow or green.

Professor Smith: There is a slight join-up here with the research councils. At the end of the day, one would wish for an early warning system for space weather. The problems start with turbulence on the surface of the sun. Our scientific understanding of what goes on on the surface of the sun, what is developing on the surface of the sun and the likely effect on a spacecraft in earth orbit is not well joined up at all. We do not understand the processes well enough. We need to understand the science behind this very complicated magnetothermodynamic system that is going on. A couple of days ago I was speaking to one of our solar physicists, who said, "On one day we might predict a major event; two days later the polarity could have changed and we would expect it to be completely benign. We do not understand the physics, why that is changing and how it is joined up end to end." In any approach or any roadmap, it has to be underpinned by a profound scientific understanding of the processes; otherwise we will just end up with an awful lot of false alarms.

Q27Graham Stringer: I have a science question. The bigger the ejection, is there a direct proportion to that to the speed with which we are hit by it? Is it more difficult to predict?

Professor Holdaway: Not necessarily. There are two things. Size does matter, but energy matters even more. The other issue is the direction from which the solar mass ejection comes. It does not come head on towards the earth-

Q28Graham Stringer: I understand that. Its polarity is also a factor.

Professor Smith: The earth’s magnetosphere has to be aligned in a way to the magnetic cloud that is coming. If they are not aligned, they will bounce off each other; if they are aligned, they will come together, and that is the big one.

Professor Holdaway: It may be of interest to the Committee that all of the stuff you see on BBC television, which shows almost live, or 15 minutes old, pictures and video of what is happening on the sun-the solar activity-comes from a NASA spacecraft that sits a few tens of thousands of miles above the earth. The technology is all British. The cameras that take those pictures and videos were built in the UK, and that is the sort of stuff that Pallab Ghosh and Jonathan Amos show on the BBC live and on the website. The reason I mention it is that RAL Space built those cameras; e2v, who are world leaders in detectors, built that technology. It is a global programme. It is great UK science and technology, but, as with the European Space Agency, it is somebody else’s launch vehicle and platform. We couldn’t afford that, but we can afford to build the cameras and contribute the science.

Chair: Gentlemen, that has been an extremely interesting session. I realise that we have had to cut a few of you off from time to time. If when you read the transcript there are things you would want to add, please feel free to do so in writing because we are anxious to get a full picture of this very complicated area. Thank you very much for your attendance.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: John Auburn, Vice President European Space Institutions, Telespazio VEGA UK Ltd, Dr Hugh Lewis, University of Southampton, appearing on behalf of PHS Space Ltd, and Richard Peckham, Business Development Director (UK), Astrium, gave evidence.

Q29Chair: Gentlemen, you have been sitting at the back listening, so you have some idea of the questions we are going to ask. Can I first invite you to introduce yourselves?

Dr Lewis: I am Hugh Lewis from the university of Southampton. I am here representing Dr Hedley Stokes of PHS Space Ltd. Dr Stokes and I represent the UK Space Agency on the Inter-agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. I am the United Kingdom representative on the United Nations expert group on space debris, space operations and tools for collaborative space situational awareness. That is the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Richard Peckham: I am Richard Peckham. I am the previous chair of UK Space, which is the trade association for the space industry. My current role in the trade association is to lead on the innovation and growth strategy-so the delivery of that.

John Auburn: My name is John Auburn. I am vice president of the European Space Institutions for the Telespazio group, so I work very closely with ESA, the Commission and EUMETSAT. My role here is to represent the UK part of that-Telespazio VEGA UK Ltd.

Q30Chair: Thank you very much. I start with more or less the same question with which I began the previous session. What have been the main achievements of the UK Space Agency since its establishment? Where do you see room for improvement?

Richard Peckham: As the previous speaker said, its crowning achievement has been the management of the last ESA ministerial council. Compared with how it used to work, where the budgets were split among lots of different user departments, it has been such an improvement. It works very closely with industry. We work together in building the business cases. We were very targeted, so we targeted where that investment would go. We did not want to invest in everything, so we looked at where the best return on investment would come. That has to be its biggest achievement.

I would also mention in particular the creation of a national space technology programme, which did not exist before. That is an important first step. It is not a massive programme, but it is important. As you heard before, it is providing leverage. If you can give the UK industry a step up, it is in a better position to bid for the bigger programmes, both EU and ESA.

The third aspect is the bringing of ESA to Harwell and the development of this cluster at Harwell. There is now a lot of evidence on the effectiveness of clusters. If you can bring people together, you spawn new business, start-ups and so on. Having the catapult, Richard Holdaway’s RAL spacelab and ESA there will help to create the critical mass that we think will push economic growth. I would put those three things in terms of achievements.

