HC Deb 29 July 1960 vol 627 cc2041-62

12.34 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

In April last year, when I raised the subject of space research on the Adjournment, my plea was for a small research programme built round the firing of Blue Streak either in development or in training the R.A.F. At that time, Blue Streak was still accepted by the Government as a weapon. Since last year, the Government have been forced to see wisdom and abandon Blue Streak as a weapon. My concern today is that the money sunk in Blue Streak shall not be wasted but shall be used instead as the basis of a British space programme.

The Government have an appalling record in their lack of concern for space research and development, but the Government can truthfully say that most of us in Parliament were slow off the mark in becoming interested. Five years ago I found no support for starting an all-party committee on this subject. I know now that there were hon. Members whom I should have asked about it, but at that time I could not find them. That, however, does not excuse the Government.

In any case, by any standard, the Government should be ashamed that 15 months after this Adjournment debate there is still little sign of recognition by the Government that we are living in the second half of the twentieth century and that, whether we like it or not, this is a space age. There is about us a revolution on a scale which will make the Industrial Revolution seem like a mere technical readjustment. One of the problems is that so many of the senior members of the Government are drawn from a world in which it is still fashionable to boast of their ignorance of even elementary physics. It is difficult to get across the importance that must be attached to this subject.

In the last year, there has been some lip service to science. We have had a Ministry of Science set up, but I think it is accepted that that Ministry is of little significance and that it is really just a play on words. The problem is that if for the first time since the Industrial Revolution we contract out of the major engineering and scientific adventure of our time the Government will be serving notice that within a decade we shall cease to be among the leading industrial and technological countries. It will be a first step in a retreat.

If the retreat continues in the 1970s and 1980s, the Persian or Peruvian who wants to order electronic equipment, computers, television sets and the products of other new industries will not look to this country as he does today. He may still look to it for the products of the old industries, for tractors and ships and so on, but for the products of new industries he certainly will not. If that happens, we shall be on the way to becoming one of the great "has-beens" as a country and there will be the danger that in the lifetime of some of us in the House that we shall be forced to earn a poor living dancing round the maypole to the delight of the rich Russian and American tourists who will come to see our quaint folk ways.

I regard national prestige, in the sense that I have defined it, as the chief argument for space research and development, and after national prestige comes national pride. It is not only how we look to the outside world but of how we look to ourselves. The morale of the engineers and scientists is very much at stake today, because they must feel that they belong to a country in which modern technology is stimulated and new industries are encouraged. The Government must recognise that the challenge of space is a challenge which we cannot afford to ignore.

Fifteen months ago in the Adjournment debate I used nearly the same words as I have used this morning, and I am shocked that it is still necessary to make many of the same arguments. Hardly anything has changed. Blue Streak at long last has been abandoned as a military weapon and it is incredible that the Government are still undecided as to what use they should make of the many millions sunk in this project.

I have spoken of the relation of a space programme to national and industrial prestige and national and industrial pride. I could speak at length on the advantages of such a programme to pure science, but I am anxious that other hon. Members should have a share in this shortened debate, so I shall discuss only three topics: first, certain predictable advantages to be derived from using space vehicles; secondly, certain unpredictable practical advantages from the by-products of space technology; and, thirdly, suggest what the Government should do.

As to the certain predictable practical advantages from using space vehicles, the most obvious reason for satellites is for communication. For speech, and later for television, they have a far greater capacity and economy than ordinary terrestrial radio or cables. During the next ten years, communication satellites will largely replace conventional methods of worldwide communication. Timing is critical. Unless we in this country assert ourselves now, we shall lose the great opportunity that we have of being first in the field with such a system. I need not emphasise the advantages that there are for us if we are first in the field.

It is a fact that communication satellites launched by a system of Blue Streak, Black Knight and a third stage make commercial sense. I have some figures here, and if they are wrong I should like to be told. A modern twin cable going round the world—the traditional method of world-wide communication—costs about £88 million and lasts about 25 years. I am told that a seven satellite system will give more widespread service at competitive cost. Furthermore, although there is still a great deal of development work to be done, an enormous amount of it has already been done and paid for in the Blue Streak project.

