UKSA PLS*

So what happened at the Grand Launch ? Well mostly, lots of speechifying and photo-opps with schoolkids and UK astronaut Tim Peak. We got about twenty minutes of Mandelson before he slipped out the back. Not bad for such a busy chap, and what with Byers-gate and all that. I probably got more out of gossiping with folk over coffee and biccies than from the speeches. The questions were also helpful, apart from the gharssly planted schoolkid question. You can read some background in my earlier post, and the official BNSC statement, but here are my informal bullet points :

  • The Government agrees with “the great majority” of the IG Team’s recommendations, but we ain’t getting promised that £550M just yet. That will be decided “project by project”
  • Theres £40M now to create the ISIC at Harwell. Apparently this is £12M from BIS and £28M from an alliance of RDAs led by SEEDA. In the corridor, STFC chaps assured me that none of this was from the STFC budget.
  • The beast is called UK Space Agency. Somebody asked if we pronounce it uch-ser but Drayson reckoned UK Space Agency was short enough.
  • We got an exciting new logo. Actually I hated it. Looks like something somebody invented for a fictional fascist party in a cheap TV drama. Modern and thrusting and all that. But I guess its memorable.
  • UKSA officially starts on April 1st. David Williams from BNSC is interim Director, but there will now be a recruitment process jolly soon.
  • Meanwhile the office is in Polaris House, Swindon. Some STFC staff have moved several feet already. Final HQ not officially decided, but I don’t think the ATC will be putting in a bid, as it is not in a County Beginning with O.
  • The lunchtime gossip was that the recruitment of the Director is crucial. We may be looking at re-arranging  deck-chairs, but the opportunity is there for a strong leader to force real change.
  • Sources tell me that the ISIC plans are ready to roll and it could be “built in a year”. Other sources tell me that actually folks are looking at buying something currently under-used on Harwell campus…
  • Andy Green (Logica, IGT leader) did a heavy plug for the hub-and-spokes thing, so maybe there is real opportunity for investment other than in Harwell. If there is ever any more real extra money.
  • Old timers reckoned this whole thing was hovering somewhere in between the classic government announcement-about-nothing, and a real major investment. There was a feeling that there is a real intention to be serious about the growth of the space sector, but intentions are cheap… Anyway, we should engage rather than sniff.
  • Drayson said there would be a “single budget” but that the science budget would be separate and ring-fenced. But really there are three separate things related to space science – exploitation money, project build money, and technology R&D money. The most optimistic thing for the academic sector is that re-structuring may let us get at part three.
  • One knowledgeable source suggested to me that UKSA may hold the space science project budget, but we will still apply to STFC. Hmmm.

* PLS = Post Launch Summary. Space Junkies Joke.

33 Responses to UKSA PLS*

  1. […] Andy Lawrence was there, and invites you to pump him  in the debriefing room over at the e-astronomer. Possibly related […]

  2. MatthewH says:

    That logo. I can see its supposed to be a dramatic arrow saying “Space! This way!”, but to me it looks more like some kind of Archimedean space ray destroying the flag below it. Probably not the imagery the marketing boutique was planning on.

  3. Richard Cole says:

    On your last point on the space science project budget and application to STFC, that was not the impression I got. As far I understood it, the intention is that UKSA will have full authority over the budget and that the UKSA executive will operate more like EPSRC than STFC, that is they decide with advice from peer-review and committees.

    In future the UKSA budget (including whatever elements are transferred from STFC) will be a fully BIS matter. Impact statements may become more important than science cases, expecially when the science case has already been made through ESA reviews.

    How they will decide the science worth of bi-lateral missions (if there are any ever again) may be another matter. But I bet UKSA will want an UKSA-NASA programme (and an UKSA-JAXA programme?) because that is what agencies do.

  4. He’s Tim Peake. Wiv an “e”. But good to see you today.

  5. Monica Grady says:

    It didn’t make it on to BBC1’s 10pm news bulletin – not even the ‘and finally’ story. So obviously not a headline grabber. thanks, Paul, for the info.
    Mon
    x

  6. andyxl says:

    Almost a whole page in the middle of the Scotsman today, so middle ranking story I guess.

