HL Deb 03 November 1965 vol 269 cc772-97

2.45 p.m.

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH rose to call attention to problems of space-age science and technology; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is nearly four years since we had our only other debate on space research and technology. That was in December, 1961, and also on my Motion. To-day I suggest that your Lordships may care to extend the discussions, not only to space research, both basic and applied, but also to cover a broader range of space-age scientific and technological activities. I hoped that this broadening of the Motion might encourage noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, also to take part.

We all know, of course, the important contribution which space is making to communications, meteorology, mapping, optical and radio-astronomy, to ion, electron, and radiation studies. But the important connections between space and, for example, underwater research are perhaps less well known. Observation and photography from space is certainly beginning to reveal some mysteries of the depths, and—who knows?—it may not be long before we are obliged to colonise the oceans for food purposes. The emphasis which I propose to lay this afternoon on space science and technology should, none the less, not blind us to some of the most urgent scientific and technological needs in the world to-day, especially in the less developed countries. I refer, of course, to the provision of adequate food and water supplies, the improvement of health, a better understanding of population programmes, more effective use of natural resources, the development of industry in those countries, and the application of new educational techniques.

These are, indeed, the objectives to which the United Nations Committee on Science and Technology attach the greatest importance. The Committee's second Report, published in May of this year, merits wide attention and, perhaps, a separate debate in your Lordships' House. However, my remarks to-day will be concerned, in the first place, with space science and technology and the progress in space activities since our last debate. This will, of course, also involve saying something about rocketry. I hope your Lordships will not think that I am, with liquid oxygen or some new solid fuel, anticipating by two days what Guy Fawkes intended to do with gunpowder. I can assure noble Lords and noble Ladies that there is no need to leave the Chamber in a hurry.

It was, as your Lordships know, in October, 1957, eight years ago, that the Soviet Union successfully sent their first Sputnik into orbit. That was followed by the first American launching in February, 1958, and four years ago, when we last discussed these matters, the Russians and Americans had already carried out some 116 orbital space shots. Now—only four years later, remember—the Americans have launched a total of 305 spacecraft, 293 in earth orbit, 5 which have achieved lunar impact and 7 in solar orbit. They have also successfully obtained data from spacecraft passing close to Mars and Venus. The Russians, so far as we know, appear to have launched well under half that number, that is to say, a total of about 134 spacecraft—the last only yesterday, the heaviest of all, a 12-ton research station in the Proton series. Of these 134 Russian craft, 124 were sent up in earth orbit, three achieved lunar impact, and 7 are in solar orbit. This makes an overall total, American and Russian, of 441 successful launches, and about 190 of the satellites are still in orbit. This is not science fiction, my Lords, it is science fact. Moreover, in manned flights, nine Americans have orbited the earth 406 times, and 11 Russians, including one woman, have orbited the earth 359 times. I wonder how long it will be before the first British astronaut orbits the earth?

Our own activities in space, though limited, are, let me add, by no means insignificant. Britain made an important contribution in the establishment of the European Launcher Development Organisation, with Blue Streak as its first stage, and we also played an important part in establishing the European Space Research Organisation. I am glad to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, is to make his maiden speech on the subject of ESRO this afternoon. Indeed, with so many spacemen these days, let me welcome (shall I call him?) the first "space maiden".

Then, of course, there are the American assembled satellites, U.K. 1 and U.K. 2, which contain British instruments, and U.K. 3 which is a wholly British satellite which is shortly to be launched by an American Scout rocket, probably from the West Coast launching site. I may say that my American space friends, with whom I have had numerous discussions on the subject, the last only a week ago in Washington and at Cape Kennedy, consider the British instrumentation in these satellites is as sophisticated as any in the world. Moreover, 10 out of the 17 foreign experiments on American satellites, chosen by the American space administration on their merits in open competition, have been British. We should indeed pay a tribute to all those in our universities, in industry, the Meteorological Office and the Radio and Space Research Station who have been responsible for the conception and the design of these instruments. Britain has given considerable assistance also to the American space programme itself. I need hardly remind your Lordships that it was in 1945 that Arthur Clarke, then a radio engineer from the Royal Air Force, first proposed the use of the kind of communications satellite system which is now in existence and in which Britain is the second most important shareholder after the United States of America, even if it is only a small share compared with that of America.

Here I would ask the Government my first question. I ask for their views on the economics of this communications satellite system. Am I not right in thinking that at present the Early Bird satellite circuits are not being fully used, either by broadcasting organisations for television purposes or by telephone subscribers? Am I not also right in thinking that the cut weekend rates have not proved economic, in so far as they have resulted in a fall in the use of the circuits on Fridays, and consequent overheads in the form of increased staff and overtime for the weekends which have meant a loss to the G.P.O.? I should be interested to know what the Government feel about future COMSAT prospects, assuming Early Bird satellites to have at least five years' life and knowing that the Corporation has ordered a further four satellites? I would also ask the Government what is their intention in regard to the proposed £20 million research programme for fifteen countries which it is proposed should be undertaken by the Conference on European Communications Satellites. Will Britain support this? At the moment we seem to have no policy, and many of those concerned are, not unnaturally, disturbed by the slow progress. I repeat, we have already made striking contributions. But where do we go from here?