People in the communications industry believe that even if an ordinary telephone call to Australia, using this system, costs £1 per minute for the first three years, within four years they would be making a profit if they charged only 10s. a minute and within twenty years anywhere in the world could be reached for 6d. a minute and be highly profitable. Why should we throw away the lead that we have when there is a real chance of having a profitable British world-wide communication system? I mention this as one obvious practical use of space vehicles.

Another less obvious practical use of these satellites is for navigation and weather forecasting. I need hardly remind the House that in a few years when we have aircraft crossing the Atlantic at 1,600 m.p.h. there cannot afford to be the errors in navigation which are relatively unimportant today. I have referred to certain predictable practical advantages. I now want to refer to the unpredictable practical advantages from by-products of space technology.

The British Interplanetary Society, in a recent memorandum, points out the tremendous possibilities of the stimulus given by space technology to other fields. It does not overstate the case. It does not suggest that the development of space vehicles is unique in this respect, but it stresses two points: first, space technology probably embraces a wider range of disciplines than others and will, therefore, have more side-effects. Secondly, it probably presents the most difficult and challenging problems and will therefore produce the greatest stimulus.

Again, as in the use of space vehicles, there are certain obvious benefits such as in the field of electronics. Already we have transistors and potted or printed circuits which were developed for space projects being widely used for other purposes. But space technology has also brought advances in other fields which to the layman are not so obviously related, for example, fabrication techniques, detailed mechanical engineering, and materials. What are at first specialise plastic materials nearly always turn out to have other uses. I believe that polythene was developed as an insulation for radar tubes. It has certainly come a long way since then.

Of course, we cannot compete with the vast American and Russian programmes. That does not mean, however, that we should sit back and do nothing. France and Germany are not sitting back. Only last Sunday, the chief engineer of the German project was reported in the Sunday Dispatch as saying: We feel it is better to carry out our own programme rather than rely on the Americans, as Britain does. The date for the launching there is October. Earlier this summer two of my hon. Friends joined with three hon.

Members opposite in tabling an early day Motion on European co-operation on space research. Alas, the Government have not shown any interest in it. What should the Government do?

The first step clearly is to co-operate with Australia in developing Blue Streak and Black Knight as a satellite launching vehicle. Yesterday, at Question Time, I put a supplementary question to the Prime Minister asking which Minister would be going to Australia to discuss this problem. I was not impressed by the fact that the Prime Minister said that it had not been decided yet which Minister would go.

When Blue Streak was cancelled as a military weapon over £65 million had been spent—if we include the development of the Black Knight test vehicle and the engine test vehicle. It will probably cost another £65 million to bring Blue Streak and Black Knight to the stage of a space launching vehicle. That is a lot of money, but it is only about one-tenth of what the Government were prepared to spend on Blue Streak as a military weapon. The key to everything is, surely, not to stop work on Blue Streak now or on its ancillary equipment.

To do so would save money on paper, but can it possibly be argued that it would make any real economic sense? In many of our largest firms whole departments are fully committed to the project. This is highly specialised work. It would take months, and perhaps years, before their skill could be effectively redeployed. We must maintain the present effort if we are to lay the foundation of the civil space programme. This is the time for decision.

To those who say—many hon. Members in the House say so privately to me when we discuss this—that we had better use the money on building hospitals, houses and roads and not on space research and development, I reply "I, too, want hospitals, roads, houses and all the rest, but I also want to have them in the 1980s and the 1990s. Above all, I want to lay a firm basis for this country's wealth in the future. We could always have more chips with our fish in the spring if we fried all the potatoes, but the wise man plants some of the potatoes in the ground so that in the summer he may harvest a crop. In other words, he looks to the future."

To me, it is tragic that I find myself using so many of the same phrases as I used in the Adjournment debate fifteen months ago, but the appalling fact is that nothing has been done by the Government to meet the criticisms about their indecision and their nineteenth century thinking. The Government have another chance today. I hope they will take it.