As to what things it could do better and how it might improve, like the rest of Whitehall, the first thing to happen was that it lost staff. It created the agency, but with all the general cuts that were happening and good redundancy terms being offered and so on, some of the older people retired. So it started, initially, from a position of more weakness, if you like, having to rebuild and get in the qualified staff. Its heritage has been very much around the European Space Agency. It knows how to look after ESA very well, and that is probably being managed very expertly. The European Union is still a little bit new for it. The responsibilities for EU programmes like Galileo and GMES were previously those of other Departments, so those people were then brought into the agency. Getting the balance right now with the growing importance of the EU has not yet been reflected in the agency, so it needs to beef up a little the way it interacts and manages the agency.

On the economic growth side, it needs to do some beefing up of its interaction with industry and how it can support industry. One particular aspect is exports. Helping UK companies to export is an area where the space agency could beef itself up a little. Another area is how it promotes space across Whitehall. Being in Swindon in a sense does not help. It is increasing its resources. As Professor Southwood said, it has been given some additional budget to increase resources, and it is looking at seconding people from industry, which is very positive because it can get some experienced people who can help with some of these things. But building more critical mass in London is probably something it needs to do so that it can better engage.

Q31Chair: But it is not just about the agency and Whitehall. You are representing a significant private sector group of companies. How does the private sector engage with the Whitehall machine?

Richard Peckham: We engage in quite a number of ways. There are lots of users of space across Whitehall, but the problem that we found from the industry side is that it is quite fragmented. For a long time we have felt that the agency has a role to amalgamate the different users to bring them together, to create bigger programmes with the space agency, even procuring on behalf of Government. For instance, earth observation data might be used by the Environment Ministry and Energy and Climate Change, and perhaps by different agencies that work for the various Departments. Amalgamating those users together would be helpful. At the moment we deal perhaps with 10 or 20 different organisations.

Q32Chair: Practically, how would you do that? That argument is true of mathematics or engineering that crosses disciplinary boundaries. How would you propose to restructure things so that there was a better mechanism?

Richard Peckham: I don’t know; that is quite difficult. I think the way to do it is for them to procure on behalf of them, so it is understanding which Government Departments are using space data and looking at how we could bring those together. Industry has a role to play, because we know who some of those people are. I certainly agree that it is not just for the agency to do it; it is something that we need to do together. It does need insiders. As an industrialist, if it looks like you are just trying to sell something, sometimes it is not necessarily easy to get the meetings you need with different Government Departments, whereas the space agency is part of Government, is looking at value for money for Government and not trying to sell something. It is a partnership, and the agency has a role to play to bring together those different constituents.

Q33Chair: Do you think the explanation you have just given is one of the reasons we hear arguments that the space agency is under-resourced and all the component parts of Government that indirectly use it do not fully understand the joined-up picture?

Richard Peckham: That is certainly one of the issues. I should mention that two very important pieces of work are going on at the moment. One is to produce a national space policy. That was recommendation number one when we did the innovation and growth strategy in 2010. The other is to produce a national space security policy. These are both in hand and, as I understand it, quite imminent. Producing and publishing a national space policy will go quite a long way towards other parts of Government even recognising that there is a space agency. Lots of people probably don’t even know that we have a space agency, if you talk to civil servants. Putting in place a national space policy across Departments and one that assigns responsibilities to different Departments, as well as making clear the role of the space agency, will go quite a long way towards solving this problem.

John Auburn: To pick up the first point, I totally agree with Richard. The result of the ministerial was extraordinary; it was something that even five years ago we would not have expected. I have seen, effectively, shock waves across Europe-I represent many different countries as part of my job-especially in Italy. Effectively, the UK in a couple of years will overtake Italy in its contribution to ESA. In football terms, we will become top of the Championship, whereas France and Germany are fighting for the Premiership. There is quite a big gap, as you know, in football between those two divisions. It is not only the result. We are now seen as a real, credible player, taking space very seriously. That is a fundamental thing. We have to thank many people, not just the space agency, but certainly David Willetts, the Minister, and your Committee in 2007. Things that have come through in the last few years have dramatically changed the landscape for space.

As to the space agency, I see significant weaknesses, primarily in the lobbying and political influence with ESA and the European Commission. My personal advice would be that we need senior people based in Paris and Brussels acting on behalf of the complete UK plc, so that we know much better what is happening; we influence much more what the Commission is doing and have a stronger voice within ESA. Rather than just turning up for the programme boards, the council and so on, we are there lobbying-fighting in the streets-to get a better position not only for industry but also for academia. This affects everyone.

