HC Deb 11 November 1970 vol 806 cc170-3W
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will report on the outcome of the European Space Conference in Brussels on 4th November.

Mr. Corfield

The Fourth Ministerial European Space Conference was held in two parts. The first session was held in July when the Conference agreed that a mission headed by its President, the Belgian Minister of Scientific Policy and Planning, Mr. Lefevre, should explore with the Government of the United States of America the political, financial and other conditions for possible European participation in the post-Apollo programme. Expenditure of up to $2.5 million to June, 1971 (United Kingdom share £0.23 million) on studies of possible forms of participation in the programme was also authorised.

A proposal for a unified European Space Organisation to replace the four existing organisations was approved and a working group set up to draft a convention.

Agreement was reached on the financial resources to be made available during 1971 for studies and pre-development work on applications satellites, with priority being given to a telecommunications satellite. Decisions to proceed to the next stage would be dependent on the outcome of the studies. In the field of scientific research, financial arrangements were agreed for the period up to the end of 1973 inclusive. In addition France, Germany and Belgium agreed to continue the current programme for the development of Europa I and Europa II launchers; to construct up to six vehicles for potential customers and to start the development of the more powerful Europa III.

The United Kingdom, which had previously negotiated a limitation to its financial commitments to the EUROPA I and II development programmes, did not undertake further commitments in respect of launchers but agreed to continue its support of the scientific programme and to pay its share of the agreed applications satellite programme.

Because at least all major contributors could not agree to participate in all parts of the programme reservations were made by some Member States. In particular, the French Government subordinated its consent to the establishment of a unified European Space Organisation to agreement being reached on the adoption of a comprehensive space programme.

The Second Session of the Conference was held in Brussels on 4th November, to consider the report by Mr. Lefevre on his mission to the United States. The United States had welcomed European participation in the development of a reusable shuttle and space tug, the development of which would cost, on current estimates, about $10,000 million over the next ten years. In return for a European contribution of at least 10 per cent. of the cost the United States would undertake to supply launchings to Europe for all peaceful purposes consistent with existing international agreements from the start of the development programme. European countries could therefore, if they so wished, abandon the development of an independent launching capability and instead participate in the post-Apollo programme.

The United States is not yet committed to carrying out a post-Apollo programme. Indeed Congress has yet to decide whether to vote the necessary funds. Studies are expected to be available in the middle of next year which will define the programme and give a more realistic estimate of the cost and timescale.

In the course of the meeting in Brussels the Belgian, French and German delegations made it clear that they wished to participate in a comprehensive European Space Programme including applications satellites, scientific satellites and launchers. They wished to continue to examine the possibility of participating in the post-Apollo programme while continuing their European launcher programme including studies and pre-development work for EUROPA III, costing some $35 million up to the end of 1971, in case the plans for joining in the post-Apollo programme could not be brought to fruition. Participation by the United Kingdom would have involved paying a share of the EUROPA III studies (which it was claimed could be so arranged as to be in part useful for the post-Apollo programme) and an implied commitment to paying a share in the full costs of the post Apollo programme if satisfactory arrangements (which were left undefined) could be negotiated.

The cost of participation in a heavy satellite launcher programme is high in relation to the limited number of launchings at present foreseen and it is not possible to assess at present either the costs or potential benefits of participation in the post-Apollo programme. There is, moreover, no reason to suppose that present ad hoc arrangements for the supply of launchings will be discontinued.

Her Majesty's Government has been examining projects in all fields, both national and international, more realistically than ever before with a view to optimising the benefits in relation to resources and therefore felt unable to enter into any additional commitments in respect of the launcher programmes, particularly open ended commitments. The commitments previously accepted in the July session of the Conference were however endorsed.

At the end of the meeting the German Delegation, supported by the Belgian and French Delegations, suggested that all Member States should decide by 31st December, 1970, whether they are prepared to support a programme comprising a scientific part, an applications part and a launcher programme which, it was claimed, could be formulated in such a way as to enable it to be adapted to the post-Apollo programme. Those countries willing to support this programme would continue discussions on collaboration with the United States, submit proposals for reorganising the structure required for implementing their agreed programme and establish ad hoc machinery whereby other countries could be associated with particular parts of the programme in which they might be interested.

The effect of such a proposal, if it is pursued, on existing European Space Organisations cannot at present be determined.