It's official: the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Commons has issued its report, cheekily entitled 2007: A Space Policy.
Gosh, are we planning to send astronauts to Jupiter? Build a rotating space station with airline-style shuttles flying to and fro? Perhaps not quite yet. The conclusions of the Committee of MPs include:
-- The UK should "keep the option of scientific manned spaceflight missions open for the future" (para 306) -- not exactly much sense of urgency here.
-- The Medical Research Council should "monitor developments" in the field of space medicine, "and liaise appropriately with the British National Space Centre" (para 319).
-- "We are excited by the potential afforded by sub-orbital travel and the rise of the space tourism industry" (para 334), the space industry must "rely upon Government seedcorn funding", "To remain competitive it is necessary for the UK also to invest strategically" (para 140), AND YET (back to para 334) we are not going to offer UK spaceplane manufacturers a penny to develop their world-beating designs -- can you make sense of that?
-- "there should be no 'in principle' block on funding the development of launchers in the future" (para 342) -- clearly, damning them with faint praise will block their development just as effectively.
-- "We welcome the UK's involvement in the Aurora programme" (para 282), yet have nothing to add about Beagle 2 -- clearly, a "strong role" is quite enough, without committing the faux pas of actually demanding results.
(On Beagle 2, the report says: "Our predecessor Committee considered the fate of Beagle 2 in a report in 2004. It commended the Government on its enthusiasm [sic!] for Beagle 2 and said that the Government should continue to support participation in future planetary exploration missions on a well-defined multinational basis." (para 279) -- i.e. Britain must never again come close to achieving anything notable in planetary exploration, and our best ideas and energies must be quietly suffocated by international bureaucracy.)
-- "We welcome the BNSC's active involvement in the Global Space Exploration Strategy. [...] The [British] Space Strategy 2007-2010 [currently being prepared by BNSC] should outline how the UK intends to respond to the different international exploration projects" (para 291) -- this from the nation that once led global exploration from the front, creating an empire on which the sun never set.
The press release which accompanied the published report begins: "The Government must provide the UK with a coherent space strategy if it is not to be left behind by other countries, the Science and Technology Select Committee warns today." The report, on the other hand, helps the government by placing in its hands the tools with which it can achieve precisely the policy goal of continuing to be left behind by other countries (not that anyone will notice, as other countries are by and large themselves doing a good job of running on the spot in regard to the critical growth areas of manned spaceflight and space resources).
The Committee was told: "exploration of the resources found in space and on other worlds in space is not a question of pure science alone. It is above all an economic question, which will assume ever increasing significance as the 21st century progresses and terrestrial resources come under increasing pressure." -- "Exploration of the natural resources available in space and on other worlds is a matter of strategic importance to Britain, just as was global exploration in earlier centuries." (Memorandum 68, by Stephen Ashworth FBIS.) The Committee has ignored this advice.
The Committee was told: "By greatly lowering the cost of launch, passenger space travel would make many other space activities commercially feasible -- notably the supply of CO2-free solar-generated power from space. Consequently it is potentially very important for protecting the global environment." (Memorandum 15, by Space Future Consulting Ltd, i.e. Prof. Patrick Collins and collaborators.) This issue is of the utmost political and economic significance, yet the Committee has ignored this advice. All we get is the throwaway comment: "Policymakers should keep an open mind about topics [...] such as space-based solar power" (para 31).
But what does it matter? We may not have a coherent policy, but who needs that when we can keep our options open (para 306), "monitor developments" and "liaise appropriately" (para 319), not forgetting of course our "vision" and "ambition" (para 30), which lead to roadmaps, strategies and (savour the jargon!) "horizon scanning" (paras 31-34)?
Make up your own mind. The report may be found online here.
It was put in big letters: "A giant leap for space activities in Europe" -- the heads of EU and ESA along with responsible ministers in respective member states adopted a European Space Policy (ESP) on 22 May in Brussels. Politically the direction is given now: not only 17 ESA member states also all EU member states are going to contribute to European space activities from now on. Furthermore, the responsible ministers agreed to a wider strategic scope to address new challenges, including the areas of security and defence space programmes. They also share the belief that the new space policy will inspire and motivate the young generation for science and space technology.
And, of course, they got it right: as usual at political level, the announcement of Europe's Space Policy was celebrated during a press conference in Brussels. In fact, Commission Vice-President Guenter Verheugen, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, current Chair of the ESA Council Maria Van der Hoeven and Parliamentary State Secretary and Federal Government Coordinator for Aerospace Policy, Peter Hintze, were busy to celebrate themselves.
This might be the reason why none of them could say something about how the space policy will come into force or about the financial arrangements. Facing the global challenges in the space sector, it became high time for Europe to speak with one voice. Considering the European Space Policy as a positive step into the future, it will remain interesting to see how it will be put into action.
-- Raumfahrt Concret
An early draft of the Select Committee's report 2007: A Space Policy has come into my possession, via an illicit floppy disk and a grubby envelope full of used fivers.
The authorship is unclear, but internal evidence suggests that it was drawn up by some junior member or members of the Science and Technology Committee before they had had an opportunity to discuss it with their civil servants.
Its conclusions are slightly different from those that were actually published. They include:
-- "We welcome the efforts of British engineer-entrepreneurs over many years to develop a reusable spaceplane which can open up manned spaceflight to a mass market. It is absolutely critical for the UK to support these ventures with energy and commitment, and we call upon the Government in partnership with private investors to adopt the goal of putting a British designed and built orbital passenger service into operation no later than 2015" (para xxx).
-- "We are astonished that no follow-up mission to Beagle 2 has yet been launched, and we call upon the Government to rectify this omission immediately. The Open University should be put in charge of a programme of regular missions to Mars on spacecraft evolved from Beagle 2, with a guaranteed and adequate budget, and free from the delays which plague the European Aurora programme" (para xxx).
-- "We are critical of the Global Space Exploration Strategy for being out of touch with economic reality. The world needs the resources -- particular solar power -- of space now, not in 50 or 100 years time. Accordingly, we urge the Government to establish a British Space Energy Agency with the urgent task of delivering to Earth at least one gigawatt of carbon-free space solar power by 2015" (para xxx).
Apparently, the drafters of these early conclusions failed to understand that in politics image is everything, substance -- such as firm goals which might fail to be reached -- is to be avoided at all costs.
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