On the subsequent question, industry is now very mature. We can offer services. We have gone a step from PPP; now we can go to a service. If the space agency can help federate what the Government need and define a service-"We want to do this"-industry can respond.

Chair: That is helpful.

Dr Lewis: We can fully endorse what has already been said with respect to the space agency. From our perspective, the formation of the agency and its activities in the last two years have been very well received. I pick up the point about the UK’s credibility following the establishment of the UK Space Agency. In the committees I am working in, that credibility is an important issue.

I perhaps disagree with my colleague with respect to the idea of the visibility of the space agency. The UK Space Agency is highly visible now-much more so than the previous attempts at putting together space activity in the UK. From my perspective, working in a higher education establishment, it is very clear to me that undergraduates working in the aerospace sector have very high visibility of the UK Space Agency. For some of them, having the space agency there almost as a goal or incentive to move them through their studies and to aspire to work in the space industry, ultimately perhaps to direct space policy, has been very important for us.

Q34Stephen Metcalfe: You have already touched on how effective the space agency has been representing the UK interests in Europe, particularly within the European Space Agency. I think you have all accepted that it has quite a degree of influence. Do you think that influence would be improved if there was a UK director of the European Space Agency, and why do you think there is not one at the moment?

Richard Peckham: I would differentiate a little bit. I don’t think it would change the influence, but it would certainly change the appearance. Why has there not been a director? There are two factors. Certainly, one issue is that we have not put forward enough good candidates. The other is about the will to do it and then prosecuting your case. Germany, France and Italy each has three directors. For them, clearly this was a national priority; they were going to have three directors, and they pushed it at all levels politically, making sure there were good candidates and encouraging people to apply. We just did not do that. We put in the application. We had probably a couple of quite good candidates, but the rest of the push did not come with it. It was just, "Here’s a good application," hoping the process would work and that one or two would get accepted. You really need to push; it is part of the overall negotiation when you are negotiating how much subscription you put in. You just have to make clear that this is part of the deal.

Q35Stephen Metcalfe: Would there be a benefit from it, other than just perceptual?

Richard Peckham: Yes. There is always a benefit in terms of networking and having good access. They will be very proper and correct; they are not going to give preferential treatment and give contracts to British companies, but, in terms of influencing the whole organisation, having British voices there is important-absolutely. It is important for industry, but it is just as important in regard to the national perspective and our way of looking at things, perhaps changing some of the cultures in ESA, such as public private partnerships. The UK has done quite a few innovative things and taken different approaches to business. To bring forward that cultural thing it is very important to have British voices in ESA.

John Auburn: Industry works very closely and has regular meetings with what we call the ESA Brits-that is the senior British members in ESA. We worked very closely with it when David Southwood was the last ESA director. It was the Chatham House Rule, if you like. We had very open discussion. We were adding value because we were giving insight to what was happening in the UK politically and otherwise; they were giving us real insight to what was happening at the top table of the executive. They were not going over the top or breaching anything, but it added a lot of value to industry. It helped us to plan better and influence matters, because the better they understood our voice the more they could influence within the directorate.

Q36Stephen Metcalfe: How good do you think the UK Space Agency is at influencing the kind of programmes that ESA takes forward?

Richard Peckham: It has been very influential. ESA has a formal set of committees for the different programmes. We have the right people there: scientists, the space agency and so on. We sit on all of those. ESA is the strongest bit of the agency. That has been its background and history; it knows how to manage ESA. Generally speaking, we have a good say in what missions are selected and so on.

Q37Stephen Metcalfe: Those are meeting our policy objectives as a country.

Richard Peckham: Yes, definitely. As you have heard before, most of the ESA programmes are optional, so the ones that we don’t want to join we don’t have to join and we can put the money where we agree it meets our policy objectives.

John Auburn: I would agree in most part. Other countries definitely have more influence. France probably has the most influence. In terms of decisions that matter to industry, we do not yet have the strength or numbers. It is more a numbers game, having the right people influencing ESA. We are just too small in terms of a space agency to push hard. More can definitely be done to compete. Even smaller countries like Spain probably have more influence politically on decision making than the UK. We play cricket; that is, I think, an issue.

Chair: I have the rules of cricket in French, if you ever want to see them.

Q38David Tredinnick: I am fascinated by this. I am getting mixed messages. On the one hand, I am being told we are in the Championship League; suddenly we are about to overtake Italy; we are too small. Are we not really punching above our weight, to get another metaphor in here? Are we not hugely successful in the UK Space Agency? Everyone is saying it is a triumph and it is giving us more influence. Is UK membership of the European Space Agency good value for money, or not?

