HC Deb 03 November 1958 vol 594 cc600-1
39. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Minister of Supply whether he will make a statement on the development and testing of Black Knight; and whether it is now intended to launch a Commonwealth earth satellite.

42. Mr. Mason

asked the Minister of Supply if he is now able to give details of the Royal Society's recommendations to his Department regarding the scientific and military values to be gained from a British earth-space satellite programme.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Aubrey Jones)

Black Knight is a test vehicle for high altitude research. It has been designed and constructed by Saunders-Roe and other firms to the requirements of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. The success of the first firing in Australia, on 7th September, reflects great credit on all concerned. A programme of further firings is planned.

The opportunity for space research arises from certain techniques being developed for the defence programme. My officials are accordingly in constant touch with the Office of the Lord President of the Council, and with numerous scientific authorities, including, through the good offices of the Royal Society, a number of its Fellows, on the scientific value to be obtained from British participation in space research, including research by satellites. The Royal Society is not being consulted on the possible military value of such research. The possibility of co-operation with other countries is naturally taken into account.

Mr. Williams

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that if there is any question of limiting research because of the shortage of finance, it is vital that Commonwealth Governments be invited to participate and to provide funds for such a research programme?

Mr. Jones

I recognise that, but the question now at issue is not one of finance. I think it was Lord Rutherford who said that thinking was even more important than finance, and I consider this question one of thinking.

Mr. Mason

Regarding the military matters flowing from this project, can the Minister say whether we are in consultation with the United States within the agreement signed recently regarding the exchange of information on atomic energy, or are we determined to "go it alone" on this programme?

Mr. Jones

To some extent, we are aware of American thinking on this matter.

Mr. Beswick

Irrespective of Government thinking on the subject, if it is not a question of finance, what is the argument against sending a vehicle up into space? Has the Minister, or the Government, formed any idea of the cost of carrying out a programme of this kind?

Mr. Jones

I should have thought the question at issue was not one of slavishly copying other countries, but of scientific worthwhileness. To that question I have suggested a great deal of consideration needs to be given.