12.51 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

There is no doubt at all about one thing, and that is that space research, and particularly if it involves space travel, is something which has caught the imagination of the country. For that reason alone, I am sure that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) has done a service in selecting this subject for debate today in order that, at any rate, our constituents will be able to appreciate that we occasionally pause from other more mundane matters to talk a little about this very important question.

The hon. Member's speech really amounted to an appeal to spend more money on space research. In particular, he suggested that the money that has already been sunk in Blue Streak should be diverted to space research. That sounds a most attractive proposition, although one has, no doubt, to consider—I am sure the Government have considered it—what dividend in knowledge or in any of the other material benefits to which the hon. Member referred would be obtained were we to do this.

All I would say about that just at the moment is that if we are to resume work on Blue Streak I am certain that we must rethink the methods by which the enormous development contracts which were involved are co-ordinated and financed. One has only to read the Report of the Public Accounts Committee, which was published the day before yesterday, on the difficulties into which some of the other missile research programmes have run to see that we should be very careful before we just give the green light again to the various research teams and the various firms and the methods which were being used with Blue Streak.

I do not want to develop that further. For one thing, I think I should get out of order in this debate. Another reason is that in case I am again a member of the Public Accounts Committee next Session, I should not like it to be thought that I was approaching this issue in any biased and unjudicial manner. None the less, the Report which has just been issued makes one pause and think very carefully before one gives the green light again.

There are three certain things about space research. One is that it is intensely interesting. The second is that if it involves space travel it will be intensely exciting. The third is that it will be intensely costly. But there are also three great doubts about space research. The first is what the material prizes are likely to be. That is something that we must consider when deciding how much money can be allocated to a programme of this nature.

There is nothing new about speculation on space travel, and so forth. I well remember that when I was a small boy—fifty years ago, I regret to say—I was ill in bed and a kind lady came and read me a book called Honeymoon in Space. It was about a man who had had the good fortune to discover a means of overcoming gravity, and, as he became engaged at about the same time, what was more natural than that he should design and build a small space ship and spend his honeymoon travelling round the solar system? During a short stay on one of the moons of Jupiter this man and his bride found that it was composed of a spongy alloy of gold and platinum which could be dug up quite easily and defrayed the whole cost of the expedition. However, I think that we should be unwise to assume that any such piece of good fortune would attend our own space travellers in the future.

As I have said, I am not at all clear what will be got out of space research in terms of its effect upon our standard of living. The hon. Member mentioned communications. It is true that there may be some marginal advantages in communications by using satellites instead of cables, but, as was pointed out in a Government reply only yesterday, we should still need the cables for secret communications.

Then there is the possibility of using satellites as navigational aids. There again, the advantage is marginal. There are very effective radar navigational aids in existence already. Even before the invention of radar it was possible to navigate the oceans with fair accuracy. Although these things are of great advantage and convenience, the amount of their advantage has to be very carefully weighed against the cost.

There are those who say that the military importance of space research alone justifies it. There again, I am very doubtful. On Tuesday night, when talking about disarmament, I tried to expose what I believed to be some of the fallacies about the so-called nuclear explosive satellite. I see from reading the OFFICIAL REPORT that I made a slight mistake in what I said. I said that the weight of the rocket that fired it would have to be ten thousand times the weight of the satellite. That is not true, of course. What I meant to say was that it would have to be ten thousand times the weight of the missile, not the intermediate satellite. That is not something which is practical in the foreseeable future.

In the same way, in spite of what the American military spokesmen occasionally tell us, I take leave to doubt whether any very valuable reconnaisance will be done by satellites. Such calculations as I have been able to do in my head lead me to doubt whether the amount of definition that one would obtain from an actual photograph and still less from a televised picture taken from a satellite whizzing round in orbit would be of very great value to the people who were trying to make use of it.

A third, and even more important, question of doubt is as to the advantages of being first in the field in these matters. Are the advantages of being the first people to achieve this or that development commensurate with the enormous cost of pioneering? That is another matter which requires very detailed study and thought. I do not pretend to have the knowledge which would enable me to express an opinion on it. I merely express the doubt.

