21 May 2002 - Government Challenged to Support Space Science

Today the Space Action Network (SPAN) called on the Government to increase its commitment to funding space science. SPAN fears that when a decision is made on this issue in the forthcoming spending review, the Government will fail to provide the money needed for the UK to maintain its position and role in this crucial scientific field. The problem is that the Government does not fully appreciate the benefits that space research can bring. Apart from helping us understand our universe, space science:

  • Creates technology in the UK which has spin-off benefits for the citizen back on Earth;
  • Underpins a network of more than 150 businesses and academic institutions that is a unique powerhouse of British scientific and technical excellence;
  • Attracts high calibre scientists and researchers into science and engineering and reduces the number that leave the UK

The Chairman of SPAN, Professor Mike Cruise of Birmingham University, said,

"Space science has delivered outstanding scientific discoveries and wider technological benefits to Britain, but we are no longer able to rely upon past investment to try and keep up with our international competitors. We are living off investments made in the late 1980s. Today, budgets are being slashed and we do not have sufficient funds to participate in the exciting new opportunities that we have targeted.

SPANÕs demands are modest. Even an increase of only £55M over the next three years would provide the support required to enable UK universities and industry to recover their world class position and play a leading role in future programmes. Without an immediate decision we will miss out altogether."

In contrast to space research, support for culture and the arts has been strong in recent years. The disparity between these areas reflects a result of lack of Government understanding of what space science can achieve for the UK. Without greater support now the UK's ability to develop excellence in disciplines such as physics and engineering will deteriorate and UK plc will be unable to exploit the potential that space exploration will provide in the future.

Notes for Editors

  1. SPAN held its first meeting at the Royal Aeronautical Society on 20th May at which 140 people from academia and industry attended. SPAN is a new independent campaign group drawing together leading academics and industrialists who are concerned for the future of space science in the UK.
  2. SPAN has a long term agenda of increasing public understanding of space research, but one of its immediate objectives is to campaign to secure an increased budget for space science. The level of public funding for space science will be set in the Spending Review, which will be announced this summer.
  3. In the past ten years financial support for space science instruments has declined by half in real terms. This has significantly eroded the UK's ability to compete internationally in this discipline.
  4. Please contact Professor Mike Cruise on 0121 4144565 for more information on SPAN and its campaign for increased funding for the UK's space science sector.

For further information please contact:
Alistair Scott, Director of Communications, Astrium, Tel: 01438 773698

Issued: 21 May 2002


Excellence in Space Science: A Vital National Asset

A briefing by Space Action Network (SPAN)

Space science examines questions that have intrigued mankind for thousands of years. Instead of trying to unravel the mysteries of space with philosophy and religion, modern scientists exploit their knowledge of physics and high tech engineering to better understand the composition, dynamics and history of the universe.

This search for knowledge is a laudable activity in itself. Man's quest to understand his origins has long been the mark of civilised society and this line of enquiry is as valid today as it ever was. However, this activity requires financial support from the Government. SPAN is concerned that this is not forthcoming and that failure in this area will lead to the disintegration of a vital national asset.

  • Space science does not just deliver increased understanding of the universe, it also helps to deliver practical benefits on earth. Eroding support for space science will compromise the significant benefits it can deliver for UK plc.
  • The UK has an international reputation in space science that has been fostered by a strong academic community. 45 universities currently teach astronomy or space science courses, around 20 academic institutions build space technologies.

    This work is crucial in attracting into higher education the individuals who will become the UK's physicists and engineers of the future, working in areas across the range of UK high tech industries. It also helps keep top our scientific talent in the UK and attract experts from overseas.

  • Successful space science is an international activity. Co-operation on space programmes helps transfer ideas and technology to the UK. These cutting edge ideas are exploited in our science programmes but also in the myriad spin-offs that this activity delivers.

    Academic networking is mirrored by the development of links between universities and business. Space science has a unique role in enhancing the UK's ability to turn our scientific excellence into commercial potential.

  • An amazing number of technologies have been transferred from use in space projects to applications on the ground. Even a brief list demonstrates the diversity of space technology's 'down to earth' applications. For example:

    - Life function monitoring equipment developed for space suits has been used to create suits to monitor infants and protect against cot death;

    - Earth observation technology used to monitor crops and pesticide use has been adapted to use in industry to help colour matching by textile manufactures;

    - Heat resistant composite materials developed for satellites are now being used in aeroplanes and cars;

    - X-ray equipment developed for astrophysics is now being used for cancer diagnostics;

    - Measurement systems and test procedures used to quantify and improve the performance of robots operating in space are now used on automated production lines, for example in car manufacturing;

    - Techniques which used wind tunnels to help scientists understand how they could return space vehicles safely to earth are now used by crisp manufactures to package their products without damaging them;

    - Ground exploration radar used for interplanetary missions is now used on earth for geophysical investigations and in the detection of anti-personnel mines.

These are just a small illustration of uses that space technology can be put to on earth. The European Space Agency estimates that its own projects have seen more than 100 transfers of technology to on-earth applications. The UK will benefit most from similar transfers if it is playing a leading role in space science programmes.

  • Our space science capacity clearly has the potential to deliver significant direct and indirect benefits for the UK but the ability of our scientists to effectively participate in important projects is being damaged by a lack of funding.
  • The UK government dedicates only £47M year (99/00) to space science projects. This compares with about £70M in France, about £90M in Germany and about £65M in Italy. These comparisons are crucial, as many space science projects are international ventures. Higher domestic funding enables our partners to take more senior roles in projects and to win greater pooled funding (for example from European Space Agency Budgets). The UK's space science activity is very cost effective as every £1 spent by the UK leverages in at least another £6 from elsewhere but this cannot make up for a deficiency in total funding levels.
  • SPAN recommends that the Government should invest an additional £55M in space science over the next three years. This represents less than £1 per year for each taxpayer. This will provide invaluable support to the UK space science community that, for example, has seen its instrument budget halved in the past ten years, and we fear it is set to halve again.
  • SPAN's demands are modest. For example, the Department of Culture Media and Sport has an annual budget of £1billion. 90% of this goes to arts and sports. In comparison the UK spends a tiny proportion on Space Science Š only 4% of the DCMS total. This imbalance must be addressed, otherwise there is a real danger that the UK will fall behind its global competitors in science and engineering disciplines.

Space science should be supported for many scientific, cultural, industrial and commercial reasons. The UK has so far maintained its position but continued funding pressures will inevitably compromise its ability to compete in this area. The Government has recognised the value of space science in its space strategy. It must now back this up with proper funding.

If you would like to help SPAN in its campaign for greater funding for space science, or simply want more information about space science and SPAN please contact:

Professor Mike Cruise on 0121 4144565
Alistair Scott (Astrium) on 01438 773698

May 2002

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