John Auburn: It is excellent value for money. If you look at the raw numbers, we are now at about 10%. If it were GDP, it would be 15%. As to how ESA sees us, we are still an anomaly because we are below where it would like us to be, but because we select the correct programmes-we are not in launchers and in the ISS, the space station-we do punch above our weight and we get the return on investment through industry exploiting the technology. In the telecoms market we have shown that the return on investment is at least six to one. In the first session the witnesses were talking more about the return in the context of juste retour; I am talking about industrial return.

Q39David Tredinnick: I am sorry to interrupt you, but you are saying that we are adopting a UK classic marketing strategy for a smaller organisation-i.e. the UK-and we are not trying to take on the main players, in this case the Germans and French. We are targeting the market very specifically. For example, we heard from the last panel about a satellite that had British technology and cameras in it. That would be an example of how we have targeted the market very carefully. It is an American satellite-I forget what it is called-which has British camera technology in it. Is that an example of effective target marketing? Is that the strength? Am I putting words into your mouth, or is that right?

John Auburn: I totally agree with that. If you look at the more commercial markets, we are the biggest subscriber to the telecoms programme, and that programme will come to Harwell and be managed from Harwell. We are the bigger subscriber to what is called the integrated applications, which could be the key market in the future. That is developing new applications and services that use, say, telecoms, navigation or remote sensing, or combinations thereof. It is because we are focused more on growth that we have selected and put our money in pretty much the optimum way. It is now up to industry to deliver on that. That is the important point.

Q40David Tredinnick: May I ask Dr Hugh Lewis about the problems facing small and medium-sized enterprises? This is something you have highlighted, isn’t it? I will leave it to you to answer the question.

Dr Lewis: That is correct. From the perspective of small to medium enterprises, the UK could probably do even better than it is doing now, simply because the process by which funds are returned to the UK and the bidding processes are weighted heavily towards the large industry players. The amount of money that comes in in the form of contracts is relatively small, and the process of bidding for a small to medium enterprise essentially is quite a risky business. You have to invest a significant amount of time and significant proportion of the money you would receive back just to go through the bidding process.

Q41David Tredinnick: You have specifically criticised the bureaucratic hoops that you have to go through. You want some hoops removed, don’t you?

Dr Lewis: If you compare it with the process academia would go through in bidding for research council money-

Q42David Tredinnick: Is it too complicated? Is that right?

Dr Lewis: The research council process is relatively straightforward. We would expect to be writing a six-page case for support. Compare that with the process of bidding for ESA funding. We are submitting 80 or 90-page documents outlining the technical work, and another complex document outlining the management. Admittedly, this is a consortium effort, but, from the point of view of small to medium enterprises, approaching that as the leader of that consortium, it is a very difficult position to be in as a small to medium enterprise to manage that process and have the funds and the time available to go through that.

Q43David Tredinnick: To continue the footballing analogy, I am now going to kick you a soft ball. Does the UK need a larger national space programme? Why or why not? Obviously, you will answer yes, because everybody always answers yes when there is an opportunity to have more resources. There is not an organisation in the country that won’t say it wants more resources and can probably justify it. At a time when we have huge pressures on Government budgets and flatlining in the health service, what possible justification is there for a larger national space programme at this time?

Richard Peckham: Well, the answer is yes.

Q44David Tredinnick: How do you justify that at this time?

Richard Peckham: We would like to see more balance between national and international. At the moment nearly all of our money goes into ESA or through ESA, let’s say. Although a lot of that comes back, it is directed through ESA. To have a larger national programme would give you more flexibility to decide whether ESA is the best route for our national objectives or whether we have an option. At the moment we don’t really have an option. We also might want to partner with other nations, as you heard before. At the moment we have no flexibility. If we want to do something with Russia, NASA, India or China, there is not that flexibility.

Whether you can justify it over health or something else, I would look to you people to make those sorts of decisions. It is not for us. We can make some very strong justifications in terms of economic growth; we can bring to you some arguments that show return on investment. There are a lot of societal benefits from space programmes. We can offer those. Unfortunately, when you mention space, a lot of people think it is some sort of "vanity" and "out there" stuff, but most of space is very much down-to-earth stuff; it is about TV, navigation, Google Earth and weather forecasting. It is very much things that are supporting our daily lives. GPS is an example. Everybody is now finding it very useful, and it is probably savings lots of money. There is definitely a leverage effect, in that infrastructure enables lots of other capabilities; it certainly enables a lot of applications.