There may well be indirect advantages inasmuch as space research, particularly where it involves the firing of missiles into orbit, promotes a great deal of engineering and general scientific development. The hon. Member pointed to some of the dangers that would follow to our trade and industry if we entirely neglected this field. I full take his point. I have heard the point made before. Here again, I confess that I do not pretend to have the scientific and engineering knowledge which would enable me to be sure that I am not being "bounced" when I am told this by scientists who want to have another few million pounds to devote to this or that project. However, I should be inclined to suggest that if the Government intend to turn down the request for great expenditure on space research—it may well be that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation will say that we are going to go ahead, but if he is not going to say that and if it is to be turned down, I make this suggestion I think that it would perhaps be a good plan to appoint a small scientific and engineering committee of an entirely impartial nature which could recommend to the Government to what extent it is necessary to go ahead with various projects which the hon. Member for Lincoln had in mind if we are to keep up to date in our general scientific development.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

The Government have done precisely this in asking Sir Edward Bullard and Sir Harrie Massey to report.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I am aware of the appointment of these distinguished scientists, but I have in mind a more factual report, couched in language which we can all understand, about what is to be gained or lost if we do or do not go ahead in this.

I want to say something about space travel, for it is that which is really interesting and exciting to the younger generation. I believe it was the Astronomer Royal who said that space travel was utter bilge, but that is not quite true. It is not, however, in sight by any existing method and we should recognise that fact. I am sure that adventurous people will be found who will be prepared to be shot off the surface of the earth in rockets, and I expect that their names will go down in history—the first man to go up in a rocket to range round the surface of the earth, and, in due course, the first man to do it and come back alive.

I doubt whether a great deal will be achieved on these lines, or whether the little timetable published in The Times today, concerning a journey to the moon and back, is something on which we should place great reliance. Space travel will not become a reality, or a reality in which I myself would like to participate, until some means have been discovered whereby a spaceship can be given constant acceleration of approximately 1g. indefinitely, so that one does not have the difficulties and the inconvenience of enormous accelerations followed by periods of weightlessness. Presumably one could revolve the ship on its axis about halfway so that, with luck, the accelerating force would bring it to rest at the same time that it reached its destination.

That is in the future, and it is an indefinite distance ahead because the basic principle on which this force could be provided is as yet unknown. Even when this does come about, and it is possible to contemplate seriously voyaging about the solar system, the position is not quite comparable in the possibility of new discoveries with that which confronted Columbus. He had no idea what he would find, whereas we have many ideas about what is likely to be found in the planets of the solar system, and most of them are very disagreeable.

Nevertheless, this quest is one of extraordinary interest and importance, because one of the great unknowns is what form of life may exist in other planets. We think that we know that they cannot support the same form as we have, but there is reason to believe that other basic forms of organism may be capable of existing.

My general conclusion is that we should be wise, bearing in mind our present financial position, to let other nations do a good deal of the pioneer work, watch it carefully and then try and cash in when there is something to be made out of it. That sounds unheroic, but it is precisely what this country did at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries.

Mr. de Freitas

Did not our rise to greatness as a country come in the Industrial Revolution because we went ahead and pioneered?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

That is a matter of opinion, but I feel that this country's rise to greatness dates from the time of the first Elizabethan age, when we took advantage of the preliminary steps which had been taken, at great expense, by other nations, and, in the end, collected most of the benefits of what had been done. That may sound an immoral line of thought, but I am not sure that it is not the most prudent one.

On the other hand, I would strongly support this country participating in a genuine European programme for space research. I notice that we are to have a debate on this subject at Strasbourg at the forthcoming meeting of the Council of Europe Assembly in September, and if I get an opportunity to take part I shall press strongly that such a programme should be undertaken and that this country should play its full part.

1.7 p.m.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-East(Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) began by saying that space research would be exciting and also extremely costly. He then went on to give a vision, which he has apparently retained since he was a small boy, of what space research entailed. He questioned whether the prizes to be gained from it would be more than marginal advantages, and he also questioned the marginal advantages of the telecommunications aspect and the value of the navigational aids as opposed to those that we have now. Then he expressed doubts about the military potentialities of space.

