Minister is ‘misleading’ over UK launcher policy

Leading UK space industry advocates have attacked the government for misleading Parliament.

Leading UK space industry advocates have attacked the government for misleading Parliament, during a Commons row over the lack of support for UK involvement in a European rocket launcher programme.

Alan Bond, managing director of spaceplane designer Reaction Engines, and well-known space advocate Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, accused minister for competitiveness Alan Johnson of giving a false impression of the space industries reluctance to invest in new launcher technology.

Johnson told MPs during the space policy debate on 1 February that the industry as a whole was not in favour of participating in launcher programmes, and that was why the Government did not support UK involvement.

But Alan Bond said a group representing the UK Space Industry had already asked the government for £4.5m to support launcher development in 1999.

In a letter to the Government’s British National Space Centre, he described Johnson’s statement as ‘misleading to Parliament’.

The government estimates that the annual market for communication and navigation satellite services — which would require new launchers — would rise from £15bn now to £100bn by 2010.

But in 1999 science minister Lord Sainsbury decided against UK involvement in the European Space Agency’s Future Launcher Technology programme.

Requests for interviews with both ministers were rejected by the DTI. The BNSC was also unavailable for comment.

In an interview with The Engineer, Opik, who also criticised Johnson’s statement said: ‘Launchers are the starting point — the rail infrastructure, the Railtrack of space.

Without launchers you cannot engage properly in the global space industry market.’The debate was fuelled by the trade and industry committee’s report on space policy, published in July 2000.

The report was scathing of the BNSC and urged a review of policy toward rocket launcher development.