Q45David Tredinnick: You mentioned Russia. Have you been to Star City in Moscow? Isn’t that where they do all their work? Have you been there to talk to them about possible cooperation? How close are we to the Russians?

Richard Peckham: Russia for industry is certainly now a growing market for us. A number of our companies are doing business in Russia, but more as an export market than a cooperative venture. Russia was one of the leaders in space in the past, but its technology and ability to do quality control have fallen behind. It is looking to western companies to help bring it back up the curve. It is ready to buy at the moment, but it is looking more to cooperate, do joint ventures and start to build more things in Russia longer term.

Q46David Tredinnick: Wasn’t one of their advantages that they had the Buran rocket system, which was based on the V2, which had a greater payload, but the computer technology was not good enough? Is there any way we could make use of that greater payload, or is that now history?

Richard Peckham: Russia is still a good provider of launches; it still remains good at that, although even there the reliability has been less good recently. It has had quite a few launch failures, but some of its old ballistic missiles still provide a cheap means of launching smaller satellites. Surrey Satellite Technology, for instance, still makes use of a number of these older Russian launches.

David Tredinnick: Finally, on the business of expanding the space programme, should we not really be focusing on the Harwell centre now and the satellite applications cluster there? What would you like it to achieve as a starting point? Should the UK Space Agency be supporting it? I am so sorry; I apologise and withdraw that question. It was originally given to me, and then I was asked not to ask it. My colleague Jim Dowd has that question.

Q47Jim Dowd: I suspect you already know what I am going to ask. David, thank you very much indeed. It is my fault for turning up late; I do apologise. I am going to ask another question before I come to that, very briefly, just as a matter of observation from the last panel and yourselves. Are there any women involved in this activity, or is it just boys’ toys?

Richard Peckham: There are not enough, for sure. It is a big issue. There are more women coming in, but it is not only a space problem; it is more an engineering problem. There are still not enough women coming into engineering and STEM subjects. If you look at Astrium’s graduate intake, definitely more ladies are now coming in as graduates. I am probably pre-empting another question you might ask, but we find no problem at all recruiting. Space is seen as quite a sexy, interesting thing to do. Astrium takes on 30 graduates every year, and we get hundreds of good quality UK applicants for those posts, and more women, but it is still a general problem. We do need to attract more women into space, for sure.

Q48Jim Dowd: More women into space.

Richard Peckham: The space sector.

John Auburn: We also recruit a lot of women, but the women don’t get to the top of the tree, which I see as maybe a bigger issue, whereas in France I see the opposite. Many space companies have been led by a woman. Thales Alenia Space is led by a woman. We may be a bit behind culturally in doing that.

Q49Jim Dowd: On to Harwell then, as David said. What would you like to see the centre at Harwell and the applications cluster achieve?

Richard Peckham: There are two aspects of Harwell. There is the cluster to which I have already referred: the catapult, RAL Space, ESA and the business incubator. There is the impact of the cluster and there is the catapult centre. The Technology Strategy Board has set up the Satellite Applications Catapult. I would say it did it extremely professionally; it got an industry delivery team. It was very industry-led in terms of what it should do, its mission and so on. I am very optimistic that that will achieve some real results in starting up new businesses and helping existing ones. It is trying to provide a link between what we call the upstream-the space technology-and turning that into real applications that help everyday life and create jobs. I am very optimistic. It is very focused on not growing itself but growing the industry. All its metrics are about its impact on the wider aspects.

One other aspect is that we have to make sure it is not just Harwell. Harwell is working on how to connect to the rest of the UK so that it is not just Harwell. Part of the refresh of the innovation and growth strategy we are doing at the moment is very much looking at how Harwell can also connect with other centres of excellence around the UK- Leicester, Nottingham, Glasgow and Bristol. There are a number of areas around the UK where there is a lot of space expertise, so we have to make sure it is not all Harwell. It has taken that on board and it is trying to connect around the country as well.

Q50Jim Dowd: Has it been broadly successful so far as a concept?

Richard Peckham: It is too early to say. It started only on 1 April. It already had some projects fed in. It has started up, and so far so good. Its focus at the moment is having to build its infrastructure, recruit staff and so on. It has created a board, but it is very early days. I guess that in a year’s time we will see how it is doing, but we are very hopeful. It is certainly doing all the right things at the moment. It is engaging with the industry, the space agency and research councils. It is doing the right things now, and we will see in a year’s time what impact that has had in creating new businesses and jobs.

