header image

Space: enlarging the benefits for earth

A Note by the Director (Ditchley 2007/08)
21-23 September 2007
Ditchley’s first home conference for the new season travelled some distance away from its customary territory and, in close cooperation with EADS Astrium, took a look at space policy, in terms of the use of space looking down on earth.  The uplifting nature of the subject matter and its many dimensions extended both the scope and the passion of the debate.  Yet it was quite hard to pin down specific policy challenges and to develop clear recommendations.  This Note will both pay homage to the broad range of the discussion and try to tease out some priorities for policy-makers.
 
True to the spirit of Ditchley discussions, participants remained conscious throughout of the big picture and of the huge list of linkages between space and terrestrial activities.  We were in no doubt that several aspects of geopolitics were already being played out in orbit by an increasing number of countries.  Not only was space becoming the preserve of a growing number of nation states, with implications for international coordination on top of everything else in the global arena;  but in recent years the move away from the military and other governmental concerns with space into an ever-growing and deepening market place was a significant development.  Even governments had become not just guardians of space, but also merchants  in what it had to offer.  It became increasingly clear as the conference progressed that most people felt the need for coordination and deconfliction not through the creation or enlargement of international institutions, but through technical cooperation and, to the greatest extent possible, market coordination.
 
Nevertheless the responsibility of governments to keep their power play within limits was emphasised.  The United States, as the only current superpower, would have to make a choice, even with all its security concerns, between retaining flexibility of movement for its own priorities and stimulating global order and shared ownership in space.  China, much discussed as the next superpower candidate, would also have to decide the degree to which it fitted in to a collective approach.  The majority tended to think that the Chinese decision a few months ago to destroy a missile in space was a deterrent signal rather than an aggressive one.  China had the luxury, as a non-democratic state, of planning for the long term and waiting for developments to move in its direction.  There were promising signs, from Chinese engagement in international bodies and in the signing up of the Chinese Space Agency to a number of international guidelines on space, that China would take the cooperative route.  But there was always the possibility of a disconnect between what China said and what it did. Participants noted that China had not yet demonstrated a bankable interest in observing all its commitments on paper.  Quite apart from true intentions, China was also capable of making mistakes, not least in the amount of debris it left  in space.  China’s growth into the space community needed to be nurtured and shaped. 
 
The conference looked carefully at what had changed and what had not as space technology developed.  Launch costs, for instance, had not come down significantly since the 1950s.  Space activities, whether in the public or the private sector, tended to remain compartmentalised.  There were aspects of space which were by no means infinite, for instance the allocation of the radio spectrum.  We needed to be careful not to over-estimate the ubiquity of space and not to forget that there was a massive job to do to interpret the data already available from space, for all the exciting possibilities of extending and multiplying those data.
 
Nevertheless the transformational impact of the growth of space technology during our lifetimes was unquestionable.  The range of areas affected was increasing all the time.  We never fully catalogued the current and potential applications:  positioning services, communications, remote sensing, earth observation, connecting up remote locations, weather and climate, wider environmental monitoring, empowering local communities, space tourism, a whole range of applications in ICT and entertainment, satellites for specific and dedicated use for airports and other forms of transport;  the list could be endless.  And all that was before we reached the military and security aspects.  With this growth of opportunities came, inevitably, an increase in dependence on space:  we discussed, but did not develop far enough, the kinds of threats which accompanied these opportunities and which might have just as transformational an impact if they materialised. 
 
The conference sought greater clarity on who owns space.  The small group of powerful nations who had got there first might assume ownership rights through usage, but these could not be sustained as other nations entered the scene – China, again, was prominent in this discussion – and as a global market developed for the applications of space technology.  Participants asked whether there might be an analogy with, and a precedent from, the Law of the Sea.  Rights as to the use of space were still very hazy.  Most people thought that there should be a strong reaction against any nation, or community of nations, that tried to control space in their own interests.  The 1967 UN Treaty on Space had made a good start, but there had been an exponential increase in activity since then and a lot of work was needed on norms, standards, regulations and political understanding if we were to have an ordered framework for the future.
 