  7. Richard Wade says:

    Andy
    Just to follow up on you final point and the comment from Richard it might be helpful for me to clarify a couple of things about what transfers and what stays. Clearly the ESO subs transfer including the Aurora sub. The “domestic” programme also transfers. This included instrument project grants and post launch support. The exploitation grants stay in STFC which will mean we don’t have to split space and ground based astronomy. As far as managing the programme is concerned, the Space Agency will manage the domestic programme but STFC may continue to provide some support for the grants process on behalf of the agency. The details of this are not yet fully agreed but this may mean that you would continue to send applications to STFC. For exploitation grants (including standard and rolling grants) nothing changes except that we would work with the Space Agency to ensure that the exploitation effort was aligned with the programme. The studentships and fellowships will also stay with STFC but again we would need to ensure that they were aligned with the Space Agencies programme.

  8. John Peacock says:

    Richard,

    So the ESA sub transfers to UKSA (and I like the typo: one of ESA or ESO really should change its name – actually worse on the continent, where the old ESA satellite ISO is pronounced as we do ESO). This means that ex-PPARC science is now permanently robbed of several tens of millions per year compared to the position we would have been in if this transfer had happened in, say, 2006. It’s what I feared would happen, and I’m far from happy at having been proved right.

  9. Paul Crowther says:

    Richard

    Thanks for the clarification, but I’m afraid that I have to agree with John here. STFC’s long-term strategy (as custodians of RAL/Harwell Campuses) has been to secure the ESA centre and host the new Space Agency, by any means necessary. As a result, the PPAN area is indeed permanently weaker having sacrificed people and facilities to ensure that, among other things, the Aurora payments remain effectively unchanged (indeed previous Science Board minutes have queried this non-scientific strategy). STFC management have done what they needed to do, but please don’t hide behind claims that the prioritisation exercise was genuinely fair or consultative. It would appear too that STFC space science grant funding (to which Haldane applies) has to abide by priorities from Gov’t (to which Haldane does not apply).

    Yesterday’s physics debate transcript is now available. If nothing else read Dr Harris’ assessment of STFC’s current predicament plus the conclusions and recommendations of yesterday’s S&T ctte science funding report.

  10. Dave says:

    I understand the logo was a rush job done in a few hours once someone at high level said ‘we must have a logo – make it so!’. Not surprising then that it looks a little poor.

    At least it’s not as awful and open to potentially criminal reinterpretation as the London Olympics logo. But then we only have to suffer that for another couple of years.

  11. Paul Crowther says:

    To reiterate my last comment, the BNSC have just released a new Aurora brochure and tweeted `Space exploration in the UK: it’s go for Mars!’ See here. It’s go for exploration, but stop for space science.

  12. Richard Wade says:

    Paul
    So do you not consider Aurora to be part of the PPAN science area?

    In your rather authoritative interpretation of Haldane you seem to assume that the ESA subscription (got it right this time John) will no longer be within the science ring fence or that this ring fence does not define the bounds of Haldane.

  13. Monica Grady says:

    John, Paul,
    It is not ‘ex-PPARC science is permanently robbed of tens of millions per year’ (John) or ‘go for exploration, stop for space science’ (Paul). It is good news for planetary scientists, who are astronomers. We may not be cosmologists or work on the fundamental physics of star formation, but our work is ex-PPARC science, and is as valuable as anything done by anyone else who received a grant from PPARC.

    Andy won’t let us shout, or say nasty things on his blog. Will he let me say: ‘sometimes, I want to take all the astronomers and astrophysicists who constantly dis the exciting prospects for martian exploration, and knock their silly heads together’? Probably not, so i won’t say it
    Mon
    x

  14. Paul Crowther says:

    Richard,

    I got the impression that UKSA is to be a government body coordinating and promoting the UK space industry. You noted that STFC space science funding will need to be aligned to the UKSA’s priorities, regardless of whether ESA subscriptions will still fall within the science ring fence.

    Aurora is indeed part of the PPAN science area, but NUAP made it clear that it was not the highest priority science, yet PPAN were obliged to follow STFC’s corporate strategy (including synergies with Campuses and UK industry) ensuring that Aurora trumped higher priority science within NUAP’s remit.

  15. Paul Crowther says:

    Monica

    Outstanding viewing figures for Brian Cox’s BBC2 Wonders programme show that there is great appetite for well-presented Solar System science. If NUAP had ranked Aurora as its top scientific priority, I would not have had an issue with the high level of financial support it receives. But this was not the case (NUAP was internally divided), and the high cost of Aurora does impact upon the entire astrophysics, cosmology and solar system communities, not just the latter.

    Paul

  16. andyxl says:

    Putting to one side Aurora’s science priority, let me just repeat Monica’s basic point : this is an opportunity, and we should start be much more positive about using it. We should find to engage with the IG Team to push forward some specific space science objectives, and at the same time to help them astro-PR to maximum effect. This doesn’t mean we can’t whinge internally about the details.. but we have to make a pitch.