John Auburn: There is a very important role for the space agency to help facilitate the link, which to me is vital, between ESA at Harwell and the catapult, to attract industry there. My company was the first space company to have an office at Harwell, so we have been very active in that. It also has to make sure that the relationship with STFC is sound. There are teething troubles; it needs a real push to make sure everything is optimised and we do not end up with more internal political battles between different parts of Government.

Q51Jim Dowd: Do you feel it is an effective way to support SMEs?

John Auburn: It is very effective. Access to space is difficult in terms of hardware. For an SME to get to that stage is almost impossible, but through applications it is much easier because it is the downstream side; it is creating software tools. Through the innovation of the SMEs, they are coming with some very clever ideas with some support and experts there. The team there is very strong. The team is taking from our companies-from Astrium and Telespazio; people are being recruited, which is good and bad. The whole innovation culture has been established there and is driving the SMEs, but I want to see it all working coherently with ESA and industry surrounding it.

Dr Lewis: To pick up the point Richard made, it is very important that that centre reaches out beyond the Harwell campus. A lot of industry is not located in that region, with perhaps less than ideal visibility of what is going on there, so working outwards from Harwell is critical.

Q52Pamela Nash: I mentioned to the previous panel the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Will that support space research throughout Europe and here in the UK? How much confidence do you have in it?

Dr Lewis: It is difficult to judge what Horizon 2020 will bring at this point. We can perhaps look at the recent programmes. From our perspective, one of the issues that perhaps we recognise is the lack of technical staff in the EU, in the sense that there is a lack of technical oversight on the projects. That would need to be addressed within the Horizon 2020 programme, essentially to assure the quality of the research being undertaken and enable a positive and constructive dialogue between the consortia conducting the research and the EU.

Richard Peckham: If you look back at the old framework programmes, from an industry point of view they are less attractive. UK academia has engaged strongly and done very well, and got a lot of money from them. Industry has not engaged so strongly, basically because it is seen as less attractive. You get back only 50%, so it has to be something you really want to do if you are going to invest your money in these programmes. It is seen as quite bureaucratic; there is a very long delay from when you put in your bid. By the time you have done all these complex consortium agreements and so on it could be 18 months to two years before you are under contract. For SMEs that is an even bigger issue, but it is pretty unattractive to a lot of the big companies as well. There have been exceptions. In some of the large programmes, where industry has had a strong say in setting them up, they are probably very attractive to industry, but in other cases it is sometimes quite prescriptive. The EU says, "We want to do this, this and this and, by the way, you’ve got to invest 50% of your money in doing it." It has to be something that ties up with your own strategy to do that.

Looking forward to Horizon 2020, it seems that it has addressed some of these problems. There is cost reimbursement for very small companies. They are not going to be forced into international collaborations; it could be a single company. Based on what we are hearing about Horizon 2020, it should be better and should have solved some of the problems that existed in FP, but it is essential that, on space, it coordinates very closely with the European Space Agency so that it does not duplicate. As Hugh said, using some of the expertise that ESA has would obviously help because it does not have the technical expertise in some of these areas, but it definitely has a role to play. We talked about Galileo and GMES. Space situational awareness is something else the Commission is looking at, because it is not something that one nation wants to do; it is the sort of thing where you want to bring people together. Space situational awareness might be the next thing in which the EU should engage.

John Auburn: We believe that one of the core elements is £250 million a year on space technology. That is really vital for industry. If the improvements that Richard talked about happen so that it is quicker and more transparent, this will really complement what ESA is doing. The problem with ESA is that the fundamental technology is part of the mandatory programme, which is always kept very low level because you need every member state to say, "Okay; we’ll put up that budget." It does not happen. It is vital that it really complements what ESA is doing. We need to put a lot of pressure on ESA and the Commission effectively to manage these two technology programmes that are vital to industry.

Q53Pamela Nash: Do you think the UK Space Agency at the moment is effectively working with the EU space programmes?

John Auburn: I think a lot more can be done. I would like to see someone based in Brussels being deeply involved, rather than the occasional trip to try to change things. You have to be there, actively involved.

Richard Peckham: If you look at the resources on ESA versus the resources on the EU, there is definitely some rebalancing that should be done there. When they are looking at hopefully increasing resources, some of these extra resources should certainly go into strengthening the dialogue with the EU.

Q54Pamela Nash: You talk about the rebalancing of resources.

Richard Peckham: At the moment most of the UK Space Agency’s resources are focused around ESA and the relationship with ESA, so it should look to make more effort on the EU. As it strengthens the agency, it should look at putting more resources on EU relationships.

