I’ve written about this before (here) but it seems, now, that a decision has finally been made that the UK will now have an executive agency for UK space and satellite industry. The title of the BNSC press release is actually quite instructive because until I went to that link everything I’d read interpreted this as a new British Space Agency and that it would have implications for British science. I, however, have great misgivings about this and the title of the BNSC press release is the reason why.
The reason I have misgivings is that I believe that the money to create this new agency will ultimately come out of the science budget and most people will probably assume that this is the right thing to do since a Space Agency presumably benefits scientists. I don’t, however, believe that this is the correct interpretation and the real reason – I believe – why we are forming this agency is not necessarily to benefit scientists, but to help British industry get a bigger chunk of the money being spent on space (primarily through ESA). As far as I can tell, British scientists are already quite successful at becoming involved in space missions. I was told a few days ago that at a recent ESA meeting where future space missions were discussed, 4 out of the 7 potential missions were lead by British scientists. They’re only likely to fund 2 of these missions, but it does illustrate the level of involvement of British scientists in these missions.
It’s possible that I am being overly cynical about this new agency, but the title of the BNSC press release makes me think that my concerns have some merit. It’s not necessarily that I think such an agency isn’t worth it, its that I think we will spend science money to benefit industry and us scientist will be expected to be pleased about this. If we believe that forming this agency will be of benefit to the UK economy then we should be willing to invest new money and not simply raid the science budget and pretend that this will ultimately be good for British science.