  17. Don says:

    Paul

    NUAP was divided over aurora at the 4:1 level (or possibly even higher).

    don

  18. Jeri says:

    Well, despite being a member of the NUAP community not involved in Aurora, I didn’t find the work that nuap did to be a shining example of strategy or prioritisation. To be honest it looked like a fudge in which various vested interestes shone through quite clearly. I think we need to do better.

  19. As I’ve said in the #uksa thread on Twitter, taxpayers care about colonization, not cosmology; scientists & universities missing that are doomed. Recommendation 13 on page 46 of http://bit.ly/9OJiUC suggests 3 missions, and double spending, but that isn’t going to happen without proposals that actually inspire the taxpaying public instead of putting them to sleep with stories about the periodicity of extragalactic pulsars.

    Common sense tells us that the financial resources of any space-fairing nation are directly in proportion to the attractiveness of their proposals. Therefore, I recommend very bold proposals recalling the traditional impulse towards colonization shared by every post-agricultural human society that has ever existed.

    Specifically, I recommend the following three goals in accordance with the three missions recommended in the Recommendation 13 cited above:

    (1) astronomy for the currently unexamined exoplanet ozone (9 to 10 micron) spectra using space very long baseline interferometry — real time data from the WISE, Hershel, and Hubble infrared cameras should already be sufficient for this (infrared VLBI is the ,

    (2) comet and asteroid habitation — there is no avoiding the fact that the gravity well of Earth along with the radiation shielding required for safe interplanetary missions necessitates the use of existing comets or asteroids for spacecraft. We simply can not afford to launch thin tin cans and expect them to be more useful than comets which already contain an abundance of water and other fluids useful for propellants to establish, for example, an Earth-Mars cycler spacecraft. Any proposals which ignore the necessity of using comets or asteroids as engineered spacecraft are hopelessly short-sighted.

    (3) solar system terraforming. Currently, the Moon, Mars, and Venus are all profoundly boring places unsuitable for colonization and it will probably take several centuries to do anything about that fact. It’s better to get started now in order to get humanity’s eggs out of the proverbial one basket. This line of inquiry is also useful to show the advantage of Earth energy schemes such as http://bit.ly/100by2030 over current short-sighted and dirty fossil fuel schemes.

  20. [Dear moderator, my previous submission contained typos; please substitute this one instead. Thank you!]

    As I’ve said in the #uksa thread on Twitter, taxpayers care about colonization, not cosmology; scientists & universities missing that are doomed. Recommendation 13 on page 46 of http://bit.ly/9OJiUC suggests 3 missions, and double spending, but that isn’t going to happen without proposals that actually inspire the taxpaying public instead of putting them to sleep with stories about the periodicity of extragalactic pulsars.

    Common sense tells us that the financial resources of any space-fairing nation are directly in proportion to the attractiveness of their proposals. Therefore, I recommend very bold proposals recalling the traditional impulse towards colonization shared by every post-agricultural human society that has ever existed.

    Specifically, I recommend the following three goals in accordance with the three missions recommended in the Recommendation 13 cited above:

    (1) astronomy for the currently unexamined exoplanet ozone (9 to 10 micron) spectra using space very long baseline interferometry — real time data from the WISE, Hershel, and Hubble infrared cameras should already be sufficient for this (infrared VLBI is the same algorithm as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites which are already used for sub-millimeter radar reconnaissance)

    (2) comet and asteroid habitation — there is no avoiding the fact that the gravity well of Earth along with the radiation shielding required for safe interplanetary missions necessitates the use of existing comets or asteroids for spacecraft. We simply can not afford to launch thin tin cans and expect them to be more useful than comets which already contain an abundance of water and other fluids useful for propellants to establish, for example, an Earth-Mars cycler spacecraft. Any proposals which ignore the necessity of using comets or asteroids as engineered spacecraft are hopelessly short-sighted.

    (3) solar system terraforming. Currently, the Moon, Mars, and Venus are all profoundly boring places unsuitable for colonization and it will probably take several centuries to do anything about that fact. It’s better to get started now in order to get humanity’s eggs out of the proverbial one basket. This line of inquiry is also useful to show the advantage of Earth energy schemes such as http://bit.ly/100by2030 over current short-sighted and dirty fossil fuel schemes.

  21. Albert Zijlstra says:

    Richard,

    You say that you will work to ensure that the STFC grants and studentships/fellowships will be “aligned with the Space Agencies programme”. What will this mean in practice? Are you talking about ring fencing part of STFC’s grants line?