Q55Pamela Nash: That is interesting. Finally, I want to ask about the responsibilities for space research at the moment. Do you think that we have got the right balance between ESA and the EU in the space programmes of the EU, or do you think that should be looked at?

John Auburn: To me, it should be quite simple. Fundamental research should be done by the EU-by the Commission-and the downstream services. It should aggregate users to take what is coming out of ESA programmes and use them for public good. I do not think it is doing enough of that. In between, ESA will do more of the technology. In practice, it is not happening; in theory, it knows what should happen. That is why having £250 million a year is so important for industry. That is where it needs such close collaboration, and I don’t think it is happening at the moment-in fact I know it is not happening at the moment.

Richard Peckham: The most important thing is that they are joined up, talk to each other and agree. I would not be too prescriptive and say it should do this and the other organisation should do the other. They should be joined up and agree between themselves and also with member states as to what is done so that they are not duplicating but adding some value.

Q56Jim Dowd: The Commission identified a number of problems in its relationship with ESA in the recent past and suggested that a rapprochement between ESA and the EU could help reduce them. Clearly, any intelligent person is going to say amen to that, but is it likely or possible? What form would it take?

Richard Peckham: Certainly, something is going to happen. Within EU and ESA, I guess the big topic at the moment is that future relationship. I know that ESA has been consulting quite widely. It had a big session in Paris just recently and invited a lot of its stakeholders, both industry and government there, to try to get a better view of it and a more formal relationship between the two. It does need to be sorted out exactly who does what.
The Galileo and GMES programmes were lessons of how not to do things. They have learned a lot as they have gone through, and hopefully those lessons have been learned and it is certainly looking better now. If you look at Galileo now compared with five years ago, it is running much more smoothly.

The roles of ESA and the EU are now quite clear. Putting that on a more formal footing, yes, it needs to be sorted out. I do not know that the industry is qualified to say exactly what that should be, but we would not want to lose what ESA is good at. ESA is good at a lot of things, so don’t muck that up just by wanting political control. Leave ESA to do what it is good at, but get the EU to do what is appropriate for it. Operational programmes are never going to be an ESA responsibility. Galileo and GMES would not have happened through ESA. These are long-term operational things and the EU is the right body to be leading them, but it should be using ESA for technical R and D, where clearly it has the expertise and heritage of running those sorts of complex programmes.

Q57Jim Dowd: If we take the EU and ESA and add the UK into the equation, are the activities across the three well coordinated at the moment? If not, what can be done to improve that?

Richard Peckham: From the UK’s point of view, we really do not have a space programme, other than this very small technology programme. We rely on ESA and the EU to participate in their programmes. In that sense the UK does not come into it. The UK’s role is to make sure our policy objectives through ESA and the EU are delivered. It is an evolving thing, and there is more work to be done in that relationship.

Q58Jim Dowd: So it is more a question of integration with the other two organisations than advocating alternatives.

Richard Peckham: Yes.

John Auburn: We can give some clear roles for the Commission: foster the European institutions; ensure a level playing field; and allow industry to compete globally. ESA cannot do that. That is the Commission’s role. To me, the key one is to expand the utilisation of space applications. It can help industry enormously and get the real benefits of space. We get all this data. A lot of it is not used, and a lot more could be used. Aligning the complex research and technology to societal needs is their role. None of that is ESA’s role. It is really a matter of getting a clear distinction between ESA and the Commission and making sure that they work efficiently. They have talked about having maybe an ESA director who works with the European Union on its programmes. In the past there was a director doing that, and it worked reasonably well. Maybe we should have another look at that.

Q59Graham Stringer: Dr Lewis, in the written evidence it states that there is a good chance of loss of innovation to this country. Can you expand on that? Is there a remedy to it?

Dr Lewis: The issue stems perhaps from the difficulties I have already mentioned with respect to bidding for funding from the European Space Agency, the European Union and even through the UK Space Agency as well, in the sense that the process is time-consuming and expensive certainly for small to medium enterprises. In a way, a barrier has been set up to expanding upon or exploring ideas. Opportunities are being missed simply because there is a reluctance on the part of some small businesses to participate in the bidding process. That is the mechanism that we are trying to elaborate in the written evidence.

Q60Graham Stringer: What is the remedy to that?

Dr Lewis: It is to enable small businesses, maybe even academia as well, to participate in the bidding process, whether that is making the process itself more straightforward and removing the hoops that need to be jumped through for that particular sector. That would certainly encourage more of those types of businesses to be involved in those programmes.