Within this discussion, the interests and needs of the developing world could not be forgotten.  There were a number of space applications of value to weaker economies (we recognised that the “developing world” comprised a wide variety of national interests) and a much broader group of nations were now aware of what space could offer on climate, agriculture, land use, disaster monitoring and similar areas – and indeed on bridging the ‘digital divide’.  In some of these fields developing countries had become more aware and indeed more competent than the west.  Building their capacity to use this sector more consistently and ensuring their access to available information was important, perhaps especially so in Africa, where the needs were greatest.  UNESCO’s RESAP programme had already shown the way in certain respects.  Space could also be used for policing and deterring illegal or unproductive activity, for instance illegal logging.  Developing nations would not have to pass through all the stages which the developed world had taken to reach this point:  they could easily leapfrog into state-of-the-art applications.  But they would need help.
 
The conference identified early on the need for order and coordination as the number of space players and space applications rose.  No-one spoke up for a global space agency, although the coordinating activities of the European Union, together with the functions of the European Space Agency, were mentioned as good examples of collective activity by groups of like-minded nations.  Most participants expressed a preference instead for a continuous effort at coordination, both in technical and in policy matters.  Where new players, such as China, might be disinclined to join in the structures already devised by those who had preceded them, a direct effort might be needed, for instance in the US-China bilateral relationship, to keep them within reach of a cooperative approach.  Other divides could also be bridged through the understanding of mutual interest and through systematic coordination.  The military and civil sectors, for instance, would be able to find a number of areas where they could feed off each other – the military could benefit from commercial development, just as businesses had benefited from early military impetus.  The structures for such cooperation were so far quite thin and this should be an area where consultation, planning and determined implementation could make a lot of difference. 
 
Alongside this, we discussed the role of governments.  Policy-makers needed to make careful judgements in finding the middle ground between a free-for-all and restrictions which sapped innovation.  Governments would be the prime movers of compromises and the right people in many areas to judge the correct balance.  The enormous number of linkages and externalities affecting the space sector meant that very few organisations outside government could handle the immense complexity of the overall picture.
 
At the same time, the majority of participants were wary of an over-regulatory approach.  Obviously, competition had to be managed, the spectrum had to be allocated in a fair way, licences were needed for certain practices (probably including launches), conflict had to be avoided.  At present, with the rapid growth of all sorts of activity, there were many areas of competence which were not completely clear.  It was easy to see the dangers of nightmare scenarios taking over and closing down profitable and useful avenues;  or of excessive freedom in the market providing too many opportunities for criminals or for terrorist attack.  The theme of balance was not just a convenient one, it was probably going to be vital.  The International Telecommunications Union was seen as a good example of a technical agency dealing sensibly with its field, that of broadcasting and registration.  It was going to have its limitations, however, if the interests of public and private sectors began to clash over the use of parts of the spectral band. 
 
We had to recognise, after all, that society as a whole had a very strong interest in order throughout this area.  Space was in many respects the common heritage of mankind.  Telecommunications, surveillance, the use of satellites for specific purposes, exploitation of the moon, the avoidance of criminality and other abuse, all these things could have quite a significant impact on the health of economies and societies everywhere.  Sensible defence programmes stood in the same category.  Yet there was hardly a government which put the considerations of space very high in its list of priorities.  There were too many things much closer to home.  For this reason, the conference felt that they were discussing a topic of huge importance and topicality, if they could draw governments – and indeed leaders in other fields – to see that they might be missing some vital tricks if they did not come to collective agreement soon on how the sector should be managed.  There were several participants at the table who were determined to take this message back to their own capitals.  The message could be given even more point if governments were brought to see more clearly that their original role as providers of access to space and its benefits had been extended to the role also of consumers of those benefits.  The private sector might be reaching that conclusion quicker than they were. 
 