All these things can be summarised in a few sentences. In considering the telecommunications aspect, I do not know whether he has cared to acquaint himself with the various proposals put forward by the electronics industry about the practical possibility of satellites. Provided that these things are successful, by 1970 these will show a substantial profit, and by 1980 a profit of several hundred million pounds.

We are moving into a new era of extremely fast-moving aircraft, and the Ministry of Aviation is considering an aircraft to fly the Atlantic at 1,500 or 2,000 miles an hour. The present naviga- tional aids will be stretched to their limits merely to see that these aircraft are pointing in the right direction. If we are to fly at these speeds instead of sailing at 15 m.p.h., as the hon. and gallant Gentleman did, it is important that we should be pointing in the right direction, and some of the more primitive navigational methods will be quite unsatisfactory and the existing systems will be inadequate.

The military application is way beyond the realms of what we are able to envisage now. In a debate last Tuesday, when you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, had such difficulty in keeping me within the rules of order, I pointed out that military control and political influence depended on control of the land and the sea. It may well be that the whole future of the world politically will be determined by those who can break the present nuclear deadlock by control of outer space. It is an important aspect that no one concerned with our national security can afford to ignore.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

What does the hon. Gentleman mean he talks of breaking the nuclear deadlock by control of outer space?

Mr. Donnelly

There are various possibilities. One can contemplate the possibility of neutralising inter-continental ballistic missiles when they are projected through outer layers of the earth's atmosphere into space. It may be possible to explode them harmlessly in outer space. There may be ways of erecting space platforms which could be used as kinds of Swords of Damocles going round the earth and a deterrent to whatever anyone else has in the way of valuable land forces. For instance, the vulnerability of Blue Streak now is because it has a fixed launching site on earth which can be easily attacked. It would be different with a space platform. All I am saying is that this is a vast and limitless field, in which we are now only just beginning to see through a glass darkly, but in ten years there will be a revolution that we shall see face to face.

I support the very powerful plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to state the Government's view of proposals on the telecommunications aspect which have been put forward by the electronics industry, especially about the economic viability of such a project. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary the Government's view about the specialist report which they have prepared for them by Sir Edward Bullard and Sir Harrie Massey. As the House may know, that specialist report, by two very distinguished Fellows of the Royal Society, recommends the granting to such research of a priority similar to that given to atomic energy, and that is a very high priority indeed.

The third question I want to ask is about the morale of scientists. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, since the cancellation of the Blue Streak programme many scientists have been approached by competitive firms in the United States of America to do this kind of work—for which they were assembled in this country—in the United States of America. If these people are allowed to go and these teams are dispersed, the opportunity may never again occur for this country to embark upon this specific space research.

It is all very well for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that we should sit back on the side lines and see what somebody else does and then cash in, but that is not the way technology works. It may work in the Conservative Party, with the limited ideas which it has available, but in technology one has to know the groundwork, and I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not do his homework before he came here today. I hoped that he said that he had been considering the calculations which he had been able to do in his head. That was an admirable example of how one cannot put a quart into a pint pot. The important thing is that these scientists must not be allowed to disperse and the Parliamentary Secretary must make a statement today to allay the present lack of morale in this industry.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Will my hon. Friend tell me how he would prevent anybody who wants to go to the United States of America from going there?

Mr. Donnelly

The last thing I want to do is to prevent them from going, as my right hon. Friend knows. What I want to do is to offer them the opportunity to do the job here. The fact is that if they are not given the opportunity to do the job here they will go somewhere else, and I do not want the decision delayed so long that, if a positive decision to go ahead is made, the birds will have flown.

My final question concerns the importance of our having our own rockets. If we do not, this programme and any commercial programme will always be at the mercy of any commercial lobby in Washington, as the atomic energy programme was also limited at a rather important period.