Q61Graham Stringer: To change the subject back to the discussion we had at the end of the last session about space weather and space debris, how well do you think that is being managed? How could the management of those risks be improved?

Richard Peckham: Not very well at the moment. I referred earlier to the production of a national space policy and national space security policy. Certainly, a national space security policy would address that. We need a clear lead Department to look after this. It has not been clear until now. My understanding-I have not seen the document-is that the space agency will be made clearly responsible, and it will work closely with the MOD and others to discharge that responsibility. The most important thing is to get a clear lead Department whose job it is to manage this.

Q62Graham Stringer: In the previous evidence session we heard doubts about how practical it was to hoover up space debris. Do you think that is a fair assessment? Do you believe we could hoover it up, and how can clearing up this debris be encouraged?

Richard Peckham: Quite a lot of work is being done on different technologies to do the clean-up. You have probably seen in the press a lot about a device that can harpoon satellites and reel them in.

Q63Graham Stringer: Fishing lines.

Richard Peckham: Yes, and nets and so on. There are some quite big regulatory and institutional issues. You have probably seen the James Bond film "Moonraker" in which satellites are swallowed up. It also could be seen as a space weapon if you are going to take out satellites. There is quite a complex international issue here about going to collect things, but it needs to be done. You heard before that there has been a collision of a satellite in the lower earth orbit. We are fine in the Galileo-type orbits and certainly geostationary orbits, but the lower earth orbit is getting very crowded. There has been a collision, so something needs to be done. There is research looking at various techniques to hoover up some of the debris.

Jim Dowd: I think it was "Dr No" and not "Moonraker", by the way.

Q64Graham Stringer: How can it be encouraged?

Dr Lewis: Perhaps a misconception abounds that cleaning up space is absolutely necessary. At the moment, in low earth orbit, the number of junk objects up there is sufficient essentially to sustain the environment. The argument is whether or not we are willing to accept the risks that the current environment poses to operational spacecraft. If we are willing to accept it, there is perhaps less of a motivation to clean up the environment; if not, we have to do something about it. The technology is being investigated, alongside the legal and financial issues. It is not cheap to do. The estimates are in the order of billions, possibly trillions. To achieve something that is meaningful is very difficult. But there is still a fundamental question to be answered, which is that, if we go forward with mechanisms to clean up the space environment, we have to ensure the reliability of those systems, otherwise there is a danger that we contribute to the problem rather than solve it. Finding that balance point is going to be tricky in the future.

Another issue, which was mentioned in the previous session, is that it is very easy to say we need to focus on the low earth orbit and we can safely ignore medium earth orbit, which is where Galileo will be, and geostationary orbit. That is not the case. There are international guidelines in place at the moment that essentially inform space operators as to what they should do in a responsible manner at the end of a mission. As to where Galileo is going to be, it is very important that thought be given to what happens to the spacecraft after they have reached the end of their mission. At the moment there are a number of navigation satellite constellations proposed and a number already there, and there is no coordination in how the spacecraft are disposed of. It could be that a disposal orbit chosen for Galileo interferes with the operational orbit for another constellation, and vice versa. There is a very important need to address that; similarly, in geostationary earth orbit. This issue is not necessarily in the public eye. It is to do with regulation in terms of guidelines and essentially the responsible and sustainable use of space. It is very easy to focus on space debris as an immediate problem, but there are very important long-term issues that still need to be dealt with.

John Auburn: It is a truly global issue, and there could be an opportunity to get many agencies to work together-ESA, NASA, Russia and Japan-because everyone has the same issue. There have been major symposia recently where this is now a possibility. For ESA, the end of the Envisat mission, which is eight tonnes of potential debris, has focused very much on whether it can go and pull that down. This is a real driver now. Because it is global, it is even beyond ESA. We should now be looking globally at inter-agency agreements working together.

Q65Chair: Just out of interest, Mr Peckham, are those risks insured risks?

Richard Peckham: Commercial satellites are certainly insured. An ESA one probably would not be. You just accept that you would have to rebuild if something happened, but commercial satellites are insured.

Q66Chair: Does that include collision damage, so to speak?

Richard Peckham: I believe so. I am not an insurance expert.

Jim Dowd: It’s only third party, fire and theft.

Q67Chair: It is interesting to reflect on what that might cost and what the add-on is, compared with the long-term costs-

Richard Peckham: I will check my facts and get back to you on that.

Dr Lewis: My understanding is that, while the risk from space debris is important, there are other risks spacecraft face from an operational standpoint. Essentially, there is no hike in premiums as a result of the space debris risk-at the moment.

Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for a very informative session.

Prepared 26th June 2013