    The grants line and studentships are small fry compared to the budgets for a space mission. Assigning 10% of the annual PDRA positions (as an example: this would be 5-10 positions) to a particular mission could wipe out a significant fraction of other areas the panels would want to support, while being a drop in the ocean compared to the needs of a mission such as Herschel.

    Would it not be better to set aside 10% of the mission budget for exploitation, and leaving the STFC grants line alone?

    Albert

  22. Richard Wade says:

    Albert
    Actually we spend about the same on exploitation grants (including studentships and fellowships) for space science as we do on the “domestic” space programme (instrumentation). There is no suggestion of ring fencing as such but we have traditionally spent about 30% of the grants money on space exploitation and there is no reason to think this would change dramatically.

  23. Albert Zijlstra says:

    Richard,

    Thanks for the clarification. The fraction of the STFC grants going to space research has come about based on the scientific quality of the proposals, without efforts to align the grants with the space missions. The STFC studentships aer awarded to univesities, and have not been linked to specific projects, I believe.

    I would make two points. First, if the STFC rolling and standard grants would (hypothetically) award a lower fraction to space projects. the ‘fault’ may not be with STFC. Instead the scientific interests may have moved on, or ground-based instrumentation (which tends to be more adventurous than what can be flown in space) may be more competitive.

    Second, the exploitation needs for space missions are much larger than the grants line can fund. I have seen this for Herschel where the UK leads a lot of the science but where we were able to support embarrassingly few PDRAs (or, possibly, PhD students). I would strongly support more exploitation funds but it would seem preferable to include this in the original project funding.

    Albert

  24. […] he want to promote the Minister for Outer Space all of a sudden… The e-Astronomer has a post launch summary of the agency and several high ranking professionals have made comments on the issue there. Generally, people are […]

  25. telescoper says:

    I’m a bit confused about what would happen to astronomy research grants (particularly rolling grants) that encompass, as many do, both space-based and ground-based observations. Is current thinking that these would have to be split, or would they be assessed by a single panel (and the funds drawn appropriately from UKSA and STFC was appropriate?

  26. telescoper says:

    Sorry, that should be “as appropriate?)”…

  27. Richard Wade says:

    Sorry, I thought I had made that one clear.

    STFC retains responsibility for exploitation grants (in part due to the important synergies between ground and space based astronomy). At the moment therefore I would not envisage any change to the astronomy grants (including the rollers).

    Funding for the project grants will transfer to the agency. Whether STFC would administer these grants on behalf of the agency (at least initially) is still up for discussion, but as now these activities will be covered by separate grants.

  28. telescoper says:

    Richard

    Thanks for the clarification. Looking up, I see that you did say that a while back but I missed it first time round.

    It seems the scheme you suggest could be achieved quite easily by co-opting appropriate people from UKSA onto the STFC grants panels.

    Peter

    • ian smail says:

      Peter

      As you’re about to find out: the grants panel currently assesses the scientific quality and STFC’s strategic fit (when they are given a strategy) of all proposals. So I’m not sure that the addition of UKSA staff (potentially trying to push another agenda) would be useful.

      Balancing the quality and importance of proposed space- and ground-based exploitation is not difficult. If you’re looking for weaknesses in the current system then the lack of a mechanism to assess “blue skies” technology research against exploitation would be an obvious one. Although I’m sure Mike is going to remind us that a change of government might end “blue skies” research anyway.

      Of course, the main weakness of the current grants process is the ~40% cuts which have been applied by STFC. These leave us with too few PDRAs to effectively exploit the subscriptions (and facilities).

      Ian

      • Michael Merrifield says:

        Quite the contrary, Ian. Though it certainly goes against my instincts, I would say that a change of government is probably the best hope for blue skies research. The Conservatives have a deep-seated gut reaction against overly-interventionist administration, and will always want to put clear blue water between themselves and the current government’s policies. They are therefore somewhat more likely to be receptive to the argument that scientists should be given more freedom in order to get the best scientific (and, ultimately, economic) returns, rather than being micromanaged into a directed research programme.

        Ultimately, though, I fear that our fate has a lot more to do with the economy than whether or nor there is a change of government.

  29. Michael Merrifield says:

    It does rather undermine the “killer argument” about how it was vital that STFC held on to the astronomy grants because the World would end if there were to be different budget holders for the development of hardware and for exploitation…

  30. […] not the only one to have expressed reservations about the quality of the new outfit’s logo which, though clearly intended to present a […]

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