When I visited the Manned Spacecraft Centre at Houston last year I had the opportunity and the privilege of taking my seat in a Gemini capsule, albeit remaining on the ground. But I might say, my Lords, that to sit weightless in a capsule in orbit is considerably more comfortable than reclining on the Benches in your Lordships' House; indeed, astronauts tell me that it is almost euphoric. At any rate, you do not get a sore arse—I hope that the noble Ladies will forgive the expression. At all events, when I was in Houston last year I was shown various types of space suits which are being tried out by astronauts who are to take part in the Apollo moon-shot. I found that the one which was most favoured was a water-cooled costume designed by our own Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. I also found at Cape Kennedy last week that the other vital equipment for the Apollo mooncraft includes the fuel cell—the most important element in the whole operation—which was researched, and its feasibility demonstrated, in this country by Dr. Bacon.

Of course, both the Americans and the Russians welcome our contributions in radio-astronomy; in particular, the successful transmission last year of signals from Jodrell Bank to the Gorki Astro-Physical Observatory in Zimionki and the part played in this by Sir Bernard Lovell. The Americans are also greatly indebted to us for the tracking facilities which we provide for them, in conjunction with the Radio and Space Research Station at Slough. I do not have to remind your Lordships, either, that there was a British Flight Controller at Houston, in Texas, for the launching of Gemini 5, and, incidentally, that the Director of Research at Lockheed is also British. I mention these examples to show the extent to which British science and technology is assisting the American effort. But I ask again, "Where do we go from here? What will be our policy in the future?"

We in Britain should be proud of the remarkable record of our own Blue Streak launcher, which was adopted by the European Launcher Development Organisation and which has proved very reliable, both in its static firings at Spadeadam and in the three launchings so far carried out at Woomera, in Australia. Moreover—and this is perhaps even more remarkable—all 21 Black Knight firings have been successful. In view of the success of Black Knight, I was glad to learn—or I thought I had learned—while in the United States that the Government had at last decided to go ahead with the launching vehicle Black Arrow, which is based on Black Knight technology. This it seemed to me would certainly give us a modest—and I repeat, modest—stake in space. However, the year's delay in taking this decision seemed to me to be deeply regrettable. I have thought in the past year that Black Arrow should be vigorously followed up within our domestic United Kingdom space programme, but I understand that this is now in doubt and that the "Go-ahead" signal has not yet been given. Are we therefore to countenance further delays? I should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, if he could explain the present confusing situation. I am glad that he will be taking part in this debate, for he made a most interesting and important speech on these subjects four years ago.

From what I have said, it is clear that while Britain's activities in space may so far be marginal, they do indicate our ability to play our part effectively. I am, therefore, somewhat distressed that France, whose expenditure on space research has been running at the equivalent of over £25 million sterling per annum, and who appears now to be linking up with the U.S.S.R., may well be outstripping us. It may take three years to launch Black Arrow, but France should any day be launching its own satellite, the Diament, and all three stages of their launching vehicle are of French design.

But, what I particularly want to ask the Government to-day is whether they consider that the overall proportions of our research expenditure in some of the main fields can be right. France, for example, seems to be spending more on space than we are ourselves. How does our expenditure in space research compare, let us say, with our expenditure on nuclear physics? The research programme of the Atomic Energy Authority and of the National Institute for Research into Nuclear Sciences has been running for some years at between £50 million to £60 million a year, and to this should be added a substantial contribution to CERN.

These are very large sums, when compared with what we have been spending over the same period on space. In the last two years this has amounted, I think (although it is difficult to get at the figures), only to some £15 million a year; that is to say, £10 million less than France. And as I understand it, of that £15 million a year, some £8 million to £9 million has comprised our contribution to ELDO; £3 million to £5 million to ESRO and the remainder—a sum which some describe as derisory—to our purely national effort. I read recently a report that the official German Space Research Commission (DKFW) had recommended a West German space programme calling for a total outlay of the equivalent of £165 million in the four-year period 1966–70. Within this proposal their expenditure on their national space programme would be over double the size of their international contributions, a very different proportion from our own, and this, of course, would mainly be to ELDO and ESRO. But, at all events, this would mean that Germany would be spending about three times the amount per annum that Britain is currently spending on space, and when you remember what we are spending in Germany at present on our military commitment these figures are somewhat impressive.

In this country the sums that we have been spending on nuclear research are certainly high in relation not only to what we are spending on space but also to what we allocate to the other research councils, and it is certainly high when compared with the American percentage. If there is to be a cut-back in some fields of atomic energy research in this country, I would suggest to the Government that the unused potential might be taken up not only by the new studies and work on harnessing atomic energy to the desalting of water—this, we know, is going ahead—but also to the design and construction of nuclear propulsion rocket systems which would then be included under the heading of space technology. There is little doubt that conventional rockets operated by chemical propellants may prove uneconomic and inadequate for the propulsion of interplanetary spacecraft, and that more efficient devices, such as nuclear electronic propulsion systems, should be actively investigated.