The conference, and not just the British participants in it, also came to the conclusion that the United Kingdom in particular was not playing the part that it ought to in the development of space.  For some reason the sector had dropped down the British list of priorities further than in comparable countries.  Not only did the Europeans wish to see the UK returning to a much more active mode in the EU’s approach, but North Americans felt that the UK was better placed than almost anyone else to take forward some of the thinking on international cooperation and coordination that had emerged from our discussion.  The UK was specifically enjoined (a) to define a more far reaching space strategy, building on particular British strengths and using the experience gained from other fields in public/private collaboration;  (b) to utilise its experience and capability in EU forums to encourage the EU to use space more deliberately in its approach to climate change;  and (c) to develop integrated applications for military systems with a greater awareness of what civilian capabilities could bring to that.  As for the international scene, the UK might know best how to stimulate international discussion on the coordination of space activities and policies.  The United States, it was contended, would not wish to do this top-down.  Inter-operability between most of the major space nations would be a valuable prize.  Reaching it would need high-level political impetus, which was at present lacking.
 
The concluding sessions of the conference helped to refine a list of challenges for the international space sector which needed priority attention.  They included standards and regulations, export controls, property rights, “ownership”, fair competition and a coordinated response to security.  Governments must raise space up their list of priorities, but in the understanding that space could not be isolated from a large number of other sectors and activities.  The expertise in both space applications and policy making that was gathered around the table made this a credible group to deliver such a message;  and the advantages of having a Chairman who could bridge the public and private sector considerations was not lost on the company.  Certainly he guided our debate with the wisdom and sensitivity which the subject matter required.  More appropriately than with most Ditchley conferences, we could say this time:  watch this space.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
 
 
 
PARTICIPANTS
 
Chairman  :  Sir Keith O’Nions
Director General of Science and Innovation and Department Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (2006-);  Director General of the Research Councils (2004-).
BRAZIL
Dr Joao Braga
Scientific Director, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, Sao Paulo (2006-);  Member, Technical-Scientific Council, National Observatory, Rio de Janeiro (2007-).
 
CANADA
Mr Richard Dicerni
Deputy Minister, Industry Canada (2006-).  Formerly:  Partner, Mercier Delta Canada (2005-06);  A President and Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc (1997-2005).
Major Andrew Godefroy CD
Head of Academic Research, Outreach and Publications, Canadian Army Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs;  Strategic Analyst, Department of National Defence;  Adjunct Lecturer, Aerospace Power, Space Policy, Missile and Aerospace History, Royal Military College of Canada.
Mr John Keating
Chief Executive Officer, ComDev International, Ontario.
Dr John MacDonald
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Day4 Energy Inc, British Columbia.  Formerly:  MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates:  Chairman; President and Chief Executive Officer.
The Hon Roy MacLaren PC
Commissioner, Public Appointments Committee (2006-).  Formerly:  High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom (1996-2000);  Minister for International Trade (1993-96).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
 
ESA
Dr Mark Doherty
Head of Earth Observation Programmes Exploitation and Services Division, European Space Agency, Italy.
 
FRANCE
Mr Christophe-Alexandre Paillard
Senior Expert for Economic and Industrial Affairs, Strategic and International Affairs Department, National Defence General Secretariat, Paris (2007-).
 
GERMANY
Dr Constanze Stelzenmüller
Director, Berlin Office, German Marshall Fund of the United States
(2005-).  Formerly:  Die Zeit: Defence and International Security Editor (1998-2005).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
 
NASA
Dr William Barry
European Representative, NASA, Paris (2007-).  Formerly:  Senior International Programs Specialist and Leader, Russia Team, Office of External Relations, NASA (2001-07).
Dr Scott Pace
Associate Administrator, Program Analysis and Evaluation, NASA.  Formerly:  Chief Technologist, Space Communications, NASA Office of Space Operations.
 
OECD
Mr Michael Oborne
Director, Multi-Disciplinary Issues, International Futures Program, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.  Formerly:  OECD:  Deputy Director, Science, Technology and Industry.
 