With those questions, I conclude by saying to the Parliamentary Secretary that his new Minister, who was not mentioned yesterday, does not give us a great deal of hope about this project. His reputation as being a penny-wise and pound-foolish exponent of Government finance makes one wonder what the Parliamentary Secretary will say today which will remove some of the fears which have been created by this most unfortunate appointment.

1.14 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

We can all agree that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) has raised, cogently and forcefully, a subject which is of great importance and interest. No one can doubt the great scientific, technological, commercial and other benefits which might be derived from space research. As my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Aviation told the House earlier this week, the Government have been studying these benefits together with—and this is not an irrelevant or unimportant consideration—the cost, both in terms of money and resources.

The hon. Member for Lincoln had some fairly severe strictures to pass on the subject of what he called "the unnecessary and unreasonable delays". I can assure the House that the only factor which is causing delay is the need to consider all the implications. As the hon. Member pointed out, this is very much a long-term project and we are looking far into the second half of this century. This is also a very complicated matter.

As he said, we are having, as we must, full consultation on all aspects of this problem with our Australian partners, with whom we have worked together on the Blue Streak and Black Knight projects and whose facilities at Woomera are of the greatest value.

There are several courses of action open. We can, if we choose—there is no doubt about this—develop our own satellite launcher based on Blue Streak, designing our own experiments and satellites and conducting our own trials. It is no great secret that scientists are divided on this question. There is no one objective which clearly justifies an affirmative decision and no formula through which we can derive a coldly logical conclusion. Space research is a most challenging proposition to many hon. Members, but it is also true that the Government would be open to charges of irresponsibility if they undertook a programme of this magnitude without considering and most deeply pondering all its aspects.

In all this thinking, we will bear very much in mind the advantage of wider Commonwealth co-operation. It is also true, to deal with the question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), that there is a growing interest in Western Europe in space research and we are very interested in the discussions which are to take place in the Council of Europe, and among various European scientists.

Many suggestions have been put forward, but, as the hon. Member for Lincoln said, there is a first step which must be taken. Sympathetic as we are towards all aspects of international co-operation in this matter, we must, first, discuss the position in all its aspects with the Australian authorities and then decide whether or not to develop our own satellite launcher. Meanwhile, as the House will know, and as I stated in an Adjournment debate on 22nd February, we have been co-operating at the United Nations level and very closely with C.O.S.P.A.R. on a private level.

Although this debate has concentrated on the question of the development of Blue Streak as a satellite launcher, I wound not like to let pass the observation of the hon. Member for Lincoln about the "appalling" record to date in space research. That is not true. In any event, whatever decision may be taken on this aspect of the problem, British scientists have made and are continuing to make a significant contribution to space research programmes of several kinds. I described some of them in our Adjournment debate of 22nd February. They include the highly successful Skylark and Black Knight projects; the unique part played by Jodrell Bank as the most powerful radio telescope; and the work of the Radio Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

This is a field in which we are already co-operating with the United States and there is the joint United Kingdom-United States Scout rocket programme, under which the United States has most generously agreed to launch a series of satellites containing instruments devised and made in this country. This is a programme on a different scale. The Scout rocket will only carry a pay load of 150 1b. in a near circular orbit of about 300 miles. I am not suggesting that that in itself is an alternative to the rather more ambitious programme which is now under consideration.

Mr. de Freitas

On that point about the Americans being generous in this matter, is that really so? Do not they derive an enormous commercial advantage in knowing, as they have to, some years in advance, the types of experiment which we want them to carry out? Have we not put ourselves right in their hands, because they can at one moment by commercial lobbying in the United States cut off our opportunities for this research?

Mr. Rippon

It is certainly true to say that they derive advantages from what I called, deliberately, "co-operation" in this matter.

I will try to say as much as properly I can about the present position in regard to the development of our own satellite launcher. The abandonment of Blue Streak as a military weapon was announced by the Minister of Defence in the House on 13th April, and I do not think that I can, or need to, recapitulate the reasons which led the Government to this decision. What is important is that, following that decision, all work on the military aspects of the missile was promptly cancelled. Since then, to keep the position open, work has continued on those parts of the project which are necessary to its adaptation as a space satellite launcher. These steps have been taken to enable the Government to achieve desirable economy consistent with the preservation of the scientific and technological skills and teams needed to develop a satellite launcher.

