Differing tacks are being taken by the UK’s two research councils involved in the British National Space Center over whether the UK should replace the center with a space agency.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in responding the to government consultation which ended earlier this month, said it would: “in principal welcome the creation of a national space agency to replace the current BNSC partnership arrangement provided that the agency had a strong enough constitution and political mandate to ensure a net positive benefit.”
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), however, is suggesting what it describes as an “Earth Observation Partnership.”
Paul Drayson, the British science minster, has recently spelled out what he believes are the advantages of an agency approach. Drayson is responsible for space with the government Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills, the department which instigated the consultation.
The STFC says: “The formation of a space agency could be expected to deliver improved strategic planning, and encourage more ‘joined up thinking’ across government. In addition, an agency could be expected to deliver more streamlined arrangements in relation to industrial collaboration and industry engagement.”
The NERC looked at: “five models for organizing UK civil space activities. Two of these relate to the creation of a new UK Space Agency. We distinguish between factors dependent on increased space spend as opposed to those inherent in each model. In all models, NERC would welcome a strengthened national approach to space technology development and the opportunity to realize the benefits of the new ESA facility in the UK.”
Its preferred approach is the notion of an Earth Observation Partnership, which the NERC says “has the best chance of ensuring that the nation has access to the climate/environmental observations needed: for world-class science, to respond to climate change, seize associated green economy opportunities, and maintain a healthy space technology capability.”
Were an agency to emerge, then NERC says it “would of course work closely with the government to develop a structure which would ensure that we can continue to deliver excellent environmental science”.
While the creation of an executive space agency would offer the advantage of “stimulating the development of a national space technology program” NERC argues that; “There are also disadvantages, notably in distancing major users of space from space programs and the associated prioritization decisions.”
The STFC also cautions that while it supports an agency approach it “would wish to be reassured that the historically strong performance of the space science which the council supports would not be compromised.”
Responding to the consultation question of what limits the ability of the BNSC to deliver a successful UK space program the NERC is critical of the reduction of both “human and financial recourses availably centrally. It argues: “This has had a catastrophic effect on the national space technology program, which has all but disappeared, weakened the potential to stimulate new space applications (where a primary customer has not yet been identified), and resulted in reduced experience and capabilities of (headquarters) staffing.”
It is also contends that the “UK has failed to address the problems associated with its current approach to long-term environmental monitoring on both a national and an international basis. There is clear evidence for this failure in the extreme difficulties faced in preparing a UK subscription for the ESA Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) and Jason programs.”
This problem it suggests, however, is not specific to space, but “affects all environmental observations – in situ marine, terrestrial, atmospheric as well as those made from space, and it will only be resolved effectively by tackling the whole problem.”
Picture credit BNSC