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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 14:55 GMT
UK space effort 'starved of cash'
Galileo spacecraft
UK companies have contributed to the Galileo satellite system
Britain's space industry is being starved of cash, MPs have claimed.

The UK is to meet European Space Agency bosses next month to decide British involvement in future projects.

But unless it massively increases its funding Britain risks being left behind and losing vital skills, Labour's Bill Olner warned ministers.

Minister Malcolm Wicks said the government had increased spending on space - and claimed Britain made better use of its cash than other countries.

Lead country

The UK government spends about 200m a year on space, up from 160m in 2002, putting it in 16th position in the international league table of space spending. France, by comparison, spends 1.9bn a year, MPs were told.

Mr Olner, leading the Westminster Hall debate, said the government could demonstrate its commitment to the UK space industry by massively increasing its investment in a new European satellite project to provide early warning of environmental disasters and climate change.

He said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had so far only pledged 2m a year for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (Gmes) satellite system and ministers should pledge to increase this at next month's meeting of European space ministers.

In an ideal world we would be spending more
Malcolm Wicks, DTI minister
"The UK really does need to make its position known. It really does need to put itself in a position where it is a lead country within space.

"The fact that Defra are only planning to put in 2m a year for the next two years is an absolute disaster," Mr Olner told MPs.

"It's no good the government giving warm words and reassurance. That's got to be matched by investment," added Mr Olner, who as a teenage apprentice engineer in the 1960s worked on the British space programme.

'Embarrassing' amount

Conservative MP Nigel Evans said the cash pledged so far by Defra was a "ridiculous sum of money" and "chickenfeed, quite frankly".

He said it was "embarrassing" that Britain spent half the amount India did on space technology and if it did not increase government funding, business and skills would "go elsewhere".

Mr Evans told MPs: "Britain will be seen as a country that really isn't interested, that's not committed to the space industry. When there are other collaborations in the future Britain won't even be thought of.

"There is a lot of money to be made in space. It is going to need the government to get in there and drive it far harder and faster."

'Celebrate'

Responding for the government, Mr Wicks said "in an ideal world we would be spending more".

But he added the "return on our investment exceeds, in my judgement - let me be tactful - many of our counterparts internationally".

He said Britain had a "great deal to celebrate" in the space sector and had made important technical contributions to projects such as the forthcoming Galileo satellite-navigation system.

The government would continue to focus on supporting space science, carefully targeting investment in commercial projects, and backing projects with direct benefit to UK citizens.

The UK was also working in the "inter-agency debris community" to develop codes of conduct for the disposal of defunct satellites, Mr Wicks added.

And it had led the way in "considering the threat from near-Earth objects".

Mr Wicks said he would pass MPs' concerns on funding and other issues to space minister Lord Sainsbury, who as a member of the House of Lords could not take part in the Commons debate.


SEE ALSO:
UK engineers navigate Europe's future
01 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
Beagle mission 'poorly managed'
24 May 04 |  Science/Nature


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