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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Last year I put in a submission to the UK Space Review saying how we could become the world leaders in space exploitation, without spending any new money but simply by taking what is currently given to ESA & putting it into an X-Prize Foundation.

They didn't actually have the courtesy to let those who contributed to the review when the report came out & in this case that is understandable.

Their report uses the word "prize" 5 times - in each case to refer to the possibility of space related industry being worth £40 bn a year by 2030 (roughly 10% growth annually) as a "prize" worth doing a lot to obtain. A lot in this case turns out to mean "position of the UK within the ESA community needs to be strengthened"; "an effective networking support structure across the industry and with academic involvement"; a supportive regulatory environment, mainly involving controlling band width eg "As part of its Climate Change agenda, the Government should make a clear international signal that it backs the retention of the C-band frequencies in current use for satellite services as a key component of its support to the poorer nations"; "Outer Space Act needs to be reformed. The new Agency needs to end the insurance-based regime, which deters all UK launch service initiatives. One result of this is a possibility that we will deter Space tourism operators from developing UK launch locations because the Outer Space Act requires operators to provide the UK Government with an unlimited indemnity against damages resulting from an accident and provide £100 million insurance cover"; "The case for raising awareness is a strong one" - "an Ipsos Mori study of public awareness, which concluded that although public interest in Space was high, awareness of UK Space and the benefits Space can deliver was low"; "Despite the clear and reasonable
recommendations of previous work, there has been a consistent failure of implementation"; "We envisage a Cabinet Office led process to formulate and agree a policy across Departments at Ministerial level".

And that's pretty much it. It is agreed that space development is a fast growing (9% annually) part of the economy apparently worth £6 bn at the moment & easily able to rise to £40 bn. Currently the government nominally put in £268 million to ESA however that should not be taken at face value. NASA gets $18 bn but now has actually less spacegoing capability than Russia spending $0.9 bn so at least 95% of their money goes on the "job creation programme for the southern states" & others. ESA's record, with half the money NASA has available isn't 1/4 as good - they haven't yet put a living being in space. At best then they can be only 2.5% efficient so that means the total actual space budget for Britain is £6.6 million. One thousandth of what it creates for the economy, 1/6,000th of what we are nominally aiming for & 1/60th of what we spend through NERC on about 25 environmental reports on global warming, bumblebees etc annually.

So the proposal is, apart from a very useful proposed change to the Outer Space Law stopping government stop space tourism everything else is paper shuffling & "raising awareness" of how important government is to the process - the politicians having noticed the public is aware of the importance of space but doesn't appreciate how much our lords & masters are doing.

Yesterday we got the public announcement that instead of our British national space centre we would have a British Space Agency. And there will be more money - £12 million to build the HQ which will be a "central hub for British space activity", in Swindon. Not so much a jobs creation programme for the southern states then as for Wales.

Incidentally £12 million is almost exactly twice what was put into the Ansari X-Prize for the first free enterprise space ship. It is just over half what the Scottish government are putting into an X-Prize for a commercial sea turbine.

Everything they say about this being a major "prize" an enormous opportunity, a major role in the future of our economy is true. Indeed greatly understated - if space industry grows not at the 10% they aim for but the 17.6% the US is achieving it will be not £40 bn annually but £300 bn, if we improve on that by another 7% it will be £2.4 trillion by 2030, comfortably larger than the entire UK economy now. Yet for our government it is nothing more than an excuse to use a relatively popular issue to slide money the British & European bureaucrat's putting, at best, a token £6.6 million frontage that might actually help develop space. This is not ignorance of the opportunity - nobody in the bureaucracy has disputed, in any way, that simply spending the money we are already wasting, on actually encouraging industry through X-Prizes, we could achieve the US growth rate at the very least. Nobody can dispute it but the bureaucracy doesn't exist to carry out its nominal function, it exists only to reward government employees & their friends.

However the figures remain public, so does the proposal & it can be done by any government, or even probably any junior minister, who actually wants to achieve something.

And Virgin Galactic have test flown their spaceplane.

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