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UK Urges Restraint On Space-Related Spending

By | August 4, 2003

      The U.K. government has identified a number of problems with the Green Paper on European Space Policy issued jointly by the European Space Agency and the European Union, particularly the proposal to double public spending on space-related programs, such as the Ariane 5 rocket.

      In its July 28 response to the green paper, the U.K. government was critical of the ESA’s approach to space-related investment. “There are fundamental flaws in current ESA industrial policy in that the benefits of space programs have effectively been narrowly defined,” it argued.

      A U.K. official who did not want to be identified said: “We have not in the U.K. focused putting money into launchers or putting money into manned space.” Instead, the U.K. government favors funding projects that expand the use of space-based services, such as satellite broadband and navigation, among a wider user community to meet marketplace demand for services.

      “We would not want to go down the path of developing a new satellite technology unless we were reasonably confident that there was going to be someone out there who was going to use it … We have had detailed consultations with the U.K. space community to make sure what we do is focused on what is useful to industry, academia, the public and government users,” he said. “We have a national program which seeks to encourage new technology, such as the use of small satellites.”

      The U.K. government is skeptical of the green paper’s proposal that public spending on space-related activities be doubled. “This [U.K.] response stresses the importance of a user-focused approach in all areas, and foresees no increase in public spending on space-related [research and development] without this,” the government wrote. “Expansion of public investment in space should be based on demonstrable additional value for policies and services and evaluated against alternative methods for achieving similar objectives; environmental monitoring and broadband Internet services with satellite return are promising areas of study.”

      The UK official observed, “You have to be realistic about what is available and deal with the funds that you have at present in the most effective way, rather than calling for more funds to do what you’d like to do.”

      An exception to this general fiscal conservatism on the part of the British government is the Galileo satellite navigation project. “Galileo is a good example of a project that is clearly user-led. The United Kingdom has been keen to ensure that what comes out of it is what industry wants it to be and provide the services that industry wants,” the official said.

      On the whole, the U.K. government supports developing a European space policy through the green paper process, but it has a “different emphasis from other European countries,” he said.

      One clear difference of emphasis is Europe’s tendency to single out the aerospace industry as unique in terms of government funding. In its written response, the U.K. government said, “Space is not a ‘special case’ as regards competition rules or free market forces, including the sphere of industry restructuring and launch capability.” Rather, space should be treated the same as other high-tech industries that requires capital intensive research and development, it argued.

      The U.K. government also has concerns that the green paper emphasis on increasing spending by the European Union on space could lead to decreased spending by individual European countries. “The introduction of funding by the European Union, other than user-led, would be likely to be accompanied by a corresponding decrease in member states’ investments … it would be unacceptable for the financial responsibilities incurred by states on optional ESA programs to be transferred to European institutions,” the U.K. government warned. –Fred Donovan

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