Leaving aside the simpler and more modest programme of the radio isotope generators for powering equipment in the satellites, I am advised by my scientific and technical friends that we should also consider investigating if not nuclear thermal at least nuclear electric motors for the upper stages of launchers. I recognise that their use may be a long way off and that a nuclear rocket motor may be worth while only in the event of interplanetary manned missions, for example to Mars; but I suggest that such motors should be researched, perhaps on a Western European basis, and developed, no doubt also in conjunction with the American Space Administration. This would involve work on high temperature liquid metals which would be an extension of a field in which the Atomic Energy Authority is already well qualified.

We know that the United States is sustaining its research in nuclear rockets and has demonstrated their feasibility. I know, too, from conversations with Soviet scientists concerned—I spent seventeen days with them earlier this year in Moscow and in Novosibirsk—that the U.S.S.R. is also pressing ahead here. I wonder whether any of our own scientists who recently visited the Soviet Union with Lord Florey, under the auspices of the Royal Society (I do not see the noble Lord here this afternoon) have any further information. I know that they arrived at a satisfactory agreement in regard to the exchange of scientists, and I should be interested to know whether they have further information. Perhaps also the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, whom I see here this afternoon, and who is also, I believe, shortly to visit the Soviet Union, may be able to enlighten us.

At this point I should like to refer to the recommendations which have been made to the Government by an organisation which is called the British Interplanetary Society, a very serious and highly qualified technical organisation whose views in these matters are certainly worthy of your Lordships' attention. It is an independent and a disinterested society, since it is not financed by industry. The Council of the Society recommended already in April this year that the United Kingdom should participate in space research and the development of space technology with an expenditure of at least 5 per cent. of its national research and development budget; that is to say, to the extent of probably £25 million per annum, compared with the existing expenditure, which, as I say, may be calculated as being something of the order of £15 million—a fairly modest increase.

I should also like to think that the Government are considering the establishment of a United Kingdom Space Authority to co-ordinate and plan this country's efforts in space research and technology and to bring the interests of the different Departments together; that is to say, Aviation, Science, Technology, and the G.P.O. The United States has its National Space Administration and France its National Space Centre; Germany has one, too. What are we doing? Do the Government realise the importance of this? And, if so, what are the Government's views on this Council's recommendations; and have they sent them any reply? The recommendations were, I believe, addressed to the Prime Minister over six months ago, but I understand that up to this morning there had been no reply beyond a formal acknowledgment.

It is, of course, the great cost of research in the principal fields I have mentioned that makes it increasingly important that there should be fuller international co-operation in the more expensive projects. That is obvious. Even the United States is alarmed at her ever-growing research expenditure on space. It is at present 5½ billion dollars a year. That is why we must continue to work for greater international co-operation. ELDO and ESRO are already European co-operative efforts, and I hope that perhaps they may be merged in a stronger European Space Authority. But I hope that, in building up these organisations, there is no question of competing with the United States: we should be thinking in terms of complementary European and American efforts.

In my view, we ought certainly to press ahead on an international basis, a United Kingdom, Commonwealth, European and American basis, with projects involving vehicles larger than our present satellite launching capacity. I hope that it may ultimately be possible, in the '70's or '80's, to organise a joint American and European Space Authority project, perhaps a Jupiter probe. All this is looking very far ahead. Black Arrow—a reasonably modest programme—must come first, but we should look also to the more distant future, and plan ahead.

To come nearer to earth and consideration of suborbital, but none the less supersonic, flight, we are, I think, thanks to France, and despite a four to six months' delay on the part of the present Goverment, definitely proceeding with the great Anglo-French supersonic airliner, the Concord. From a visit I made recently to Toulouse, this project seems very promising. But the delay has certainly been regrettable, and may prove decisive; for, as your Lordships will have seen, the United States is definitely going ahead with its own supersonic airliner. Although at present we may be two or three years ahead of America, this is not a very substantial lead, considering her vast industrial potential. Then there are the strike trainer, the Jaguar, the variable-geometry aircraft and the aero bus. I should like to know whether the Government intend definitely to go ahead with these and any other co-operative projects of this kind, not only in the air and in space, but also, for example, in the electronics industry. And I should be very interested to know what is the state of our negotiations with France on this subject of co-operation in electronics.

A debate of this kind would not be complete without some reference to the fringe benefits consequent upon larger expenditure on our part in space research and technology. On reading again what was said on this subject during our debate four years ago I cannot help feeling that some of us tended to disparage the technological "spin-off", as I have learned to call it, which has resulted from American space activities. I exclude from these remarks the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, for he made a very good case four years ago, and I dare say that others will do so again this afternoon. I will not burden your Lordships with examples. They are numerous, involving new materials, new processes, new concepts, new management techniques and generally raising the whole technical, scientific and educational level.

At this moment in history a great effort is being mounted by the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. with the aim of exploring space and our neighbouring worlds. In this sense the inevitability and imminence of space exploration is already determined. Failure on Britain's part to participate more fully, even if modestly, could prove disastrous for this country. It is essential to maintain a balanced programme of research and development, and as the programme stands it can be said that space is being neglected. In the past much of the incentive has been of a military nature. But there is now, I think, a trend towards reducing advanced weapons development, and perhaps even military expenditure generally. There may be some agreement on both sides of the House on this. It seems to me, therefore, to be more than ever important that a significant proportion of any effort released from military work be applied to other challenging scientific and technological endeavours—and what more challenging than space?