I appreciate what the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) said on the subject of morale. It is important, at this stage at any rate, not to exaggerate the difficulties, and there really is no evidence to show that these important design teams are splitting up or disintegrating, although I appreciate that certain consequences may flow from excessive delay in coming to a decision on these matters.

Meanwhile, important work has been done to thrash out the technical problems associated with a future space programme of the kind to which hon. Members have referred. This work confirms that a launcher can be developed from our abandoned military project which will be capable of putting into orbit a worthwhile array of satellites. The design studies have shown that at least three types of satellite could be launched, as the hon. Member for Lincoln indicated he knows already, by a launching vehicle using Blue Streak as the first stage, a modified Black Knight as the second stage, and a new third stage based on an existing motor. This is the sort of thing which could be done, and about which hon. Members have asked in this debate.

For example, we could launch a satellite which could carry a payload of between 1,500 and 2,000 1b. in a circular orbit at a height of 300 miles. This satellite may be stabilised relative to the stars, and would be suitable for astronomical observation. The second type of satellite could carry a payload of between 300 and 500 1b. in an orbit of a maximum height of between 8,000 to 12,000 miles, and this type of satellite would be used for observations of the earth's atmosphere. The third type could carry a payload of 50 to 100 1b. in an orbit with a maximum of about 100,000 miles for investigation of the properties of space beyond the earth's influence.

The scientific programme using such satellites would cover a number of fields. I have here a list of the sort of things which might be done in the fields of astronomy, meteorology, the study of corpuscular radiation, radio astronomy and the ionosphere, but the list is too long for me to go into in any detail. There is no doubt that there are many worth-while things in the scientific field that we can do. What we have to decide, as my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Croydon, North-East said so clearly, is, first, what is the benefit of a programme using such satellites, and, secondly, is it, in any event, worth while having regard to the other demands upon our resources? So far as the benefit is concerned, it is said by some people that we cannot compete with the United States of America or Russia, and that we should not attempt to do so. There are a number of arguments against that view.

The first is that there is no need whatever to rival either the United States or Russia in terms of payload or distance, because there is a great deal of research to be done, and a great deal of benefit to be derived, without attempting to be the first to hit Venus or honeymoon on one of the moons encircling Jupiter. Secondly, it is true that if we deny ourselves the opportunity of entering this field, we may be cutting ourselves off from what may be important growing points of the future for the physical and engineering sciences of a similar character to those provided, as the hon. Member for Pembroke illustrated, in the fields of radar and nuclear energy.

Even if we accept those arguments for an independent programme of our own, with an independent launcher of our own, we have still to consider carefully what the hon. Member for Lincoln described as "the predictable practical advantages". It must be emphasised at the outset that this cannot, generally speaking, be evaluated at this stage in financial terms. Indeed, the full potentialities of space research are not foreseeable. This may, indeed, be one of the arguments in favour of such a programme, if one accepts what the hon. Member for Lincoln had to say about some of the by-products which emerge in these developments.

However, there are a few specific applications which are already evident, and they have been referred to in this debate. There is little doubt that space research will be opening up, or is already opening up, a new field of human endeavour which may have in itself great significance in the fields of communications and so on, to which hon. Members referred but the decision whether or not to have a national investment on a fairly substantial scale in such a programme to develop launching vehicles must necessarily be to some extent an act of faith.

I am sure that hon. Members would agree that one of the lessons of scientific history is that one cannot forecast the practical benefits of new and revolutionary techniques. For that reason, I have a great deal of sympathy with those who claim that we should not expect to be able to draw a neat profit and loss account at this stage of the pros and cons of undertaking a space research programme.

I should like to deal briefly with some of the specific benefits to which hon. Members have referred. In regard to telecommunications, earth satellites might well play an important part in the future development for both civil and military purposes of reliable world-wide communications and navigation services. The congestion of the high frequency band is now so great that further appreciable expansion of long-distance communication by this means is impracticable. Submarine cables, while providing high quality communications, have limited capacity and are susceptible to accidental or deliberate interruption.

