The RAS expresses concern about the level of government support for the space sector - which is half the size of the UK motor industry and growing fast. In responding to the public consultation on the UK's Space Strategy, the RAS noted that UK excellence in space is patchy and fragile and has been built on previous investments by research councils and industry.
The general level of coordination today is poor and the overall picture is of a sector about which the government feels some embarrassment. The British National Space Centre (BNSC) has not been as effective in promoting the benefits of space within government as is desirable and a more ambitious, pro-active and technically informed approach is now necessary to protect an industry which is half the size of the motor industry and growing at a considerable rate. It is one of the few high technology manufacturing sectors left in the UK and needs more dynamic stewardship.
The UK needs to have a much stronger and ambitious profile in space affairs worldwide. It is noticeably absent from many international meetings on space policy. Our international partners are not convinced that the UK is serious in some areas of space activity as a result of our current structure.
The UK has a well recognized international position in space astronomy, solar physics, solar-terrestrial physics, planetary science and Earth observation. Newly developing areas such as Fundamental Physics offer the opportunity to develop technologies which will be of importance in fields such as formation flying and the assembly of large space structures. It is frequently the case that new fields bring large technology advances simply as a result of the novel measurement challenges posed by the science. The opportunities implied by the NASA “ Return to the Moon” programme should be studied to assess their scientific value and their cost effectiveness in delivering that science.
Beyond those scientific outcomes which will benefit society in the long term, there are also more immediate applications such as those in location based services. Transport monitoring and regulation, land use control and demographic monitoring are all areas of societal issues in which space can play a positive role. Even these direct benefits depend on technologies developed to meet the challenging performance requirements of scientific missions in the past.
A thorough audit of the technology base in Industry, University and Institutes is a necessary step in moving towards a coherent technology policy for the UK space sector. It is not always clear that the whole space sector in the UK is fully engaged in formulating space policy or strategy. A separate, and independent, UK Space Council reporting annually to ministers would provide an authoritative and respected source of guidance and evaluation that would benefit both the BNSC and its users.
BNSC Consultation on UK Civil Space Strategy.pdf