It is never possible to say exactly where research and exploration of this kind will ultimately lead us. As the then Lord President, Mr. Quintin Hogg, said in this House four years ago, Columbus thought he was heading towards India rather than the West Indies. He and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had a small exchange on the subject. And as Colonel John Glen said in his lecture in London a few weeks ago, Sir Alexander Fleming never knew that penicillin would be the ultimate result of the experiments which he was making in mould. If we go in for space research and technology in a bigger way, we cannot tell what great goals we may attain.

Remember that it is the young, rather than the elderly, or even, I am afraid, the middle-aged, who see the potentialities in space. We must not disappoint them, particularly at a time when we are doing everything possible to popularise technology and those engineering subjects which make to-day's fantastic achievements possible. The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, I know, played an important part in speaking up and down the country and trying to get more of our teenagers to go in for engineering rather than pure Science or the Arts. Sir Solly Zuckerman has also stressed how vital this is; and I think that my right honourable friend Sir Edward Boyle went to the root of the matter when, in a remarkable paper read recently to the British Association, he said that any hard and fast distinction between science and technology was no longer tenable. Mr. J. C. Dancy, the headmaster of Marlborough College, whose interview is well reported in the Press this morning and was of great interest, has said that technology should rank high among the creative arts, that, indeed, it requires the three creative skills of science, art and craftsmanship. A further effort by Britain in space would encourage and inspire more of our young to go in for engineering, appeal to their imagination and make it less likely that they will want, as most of them now do, to emigrate to the United States.

Are there, however, any indications of a clear, bold Government lead in this matter? I fear, not so far. Instead, there is the Government's decision to create a new Ministry of Technology which, according to a Written Answer by the Minister yesterday in another place, has during the past year cost approximately £6½ million. I recognise that a considerable part of this sum covers the cost of sections of the D.S.I.R. which have been taken over by the new Ministry; but I should be interested if the noble Lord, Lord Snow, could tell us before the end of the debate what the cost of the new Ministry has been over and above the cost of those parts of the D.S.I.R. which it has absorbed. I am sorry that I did not give the noble Lord any notice of that question, but I hope it may be possible to obtain the answer before the end of the debate. I agree that it may have been necessary to do something about the D.S.I.R., but I personally think that the solution proposed by the last Government, to establish an Industrial Research and Development Authority to cover those sections of the D.S.I.R. which were concerned mainly with applied research and technology, would have been a better solution than to create yet another Ministry.

We know that the all-Party Estimates Committee in another place said recently that they were not satisfied that the teams in this new Ministry comprised the right sort of people. Nor did they consider that the speed with which the teams were being set up was satisfactory. Yet this does not seem to have stirred the Government into action. The only two pieces of legislation passed by the Government in the field of technology—the Science and Technology Act and the Development of Inventions Act—were mainly concerned to put into effect proposals which had been announced by the Conservative Government. Therefore, quite apart from the invidious position of the present Minister of Technology himself, I wonder whether the Government have got their organisation right. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Snow, would give some indication of the conclusions which he has reached after a year's work in his new Ministry. I, for one, am by no means happy about the ministerial division between science and technology just when we want to bring the two as close as possible together. And I may say that those of our more advanced technological allies abroad find our present set-up quite incomprehensible. I hope that noble Lords opposite will be able to give answers to some of the questions I have put to them to-day, especially in regard to the future of our space programme.

Do the Government really believe that delays on Black Arrow and the Concord, and the cancellation of TSR 2, really assist the growth and progress of advanced technology in this country? Do they really believe that this is the way to keep Britain great in the world? No one—I say no one—who has not been present at a launching at Cape Kennedy, as I was last week, can conceive the drama of the scene. No colour filming or television tape can give an adequate impression of the roar of an Atlas rocket, the brilliance of its after-burn, which in its first stage is like a sun in itself. To see such a launching is an inspiring sight, and symbolic of man's great endeavours on this earth. We have already begun to explore our own solar system, and we know that it must surely be only a matter of time before we explore the universe itself. Whether it is the Americans or the Russians who are the first to do so, I shall not predict. But I should not like to think that this country will fail to play its full part in so momentous an adventure. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, on his follow-up on a previous debate, on his eloquence, particularly in his closing passage, and indeed on his wide planetary if not interplanetary movement—he certainly gets around. He has asked so many interesting questions that I am not sure whether I should deliver the speech in which I had intended to give some information about Government policy, or answer his questions. I will do my best to combine the two. This is the kind of debate in which, of course, your Lordships' House excels. I think we all greatly look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, who himself has interests in this field, working in the field of cryogenics. I am sure we shall all listen to him with great interest. We cover many wide subjects in our debates, and by definition space must be the widest of all. The noble Earl, not content with space, has proceeded to cover a good deal of earth and earth policy as well. Indeed, to range from intergalactic travel to the Estimates Committee in one speech is quite an achievement. I propose to concentrate rather more upon what is actually going on in the space field.

