28 July 2000
News - Tourism (Good)
British Government Committee Uses "T Word"
Recommends Review of UK Launcher Development Policy - Independent of National Space Agency
by Patrick Collins
Three months after US Transportation Secretary Slater became the first Cabinet-rank official to use the "T Word", the 10th report of the British government's Trade and Industry Committee also discussed space tourism and recommended:
"that a review is undertaken of the UK's participation in launcher development programmes".

The full report with all its 26 Appendices is on the Internet and can be read here.

The report shows how BNSC [British National Space Centre] is also guilty of the familiar "double standard" that government space agencies use to resist space tourism: For years BNSC has refused any funding at all to Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd on the grounds that "whilst the space plane designed by Bristol Spaceplanes Ltd has been shown by both ESA and BNSC studies to be technically sound, the Government [ie BNSC] does not believe that the business case, based ultimately on a market for space tourism, looks sufficiently strong to demonstrate an adequate return on the investment cost."

But of course BNSC spends hundreds of millions of pounds every year that earn no commercial return at all.

For example, BNSC has lavished many tens of millions of pounds on remote sensing, on the basis of no more than "can expression of general but unsubstantiated hope that commercial markets will be generated" in the words of the Committee. "cone of the actions for BNSC in the 1996 strategy paper was to "create the conditions under which a commercial industry in Earth observation, competitive in the world market and fully sustained by income from private and public sector operational users, can be created by 2005." UK space policy appears to have failed to date in this central objective. Despite more than a decade trying to stimulate commercial markets for Earth observation data, provided at public expense, it is universally accepted that the take-up has been unsatisfactory."

BNSC was so confident in their opinion that space tourism was not worth considering that they did not even do any formal analysis. This matches the fact that a Memo on the potential economic benefit of supporting space tourism sent to BNSC in May 1999, and reproduced here by the Committee, was not even acknowledged by BNSC.

It is therefore highly satisfactory that the Select Committee recommends a review of the subject independent of BNSC. "Since no partner in BNSC is likely to be fighting for UK involvement in reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), we also recommend that this evaluation be undertaken by a body independent of BNSC."

It is notable that this matches the increasing moves in the US to get around NASA. The budget of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the FAA is being doubled, and moves are increasingly being made for funding to be taken from NASA and made available to those who will use it to make space accessible to the public.

Finally, it is also satisfactory that a key point of the submission submission made by Space Future Consulting (the business arm of Space Future) is specifically quoted by the Committee: "Space Future Consulting are of the opinion that the Government should not participate in any launch vehicle work that is not specifically aimed at developing a passenger-carrying vehicle, stating that the UK's lack of involvement in ELVs leaves the UK uniquely placed to exploit space tourism."

By their continuing resistance to space tourism, government space agencies are digging their own graves. Indisputably, the more that space agencies' funding is cut and given instead to organisations that will use it to realise space tourism, the better for taxpayers, for the general public, for economic growth, and for global development. The British government's Trade & Industry Committee's recommendations make a clear case that something is wrong--even though British space policy is nominally the most commercially oriented of any of the leading countries. It is highly desirable that the British government undertakes the review that the DTI Committee recommends. Space Future Consulting looks forward to the opportunity to expand upon the case made in their submission to the DTI Committee.
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Patrick Collins 28 July 2000
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