SWITZERLAND/FRANCE
Dr Alexia Massacand
Senior Scientific Expert, Group on Earth Observations, Geneva (2005-).  Formerly:  Consultant and Post-doctoral Research Fellow, European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (2000-03).
 
UNITED KINGDOM
Mr Klaus Becher
Managing Partner, Knowledge and Analysis LLP;  Director of Foreign Security and Defence Policy Research, International Institute for Liberal Policy, Vienna.
Dr Kerry Brown
Director, Strategic China Ltd (2005-);  Associate Fellow, China Modern History and Politics, Chatham House (2005-);  Fellow, Royal Society of Arts (2005-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1998-2005).
Mr Colin Challen MP
Member of Parliament, Labour, Morley and Rothwell (2001-);  Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change.
Ms Tina Davy
Senior Researcher to Mr Colin Challen MP.
Professor Alan Dodson
Pro Vice Chancellor, University of Nottingham (2007-);  Professor of Geodesy, Institute of Engineering Surveying and Space Geodesy, University of Nottingham;  Director, Geospatial Research Centre, New Zealand.
Mr Tom Gunner
UK Head of Government Affairs, EADS Astrium Space.
Professor Richard Holdaway
Director, Space Science and Technology, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (1998-);  Chairman, BNSC Space Advisory Council (2005-);  Member, Council of Royal Academy of Engineering (2005-).
Dr Steven Koonin
Chief Scientist, BP (2004-).  Formerly:  Vice President and Provost, California Institute of Technology (1995-2005).
Professor Keith Mason
Chief Executive, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
(2005-).  Formerly:  Head, Department of Space and Climate Physics, University College London;  Director, Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
Mr Pat Norris
Business Development Manager (Space and Defence), LogicalCMG;  Chairman, Satellite Telecommunications Subcommittee, UKspace;  Chairman, Satellite Committee, Intellect;  Chairman, Space Group, Royal Aeronautical Society.  Author.
Mr Colin Paynter
Managing Director, EADS Astrium.
Mr Richard Peckham
Business Development Director, UK Civil Space, EADS Astrium.
Mr Andrew Shaw
Earth Observation Coordinator, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London (2004-).  Formerly:  Director of European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (2001-04).
Professor Sir Martin Sweeting
Director, Surrey Space Centre (1996-);  Chief Executive, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (1994-);  Professor of Satellite Engineering, University of Surrey (1990-).
Mr Ian Taylor MP
Member of Parliament, Conservative, Esher & Walton (1987-);  Chair, Conservative Policy Task-Force on Science and Engineering;  Co-Chair, All Party Parliamentary Space Committee.  Formerly:  Minister for Science and Technology (1994-97).
Mr Justin Walker
Managing Director, Security Solutions and Services Divisions, Thales UK (2007-).  Formerly:  Managing Director, Thales Services Division UK (2005-07).
Mr Simon Webb CBE
Director General, International Networks and Environment, Department for Transport (2007-).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr David Williams
Director General, British National Space Centre (2006-);  Head, Strategy and International Relations, EUMETSAT (1996-).
 
UNITED KINGDOM/CANADA
Mr Alex MacDonald

DPhil Candidate ‘An Economic History of Space Exploration’, Department of Economic and Social History, Balliol College, University of Oxford (2005-).
 
UNITED KINGDOM/UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Mr John Auburn

Business Development Director of Aerospace, VEGA Group plc (2005-);  Chairman, UKspace (2006-).  Formerly:  Sales Director, SciSys (1991-2005).
 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Mr Richard Buenneke

Deputy Director, Space Policy, Office of Missile Defense and Space Policy, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, US Department of State, Washington (2007).
Professor Eric Chaisson
Director, Wright Center for Science Education, Tufts University;  Research Professorships in Department of Physics and School of Education, Tufts University.
Dr Molly Macauley
Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future, Washington (1993-);  Member, Space Studies Board, US National Research Council;  Member, International Academy of Astronautics.