Perhaps I should declare an interest, if my speech is thought to be somewhat too earthbound. I have for many years been a Fellow of the Inter-Planetary Society and have believed for a long time that space travel was coming. Indeed, in 1950 I refused to join the World Government Movement on the ground that I did not wish to be associated with a purely earth bloc. I remember having discussions before the war, when I was wintering in Northern Greenland, on the probability of space travel. An interesting thing about space travel and about scientific and technological advance—this point was made so very well by the author to whom the noble Earl referred, Arthur Clarke, with whom I remember sitting on the terrace in the House of Commons in 1948, when he was still in the Air Force, discussing the likelihood of space travel—is that I was quite convinced, as was he, that, if we did not see space travel, at least our children or our grandchildren would, and yet within the space of very few years it was upon us.

When we look at the prophets in science fiction—and I think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is a reader of science fiction; I know at any rate that he reads Eagle, like myself—we realise the extent to which so many of these events have been clearly predicted over a long period of years. Perhaps one of the greatest of science fiction writers was Olaf Stapleton, who was a logical positivist, a don at Liverpool University. In his First and Last Man he made a number of prophecies which came true. One that was wrong—and he was writing in 1932—was his forecast of the first nuclear explosion in about 5,000 years' time. I think the moral of this, to which Arthur Clarke has pointed, is the tendency, on the part not of those who say that things are impossible, but of those who believe them to be possible, to underestimate how quickly there is possibly even a "spin-off" into our own debates that we should consider in regard to these striking areas of future regard to these striking areas of future development. However, what I have to say in this debate as a member of the Government is mainly earthbound. I hope to go on to give some account of Government policy in this field, in both national and international terms, and to inform your Lordships of present developments and developments in the immediate future.

There is one point in what the noble Earl said that I must take up. I know that the noble Earl felt bound to put in his Party piece, especially towards the end. He asked what had happened to our policy in a period of twelve months. Of course, it must be admitted that inevitably we tire carrying on with the policy of the previous Administration, but we are seek ing to think rather more clearly about it than perhaps they always did. This is one of the reasons why the Bondi Committee was appointed and has produced such an extremely brilliant Report. It is a great tragedy that a Report as clear and as brilliant as that cannot for security reasons, be published. It was a special committee, and I am sure the House will accept that. I do not feel very inclined to deal with the noble Earl's gentle gibes about Government policy. My noble friend Lord Snow—and nobody could be better equipped than he—will deal with the civil and scientific side of the question, of what I might call the ESRO rather than the ELDO end of the business. Although this will not be my main theme, I would stress that the first effective movements into space were in pursuit of science. This is as it should be, because it is from science and the advance of knowledge in a disinterested way that so much progress and technological development comes.

One of the difficulties in this vast and rapidly developing field of activity is in determining where our best interests lie, and where we should concentrate our resources. I should have been interested to hear, except that I did not want to interrupt the noble Lord's flow, what criteria he applied when he was Minister in deciding between physics and biology, in deciding between the 300 Geiger electron volt accelerator and some money for the Bureau of Animal Population in Oxford. It is obvious to me that the previous Government never solved this particular problem, and my noble friend Lord Snow is rather more likely to do so than some of his predecessors.

Before turning to what we do on our own account, I should like to deal with the part we play in international organisations. The noble Earl has already spoken a good bit about ELDO, but I would remind the House that there are two main space European organisations: ELDO, which is the launcher, and ESRO which is the research organisation. ELDO is in principle designed to provide the vehicle and ESRO to ensure its use scientifically and provide the scientific load. We played a leading part in setting up these organisations, on the ground that it was much better to do so internationally rather than on a restricted national basis. As the noble Earl said, the first part of the programme, based on Blue Streak, has gone very well, and congratulations are obviously due to Rolls Royce, Hawker Siddeley Dynamics, the Ministry of Aviation, and all those responsible for successful firings from that excellently equipped range which our Australian partners have made available at Woomera.

The original estimate of the cost of the first ELDO programme was £70 million, and our share was 38.79 per cent. This is higher than our proportionate share on the basis of a comparison of gross national products, because a large part of the work is being done in this country. It was thought that the programme would take five years to complete. While it was in progress, studies were to be made to help towards possible further programmes, and these studies are now nearing completion. This was the first project of its kind, and time has shown that the original estimates were optimistic. It must be borne in mind that more powerful launchers of the type under study, as well as an equatorial launch site, would be necessary to put an operational communications satellite into a geostatic orbit.

Perhaps at this point I might refer to the word "geostatic". There are two terms which are now in use. One is "synchronous", referring to a satellite moving at the same speed as a fixed spot on earth, but this is not necessarily fixed in relation to latitude, whereas a geostationary orbit is. I personally object to the word "geostationary". I do not like the mixture of Latin and Greek derivations, and I should prefer, as I hope the House would, the expression "geostatic", which I should now like to introduce firmly into the English language. The extension of the time-scale and the technical difficulties which have had to be overcome have inevitably meant that the cost of the ELDO programme is considerably greater than was foreseen. This increased cost is at present under review. Consequently, when the studies for further programmes are available early next year, we shall, together with our partners, have to consider very carefully the estimate in relation to the technological advantages to be derived from the present and possible future programmes.

