Status Report

Report: The United Kingdom’s civil space activities

By SpaceRef Editor
June 9, 2005
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Report: The United Kingdom’s civil space activities

Full Report (PDF)

House of Commons
Committee of Public Accounts
The United Kingdom’s civil space activities

Twenty–first Report of Session 2004–05

Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence

Ordered by The House of Commons to be printed 6 April 2005


The Government has identified specific scientific, commercial and social objectives as the most effective way of investing in civil space activities but it does not see the exploration of space as an end in itself. The Government spent £188.6 million in 2003–04 on its civil space activities which are carried out by a Partnership (the Partnership) of 10 Government Departments, Agencies and Research Councils. Their work is co-ordinated by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) at the Department of Trade and Industry (the Department).

Managing risk

Space missions are by nature risky. The Partnership applies risk management techniques, but not consistently across their programmes. In the case of the high-profile Beagle 2 project, the Partnership’s capacity to manage risk was constrained by the tight timetable, restrictions placed upon the weight of the lander and unrealistic funding assumptions, amongst other factors. Risks to the project were not explicitly addressed in appraisals of applications for funding.

The cost of space activities

Investing in space is expensive. Around two thirds of the United Kingdom’s budget is spent through the European Space Agency (ESA) and EUMETSAT which provides and operates Europe’s weather forecasting satellites. The procurement system used by ESA provides for fair returns to contributing nations. We found that the costs of the space programme are increased by this system, which means that contracts are not always awarded to the most cost-effective bidder. It also creates additional administrative costs. The remaining third of the United Kingdom budget is spent primarily on nationally run space programmes operated by three of the partners. Here we found that cost control was compromised by the limitations of internal information systems.

Maximising the benefits from space

Space exploration can also generate significant commercial and scientific benefits, and there have been notable individual successes in space missions funded by the United Kingdom. But the Partnership does not summarise the benefits across space programmes, nor monitor progress against strategic objectives.

On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General1 the Committee examined the way in which the members of the partnership manage the risks posed by space exploration, the ability partners have to identify and manage the costs of their space activities and the commercial and scientific benefits which space exploration can generate and the way such benefits are measured.

SpaceRef staff editor.