Comment - UK wastes role in space agency

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Anomaly is how European Space Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain describes the UK's position in ESA one of the richest member states is only the sixth largest contributor to the agency's budget.

Sadly, this lack of ambition is reflected in the new "2008 to 2012 and beyond" strategy of the British National Space Centre (BNSC), the UK government's civil space co-ordinating body, which will have major elements under review until the end of the year or even early 2009.

Questions over UK participation in major projects such as manned exploration, ESA's Global Monitoring of Environment and Security, the Galileo satellite navigation system, bilateral Earth and Moon robotic missions, future science instrument investment, a new ESA facility in England and no clear budget for the UK's new national space technology programme, do not bode well for an industrial base that continues to have a static government space budget and is being superseded by developing countries' own capabilities.

An example is the short-lived 2007 celebration over EADS's UK subsidiary getting development work for ESA's ExoMars rover. Under ESA's geographical return policy, the UK's large participation should have seen EADS engage a local supply chain, but the limited industrial capability meant subcontractors couldn't be found and non-UK companies received what was originally UK taxpayers' cash. ESA officials tell Flight International they have also found it hard to find UK companies with which to place contracts.

UK industry trade associations may hail the BNSC strategy, but in the past they have said that while software had been seen as a UK strength, it is an area in which Greece is now a tough competitor. The Labour government makes great claims, but with an unchanging, non-inflation-adjusted £200 million ($390 million) annual spend, the worsening situation cannot improve. Without a clear and above-inflation increase year-on-year in UK space spending, there can be no "agenda of ambition", as called for by the UK science community last year in the wake of collapsing science and engineering student numbers.