I should now like to turn to satellite communications, on which the noble Earl had quite a lot to say. As I said, my noble friend Lord Snow will be dealing with the vital and possibly, at the moment, most important part of space activity—namely, scientific research. As everybody knows, the first experiment in practical satellite telecommunications was made with the American satellite, Telstar, in July, 1962. In connection with these experiments the Post Office designed and built their satellite communication earth station at Goonhilly Down, in Cornwall. The experiments and the station were brilliantly successful; our station, certainly at that time, was the nearest approach to the operational earth station of the future. This all demonstrated that satellite communications were practicable, but that a great deal had still to be done before communications satellites could become an integral part of a world communications system.

The ideal in this field—and I should like to stress this point—is to have a single global commercial system, and I am sure that the noble Earl will agree with that. The United Kingdom, France and a number of European countries established in 1963 the European Conference on Satellite Communications—CETS. I am sure that all these letters become rather difficult, but I shall try to make them clear as I go through. The purpose was to harmonise European views and to undertake discussions with the United States and other countries for the establishment of a world system.

The following year negotiations began with the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, which led to the drawing up of two interim agreements covering the establishment of a global satellite system under the Interim Committee on Satellite Communication—I.C.S.C. The United States Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) is the United States member of this Committee, and acts as its manager in the development and operation of the system. A total of 46 countries have now signed the agreement, and the world system is in course of development. These agreements are binding until about 1970.

At this point I should mention one very important condition of the agreements. At present there is no practical alternative to the use of American launchers and American satellites. As I say, the earth stations are outside the agreements and are built by the countries that own them. But the agreements guarantee that there will be an opportunity for industries in member countries to obtain orders for equipment, provided that they are competitive in quality, price and timely performance. The Early Bird satellite, which is now in regular service and carries part of our transatlantic telephone service, was commissioned by COMSAT before the agreements were signed. Further orders have been placed for satellites to extend commercial communications to the South Atlantic and Pacific areas, including also communication in Project Apollo. In connection with Apollo, Cable and Wireless Ltd. have placed with a British firm the order for the earth station on Ascension Island.

The I.C.S.C. has agreed a specification for a satellite for use either at synchronous altitude, which is about 22,300 miles, or at medium altitude which is lower. Tenders have been received, and a number of British firms are interested, but it is probable that their most effective role at present will be as sub-contractors to main American contractors. However, along with our European friends, we are urgently considering in CETS how we can best play a part in the provision of satellites.

The largest part of the international market in equipment for satellite communications is, however, probably represented by the earth stations themselves. There are four such stations in Europe, all experimental, and none equipped for continuous operation. To provide a reliable service using the Early Bird satellite, they are co-operating; and I understand that this form of co-operation will be copied on the other side of the Atlantic when the Canadian station is ready.

Perhaps I might try to answer one or two of the points which the noble Earl made about the Early Bird system, and about why it is not fully used. I am grateful to him for giving me notice. I have already mentioned that it is the expectation that we shall have a global system and that this will render an economic return in due course, but that it will take some time for the system to reach a level of development which will be economic. Satellite Early Bird was primarily an experiment; first, to determine whether a satellite of this type—i.e, a geostatic satellite at a great altitude—would provide a telephone service acceptable to its users; and, secondly, to gain operating experience with a communications satellite giving service to the public. Any revenue which this satellite draws from commercial usage will be purely incidental, I am informed. There are certain difficulties as to whether a geostatic satellite is best for communication, because of the time delay, as opposed to a medium-altitude satellite. With the latter, of course, it is necessary to switch from satellite to satellite, which is more expensive.


And you have to have more of them.


And you have to have more of them. But I am told that it is a fact that the geostatic satellite, if it is acceptable for ordinary communications, will be the best one. At present this satellite is used twelve hours a day. During working days it works to the three large stations in Europe, and in this condition is capable of providing 240 telephone circuits. On Saturdays and Sundays it works via the Italian station, when it can provide only 24 circuits. There are two reasons for restricting the use to these hours; first, the earth stations are really only experimental stations and they are not capable of functioning 24 hours a day without considerable modification; secondly, there is a whole series of technical and economic questions. I appreciate the points which the noble Earl has raised, and they are serious ones, but if I were to give a full explanation this speech would go on rather too long. However, if he wants to press me further I will certainly let him have this information.

I should say that the specification for future satellites which has now been drawn up aims at an average life of five years, and we hope that in future ten years will be achieved as a regular thing. Having regard to the expected rate of growth of world traffic, such a rise would give a very good prospect of the system's earning a satisfactory return. As I say, the Post Office have themselves played a very important part, and have made available to industry some of their own technical experience.

I think I should now like to press on to another aspect of ELDO. The United Kingdom and ELDO have the splendid range and supporting facilities at Woomera. However, for certain purposes, such as satellite communications, there are great advantages, as I have indicated, in equatorial orbits, and the Woomera site is 31˚ south of the Equator and not well placed for easterly firings, which are best to place a satellite in equatorial orbit. ELDO is, therefore, giving some consideration to the possibility of an alternative launching site nearer the Equator, possibly in the far North of Australia, possibly in French Guiana where France is developing a launching site. But all this adds to the complications and expense of ELDO.