International telecommunications traffic is expanding rapidly, and satellite communication systems, because of their high potential capacity and great flexibility, could undoubtedly provide a valuable additional means for meeting these increasing requirements, in a field in which this country has always played the leading rôle, and in which the Commonwealth has a great interest.

As the hon. Member for Lincoln pointed out, it is also true that satellite communications systems offer the most promising means yet available for the worldwide relaying of television. The hon. Member gave some figures of the possible commercial operating costs. I cannot confirm those figures. The diffi- culty is that until a pilot scheme has established the practicability of the scheme, and satellite lives have been determined, the cost of providing and operating a satellite communications system cannot be known. Speaking in the House a few days ago, my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Aviation said that if such researches as we are now undertaking substantiate the fact that important commercial advantages can be gained we would certainly hope that industry would play its part in these developments.

Reference has also been made to meteorology. Earth satellites could be used to improve meteorological observation and might increase the accuracy of local short-range weather forecasting and enable long-range weather forecasting to be undertaken. We in these islands are not quite so interested in short-range work, but there is a possibility that meteorological research, using satellites, may provide a unique opportunity for a scientific break-through in long-range forecasting, which might prove of substantial value. The hon. Member referred to supersonic aircraft and the difficulty of navigating across the Atlantic. I do not want to divert from the subject of space research, but I would point out that there are great advantages in a navigational system such as that developed by Decca.

A good deal has been said on the subject of the technological benefits which may derive as a by-product. There is little dispute among hon. Members on either side of the House that new ideas, stimulated by these projects, may have relevance outside the limits of space research. Some examples are novel power systems and the development of special materials, of which the hon. Member gave one example in another context—polythene—in conditions of low temperature or high vacuum. In the United States, where the programme is admittedly on a much larger scale, these benefits have already begun to emerge.

The hon. Member for Pembroke referred to the military aspect of this matter. Telecommunication and meteorological satellites may prove to be of considerable military importance. I do not want to go over all the possibilities mentioned by the hon. Member, but they could, for example, be used as a ballistic missile early warning system, as a guard against surprise attack.

Having considered, as far as we can, the potential benefits, it still remains to count the cost. In view of the many choices and uncertainties that lie before us it is clear that any final estimate of the cost of undertaking a space research programme cannot be made at this stage. On the other band, even now it is true that the cost of developing a launcher based on Blue Streak must be very substantially less than the cost of developing it as a weapon. We hope that in the coming months, as our scientists gain more experience and understanding of what is involved, and as our plans crystallise, it will be possible to form a more accurate estimate of cost. The present indications are that the cost will be considerably less than some estimates I have seen, but any figure must depend on the scope of the programme to be undertaken.

The hon. Member for Lincoln tried to look at this question in the broad perspective, putting the cost against our total national resources and the demands made upon them. Considered in isolation, the cost of such a programme may be considered not excessive in relation to the total gross national product over a decade, which must be at least £200,000 million and ought to be considerably more; but we cannot consider this in isolation.

We have considerable commitments at home in the spheres. For example, of education and medical research. We have great responsibilities abroad, which necessitate a high level of defence expenditure. We are also providing about £100 million of public money in aid to underdeveloped countries, apart from the services we provide, and last year we invested about £300 million in private money across the exchanges. All these factors must be weighed carefully.

This debate has shown that, whatever may be the ultimate decision in this matter, hon. Members on both sides of the House have a great faith in the future of this country and believe that we can and must remain in the vanguard of scientific and technological and, flowing from that, industrial progress.

Mr. de Freitas

Can the Minister say when we may expect a decision on the question whether we shall proceed with the Blue Streak project?

Mr. Rippon

I cannot give a precise date, but it will not be very long.

Mr. Donnelly

When is the new Minister—this great man—going to Woomera?

Mr. Rippon

As soon as possible.

Mr. Donnelly

How does the hon. Member define that?

Mr. Rippon

Before long.