Sunday, February 14, 2010

UK & US Governments Developing Space Plans

Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday) was one of the iconic singers of the 1970's with his first album "Bat Out Of Hell" containing some of the most memorable tunes of that era (although he has since fallen from favor among the dwindling record buying public). One of this biggest hits on the album was the song "Two out of Three Ain't Bad."

The lyrics refer to wanting and needing but not loving and suggests that "two out of three ain't bad."

The same could certainly be said for this follow-up to my previous post from June 26th, 2009 when I suggested "UK joins Canada and the US in "Not Knowing Quite What To Do" with their Space Program." The article, of course, was referring to the UK Space Innovation and Growth Team, commissioned to deliver an assessment on how the UK government could help maintain the British space focused commercial sector's competitiveness. At the time I stated:
The UK thus joins Canada (with a much delayed update to our Canadian space policy commissioned originally when Steve MacLean became head of the CSA in September 2008 but so far not released) and the United States (with the Augustine Committee presently meeting in Washington) as essentially not knowing what to do with their space program.
It's eight months along with the Augustine Final Report long released (and the 2011 NASA budget recently announced by the Obama administration) so the way forward for the US now seems clear (except perhaps for the inevitable political and economic casualties).

The British committee has also moved forward, if perhaps at a slower pace. They've recruited Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company as consultants, set up a website as SpaceIGS and begun to release at least portions of their final report. Of special interest is their executive summary which states:
The UK Government is already a significant investor in — and beneficiary of — Space, but it could obtain more value from its investment and at the same time use Space to deliver more services to its citizens. Space is a diverse sector resilient to fluctuations in economic growth; it has high growth potential, it produces advanced technology, has low carbon credentials and strong scientific foundations. The UK should, therefore, allocate a disproportionately higher share of industrial funding to capitalise on the opportunities for growth that Space offers.
However, the executive summary also issues this warning: 
We are at a crossroads in terms of the strategic direction for the UK. The UK’s share of the world Space market in 2007 was around 6%. This substantial figure is about twice the size of many other major UK industrial sectors, but less than that of our leading industries. However, if we take a positive decision to go for growth, we can raise the market share significantly. But, if we fail to step up our efforts there is a strong likelihood that the sector will slide back to around the 3% mark. This might prompt the departure of some of the large multi-nationals which have chosen to invest in the UK’s Space sector. It would certainly wipe out much of the UK’s past investment in intellectual capital with a consequent loss of our existing strengths.
The statement that a lack of government support could result in "the departure of some of the large multi-nationals" suggests interesting parallels to the aborted sale of portions of Canadian based Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) to American-owned Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in April 2008 which highlighted national security issues and economic infrastructure components the UK committee is obviously familiar with.

It's also interesting to note that both the US and the UK reports have focused on developing a "space industry" rather than a government operated, funded and traditionally styled "space program." As well, while these reports seem to have been both "wanted" and "needed" in their respective jurisdictions, there seems to be little love attached to them because of their focus on commercial space issues.

Whatever the parallels, these respective UK and US committees have acted and presented at least some indication of a way forward for space focused activities in their respective jurisdictions. Like the song says, two out of three "ain't bad."

Unless perhaps, you're a Canadian space focused company, scientist, engineer or advocate waiting patiently for CSA President Steve MacLean to release his report. Our space focused "way forward" still hasn't been released and isn't expected to be until later this year (at a date, still to be determined).

Canada could also use a way forward and while we might not see our space focused industry shrink like the UK document suggests is possible (and my current edition of "This Week in Space For Canada" indicates that the opposite could be happening) we should note that it's always a useful activity to plan ahead, whether you're managing a household budget, planning R&D expenditures or running a space agency.

Meat Loaf is expected to release a new album this year (his eleventh). Lets hope the CSA is as diligent with releasing their policy document.

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