If the noble Earl will forgive me, I think I will not deal with the Concord, except to say that I am advised that there has been no delay and that it is going extremely well. Perhaps we can return to battle on this at another time, but I share his own interest and enthusiasm and we hope it will turn out to be an economic success.

May I turn now to our national programme? The first requirement was a basic satellite technology programme, and for some years work has been going on in Government establishments and in industry. This has covered design and technological problems relating to satellites, including studies for astronomical satellites and communications satellites, and research and development on such items as solar cells, the effect of space environment on electronic components, attitude sensing and control systems and so on. This programme consists of a series of relatively small projects. I was interested in certain of the points to which the noble Earl referred, including the application of nuclear energy. Of course, some work is going on—a good deal in America—as to the possibility of an ion-drive, and there are possibilities of using some form of plasma-drive as well. I will not go into the technicalities of these, but, as the noble Earl says, for longer travel in space there is no doubt that a different form of thrust is required which may be slower in its build-up but is extremely economic in the use of its own energy, and, clearly, chemical energy is in this sense much more quickly expended than a nuclear or electronuclear source.

The basic programme at the moment, however, is concerned with the provision of the scientific satellite U.K. 3 which the Americans have very generously offered to launch for us free of charge as part of our scientific space research programme; and the practical experience of building this satellite complements the basic technology programme in helping to establish a capability for British industry in this field. It has already borne fruit, in that a British firm (I believe the noble Earl referred to this) has, in the face of intense European competition, won a contract for the first ESRO satellite.

One of the proposals we are considering at the moment is for the development of a small satellite launcher, Black Arrow. Black Arrow, as the noble Earl said, would be based on the techniques which have been proved in the course of the highly successful Black Knight programme, and the purpose and use of this must depend on the wider consideration which is being given by the Government at the moment to our space policy. I cannot, therefore, I am afraid, give the noble Earl any definite answer, beyond saying that the work is going on; and, so far as I can judge, it is extremely important that we should in fact develop a capability in this field, both for testing for technological purposes and so that we should have a capacity for putting up our own satellites.


The work is going ahead at the moment?


The work is going ahead on the development on Black Arrow, but the carrying of it to full completion is a matter which must be a subject of further consideration. My own impression is that decisions will be taken in the near future. I would ask the noble Earl not to press me too hard, because this is one of the matters which is in the melting pot at the moment. There would, of course, be no competition between Black Arrow by itself and the ELDO launcher, but it may have a wider rôle, as part of a more highly developed European launcher programme; and, of course, we have to take into account the resources that we shall use; but I shall have something to say on that later.

I should like to say a little about military interests in space. The most significant improvement in military capabilities (of course, the Bondi Committee were particularly concerned with the military field, but it reaches across into the civil field) that we can expect from the use of space techniques is in the field of communications. Our present defence communications consist largely of high-frequency radio circuits supplemented by a few submarine cable channels. A system of this kind suffers from a number of inherent defects. We see in the use of satellites a method of obtaining a communication system free from those defects. For example, a geostatic satellite over the Indian Ocean would meet our requirements for communications between the United Kingdom and Western Australia and all places in between without any intermediate relay station; and, of course, it would cover large parts of Africa, also.

Moreover, satellite ground stations can be designed to permit redeployment at short notice, and we expect that air portable stations could be developed, suitable for use in tactical headquarters, and that smaller terminal equipment could be developed for use in ships and field units. Thus, a satellite military communications system appears attractive in giving us a rapid, reliable, flexible and secure communications system—and any noble Lord who has been involved in communications under war-like conditions will realise what a tremendous factor this could be. There have been instances recently when the whole of our communications have in fact been blanked out for a period of hours due to some radiation effect.

We are hoping to participate in an experimental satellite military communications system—and I am talking now about the military side, which is quite separate from the civil and commercial side—which the Americans intend to establish early next year. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced in another place on July 21 that negotiations were in progress to this end, at the invitation of the United States Secretary of Defence. It would not really be appropriate for me to say more at this moment, because of the advanced stage which the negotiations have reached, except perhaps that a co-operative system offers us the prospect of a military satellite communications system earlier and more cheaply than we could achieve on our own. But, of course, before we take any final decision we shall have to look at the capital and operational costs, as well as the question of being able to rely on the system wholly when we wanted to in the national interest.

It may interest your Lordships to know that the Defence research establishments have been working on methods of space communication without resort to the use of man-made satellites. For example, the S.R.D.E. establishment at Christchurch in Hampshire has been communicating with Malvern by bouncing signals off the moon. A further possibility (although, of course, the lag would be even longer from the point of view of using it for telephoning) is the use of the ever-increasing amount of space junk—old satellites and objects in space. One day there really will be a job for a space dustman, I am sure, if we go on throwing up stuff at the rate we are doing now. This method of using space junk could not, of course, provide all the facilities we need for military purposes, but it could provide a useful fall-back to cover the unlikely event of a communications satellite failure, or the disappearance of a satellite. But to make use of space junk would require very precise orbital data.

