Written Evidence Submitted by
Professor Sarah Matthews, Professor Richard Harrison, Dr. Jackie Davies, Professor Peter Cargill, Professor Lyndsay Fletcher, Dr Huw Morgan, Dr Andrzej Fludra, Professor Mihalis Mathioudakis, Professor Robertus Erdélyi, Professor Ineke de Moortel, Professor Bill Chaplin, Professor Robert Walsh and UKSP Council
Evidence submitted on behalf of the UK Solar Physics Council (http://www.uksolphys.org/) with the following contributors:
Prof. Sarah Matthews1, Prof. Richard Harrison2, Dr. Jackie Davies2, Prof. Peter Cargill3, Prof. Lyndsay Fletcher4, Dr Huw Morgan5, Dr Andrzej Fludra2, Prof. Mihalis Mathioudakis6, Prof. Robertus Erdélyi7, Prof. Ineke de Moortel3, Prof. Bill Chaplin8, Prof. Robert Walsh9 and UKSP Council10
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships;
The UK solar physics community has a high international profile in both instrumentation and science exploitation and the members of our community have been trusted and sought-after partners in all the major international solar space missions since the 1960s, providing substantial opportunities for the UK to project ‘soft power’ and for industry partnerships and growth. However, decades of declining investment in technology development, science exploitation and funding for participation in bilateral projects now presents an existential threat to that position, with an already realised decline in UK influence on the international stage. This is compounded by the absence of a national space strategy and an accompanying national programme for space science mission development.
• The solar physics community in the UK has enjoyed a worldwide reputation as a valued partner in international space science projects since the beginning of the space era and UK involvement in Ariel 1 (launch 1962).
• The UK’s leading contributions to international collaborative space science missions were fundamental in ensuring UK Presidency (Harrie Massey, UCL) of the European Space Sciences Committee that led to the foundation of ESRO and subsequently ESA. i.e. it afforded the UK real influence in setting the European space agenda.
• Between 1980 and the formation of UKSA in 2010 the UK solar physics community participated in 11 major international solar space missions in collaboration, primarily with NASA and JAXA. Only one was an ESA mission (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO).
• The UK had Principal Investigator (PI) roles, where it led the build of instruments and mission-level science definition, on 64% of those 11 and provided hardware for 82% of them. For the remaining two we had data/operational roles.
• This major hardware programme played a pivotal part in making the solar community in the UK what it is today – i.e. a highly valued and trusted international partner, and a scientific strength on the world stage
• Since the formation of UKSA we have seen the launch of the ESA Solar Orbiter mission (2020). UK groups hold PI or Co-PI roles on 4 of the 10 payload instruments.
• Future opportunities for the UK to maintain and strengthen its position of influence within the field are currently unlikely as a consequence of lack of funding, particularly for bilateral participation.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base;
- The UK solar physics community has a high international profile in both instrumentation and science exploitation and the members of our community have been trusted and sought-after partners in all the major international solar space missions since the 1960s.
- These partnerships are recognised in the UK Space Innovation ad Growth Strategy to provide significant opportunities for the UK to project ‘soft power’.
- Similarly, the Civil Space Strategy recognises that future opportunities for commercial relationships are forged by providing the basis for UK collaboration in space science projects, and thereby building trust and confidence with international partners.
- Solar space projects have played a key role in building UK industry reputations and markets. An example of this is the 30 year involvement of Teledyne e2V (Te2V) with a vast range of international space science projects, including Yohkoh (JAXA, UK, NASA), which was the first solar space mission to make use of CCD cameras.
- The success of this collaboration was instrumental in establishing Te2V as the leading provider of CCDs for space science and Earth observation imaging applications internationally.
- The expertise of UK groups such as UCL-MSSL and RAL Space in providing the novel low-noise front end electronics required to turn Te2V sensors into bespoke cameras has not only made them preferred partners in science missions but has also led to commercial contracts with NASA and other agencies.
- The term ‘space weather’ was first used as a result of the advances in understanding solar activity that were made by solar space missions (e.g. Yohkoh and SOHO) in which the UK played leading roles.
- The risks to our technologically reliant society posed by space weather are recognised by governments worldwide and has led to its inclusion on the UK government’s own national risk register.
- The UK Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre enjoys a world-leading position in space weather forecasting. That capability is fundamentally underpinned by our longstanding involvement in the science programme, without which we would not be able to apply our knowledge to address real world problems on the UK risk register.
- Recent government investment in SWIMMR projects (£20M) and the ESA Lagrange space weather mission will contribute to maintaining the UKMO’s leading position; provided there is sufficient investment in underpinning science.
- Data from UK-provided instruments on solar space missions are used by UK scientists to provide training opportunities for secondary school, undergraduate, Masters and PhD students that encourages students to enter STEM fields of employment and address the Widening Participation agenda (e.g. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/astrophysics/outreach/orbyts)
- Solar space data are used widely in public engagement activities at multiple levels. Press and social media coverage of the Solar Orbiter launch and first data release is estimated by ESA to have reached >3 billion people worldwide. UK scientists featured prominently.
- International collaborations within the space science community in general are exemplars in global collaboration and developing key global citizenship skills.
- Support for UK scientists and space instrumentation groups has been declining in real terms over several decades and changes to funding models and Research Council structures have gradually eroded our ability to undertake the necessary ‘blue skies’ development that is needed for innovation, as well as to reduce risk in what are always inherently high-risk (high reward) ‘one-off’ build programmes.