This leads me on to another subject. When we last discussed this subject the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, drew attention to the need for keeping track of objects in space. I have mentioned one good reason for doing this; there are others. We are therefore considering the establishment of a satellite information centre whose task would be to provide up-to-date information of all objects in earth orbit and computing facilities capable of manipulating orbital data and producing the numerical information for any purpose we may require. If this proposal goes through, we envisage that the centre would be manned by the Royal Air Force and would work in close collaboration with Farnborough and Malvern. The Air Force Department have had, and hope to continue, discussions with the United States Air Force on the possibilities of co-operation in these activities.

Usually in discussing space and defence somebody refers to the possibility of attack launched by space vehicles; and, of course, a great deal of thought has been given to counter-action. Such weapons are undoubtedly technically feasible, but they would be complex, expensive, inaccurate, inflexible, dangerous perhaps to the launcher as well as to the object of attack, and liable to interference. I hope this may reassure noble Lords. Altogether, they are a doubtful proposition, and we do not consider there is any serious threat of the use of this type of weapon. The painful fact is that, if you wish to bombard another country, it is easier to shoot straight there without going into orbit first.

Another military interest in space is meteorology; and here, of course, any improvement in weather forecasting is good news for both civilians and the military. Notable advances in forecasting have already been made through the use of space techniques, and the Meteorological Office is going through a very interesting and exciting period of development. Most of the credit in this field is due to the work of the United States. The receiving equipment—I am talking about meteorology—is simple and cheap; and various other countries, including the United Kingdom, have readout facilities with locally-manufactured receivers. There is little doubt that there will be further significant developments in satellite meteorology and that other nations, as well as the United States, will contribute.

There are other Defence and civilian interests in space (and I am, of course, dealing with some of the points that have arisen from the Bondi study and trying to give the House as much information as I can) and one of them is navigation. We are keeping a close watch on this; but it is uncertain whether there is a use which would justify the expenditure. We are interested in the geodetic applications of satellites and are considering increasing our present modest contribution to the U.S. Army's programme in the Pacific area. We are also studying the possibility of limited orbital reconnaissance systems and are comparing their usefulness and cost effectiveness with other ways in which tactical reconnaissance might be undertaken. I would repeat that we are studying this possibility and are comparing it with the other forms of tactical reconnaissance.

My Lords, I think I have demonstrated that we are giving a good deal of thought to the military, as well as the civil, use of space; and I am happy to say that so far as we are concerned I think the military and the civil interests contribute to one another and the military aspect of the use of space seems to be a particularly peaceful form of military activity. When account is taken of the costs of launchers and bases, the total cost of developing a space capability is very considerable. We are considering the extent to which it is possible to play a part to meet our own likely needs at a reasonable cost in collaboration with our friends; but, at a time when defence and all other types of spending is under heavy pressure, we must weigh very carefully the prospective importance of space applications against their extra costs, taking account of possible savings from existing systems which might be superseded. There is no doubt that space is providing some very powerful techniques and we are determined to keep ourselves informed and abreast of all the developments which are taking place in this dynamic field of endeavour.

There is this problem, to which the noble Earl referred, of interdepartmental co-ordination. Of course, the Government will take careful note of what your Lordships say on this subject. We are still feeling our way towards the best method of control of space activities; but we are of the opinion that at the moment the balance of advantage lies in making each aspect the responsibility of the Minister most closely concerned with the related terrestrial activity. We could argue this at some length. I am deeply interested in this question of co-ordination; but I would certainly say that it would be very premature to say that in this country we need a system which may be essential in the United States. But I have taken note of what the noble Earl has said. In the last resort all major issues have to be brought to the Cabinet for decision. My Lords, I now come to the level of expenditure. Here I would only say that in the current year it looks like being around £20 million, or a little more. This is not far off the order of magnitude which the Interplanetary Society suggested. I think the United States are spending more on space than we are spending on the whole of our defence budget and it is not possible for us to compete. I find it difficult to make comparisons with the French effort; it is not very easy to get final and reliable figures. I would say that our effort is comparable; but certainly I take the point that the noble Earl made. He complained that the Interplanetary Society had not had an answer. Of course, if you put in recommendations you do not necessarily expect the Government in the course of consideration to give answers. I can say that the recommendations have been studied. I have studied them myself with my own advisers. Quite a number, I think, were known to other people who are interested; but I would say that they are relevant and were properly considered.

It is not possible for me to cover all the points. Man's activities in space are only part of present and future human activities. There are vast other scientific fields which are also filled with promise. None the less, consideration of these does provide a convenient framework for taking almost a galactic, or intergalactic, look at man's place in the universe. It does us no harm to remind ourselves that man has existed (if you go back to Zin-janthropus boisei, which I think is about half a million years ago) for a relatively short time. Civilisation goes back 10,000 years to Sumerian times; and probably it will be another 2,000 to 4,000 million years before the earth becomes uninhabitable. We wonder, then, not only where humanity will be, but even what it will be. The barrier to the planets has gone; but I think the barrier to the stars, to which the noble Lord referred, at the moment appears to be insuperable, and is limited by the inability to travel beyond the speed of light. I think that any scientist or anyone else who, on logical grounds, thought this was a total impossibility for ever should learn humility; which we as politicians also have to exercise in the light of these amazing prospects.

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