- While the ESA programme is highly valued, every international mission in which the UK played a leading role prior to the formation of UKSA was a bilateral mission, aside from SOHO. The bilateral involvements afforded exceptional value for money and have been the cornerstone of our high international reputation.
- Since the formation of UKSA the UK has been funded to participate in one ESA solar mission (Solar Orbiter) and has been unable to secure UK funding to participate in any new bilateral opportunities; eroding the trust and collaborations that have been carefully curated over several decades. Solar C, successor to Yohkoh and Hinode (UK, JAXA and NASA collaboration) is a recent example.
- The time between ESA launches of missions with a substantial solar physics component is 25 years. As funding can currently only be secured for participation in projects in the ESA Space Science programme this poses substantial risks not only for scientific competitiveness but also for skills retention of both engineering staff and the early career researchers in which the UK government invests heavily in training. Other countries are now benefitting from UK Government investment because of the greater opportunities they offer our graduates and early career researchers.
What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of previous space strategies for the UK and the space strategies of other countries;
- The UK is the only major space power that has no national space science strategy supported by an appropriate national programme.
- A robust and community driven process for determining space science priorities coupled with national programmes in our partner countries is now allowing them to overtake the UK groups in terms of innovation and preferred partner status.
- National programmes in other countries provide the opportunity to invest in, and test, new technologies in order to drive forward innovation and reduce risk for larger space missions. A vital part of these programmes is the opportunity to participate in bilateral programmes that are recognised to represent high value return for comparatively low investment.
- The combination of a well-defined strategy and investment in technology development allows other countries to have influence in the strategic direction of future ESA mission selections.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy, including considerations of:
- Secure and long-term (i.e. multi-year) funding lines to support blue-skies technology development need to be established with clear and connected paths to continue that development to higher TRL before flight builds begin. Otherwise, we lose the highly skilled staff that enable us to remain competitive.
- Funding lines that enable early verification and qualification of new instruments such as rockets, balloons, and smallsats need to be established. NASA in particular operates a healthy rocket programme that has facilitated the development of a number of innovative new instruments, and a Cubesat Launch Initiative now in its 12th round.
- Space mission development programmes are multi-year projects. Effective management of their design, build and operation requires funding allocations that support that multi-year process rather than single year settlements that make international partners nervous and add additional costs through the need to divert effort from both the project and the agency to submit and approve new funding requests.
- skills and diversity;
- Scholarship or bursary support for space instrumentation MSc programmes should be considered to both encourage more students in general, but also to widen participation in this area.
- Great opportunities exist for undergraduate students to undertake space industry placements through UKSA’s SPIN initiative, but the timing works poorly with 1-year MSc programmes where students are fully committed for the calendar year. A review of ways to improve access for MSc students should be undertaken.
- A Doctoral Training Programme focussed on space instrumentation should be considered, including a well-resourced and sustained programme for development and launch (e.g. CubeSats)
- Long-term funding security is needed to retain highly skilled engineering staff and to increase the participation of women and other under-represented groups in space instrumentation development.
- research funding, investment and economic growth;
- Funding for early career researchers needs a fundamental review. Continuing flat cash settlements to STFC has continually eroded the opportunities for highly-skilled PhD graduates to secure postdoctoral positions in this country. Fellowship opportunities are focussed (because of funding constraints) on researchers at a later career stage. This forces people that we have invested heavily in training out of the country or out of research. Women and other already under-represented groups continue to be disproportionately affected by this.
- Similarly, there are almost no opportunities for later-stage career researchers to secure continued funding outside of permanent academic positions, of which there are few. Valuable skills and expertise are then once again lost, and important research directions are interrupted or terminated.
- UKSA’s Aurora Programme has proved very valuable in providing ring-fenced funding for science exploitation associated with Mars mission development. Consideration should be given to the establishment of similar programmes within UKSA, but not at the expense of the STFC budget, which is already stretched to the point that on average an academic might receive 3 years of PDRA support once per decade.
- A funding programme that supports participation in bilateral missions. This could be an expansion of NSIP International pilot programme but must be underpinned by a community driven space science strategy.
international considerations and partnerships;
- Particularly following Brexit, maintaining and strengthening our existing international partnerships is vital for the UK to continue to be viewed as a valuable and trusted partner. Funding for bilateral opportunities is critical for this. Evaluation of space science opportunities must have robust processes in place to ensure that the community science advisory structures are involved in selection.
- The majority of the UK’s activity in developing instrumentation for space science missions is currently focussed within a small number of well-established centres in the south of England where significant instrumentation heritage has been built up over many decades and the specialised facilities required to undertake the necessary space qualification tests already exits. Replicating this would require both substantial financial investment and specialised recruitment. However, there is certainly scope for investment in complementary activities in e.g. smallsat development within a number of Universities in other areas of the UK. In particular, the possibility of a UK satellite launch centre in the north of Scotland provides a stimulus for developing skills in space instrumentation over a broader geographical area.
1UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory; 2RAL Space; 3University of St Andrews; 4University of Glasgow; 5Aberystwyth University; 6Queen’s University Belfast; 7Sheffield University; 8University of Birmingham; 9University of Central Lancashire; 10 http://www.uksolphys.org/about-uksp/