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The UK can be a world-leader, out of this world

The government’s Space Industry Bill will be a catalyst for invention, innovation and enterprise.

People around the world watched in awe on Tuesday afternoon as the Falcon Heavy soared into the skies, bound for Mars. But despite his enviable showmanship, and fine choice of backing track, Elon Musk is not the only star man in this sky.

The United Kingdom is also a front runner in this modern space race – we undertook our first launch in 1971, from Woomera in the Australian outback. The UK’s space industry has since grown to become a little known success story — and one worth £250bn to our economy.

We are a world leader in building satellites, particularly small satellites. And it is British scientists, engineers, programmers and entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of shaping the satellite applications and services, from which we all benefit. But to take full advantage of our abilities we also need to be able to launch them into space ourselves.

We have already secured 6.5 per cent of the global commercial space market. But we want to increase our share to 10 per cent by 2030 and to do that we need to make Britain the most attractive hub in Europe for commercial launch, a fast-growing part of the sector from which we are glaringly absent.

That's why we are supporting the creation of the first UK spaceports. These will enable the launch – for the first time from UK soil – of small satellites. This is a key part of an emerging launch market which is expected to be worth over £25bn globally over the next 20 years.

Our Space Industry Bill - which received cross party support in its passage through parliament – is central to this goal. If we move quickly there’s a window of opportunity to become a leader in commercial launch.

We have the right geography, the world-leading scientists, the skilled engineering base and the business-friendly regulatory environment to enable us to flourish in this fast-developing market.

The market in Europe has so far remained untapped. If we act now, the UK has a chance to gain a significant advantage, creating jobs and boosting the space industry supply chain. The ability to launch into space from the UK will unlock growth in our small satellite industry, and pave the way for new applications and services to be developed. And all this, as the Government joins forces with industry in 2018 to inspire the next generation of innovators – through the Year of Engineering.

The Space Industry Bill will allow us to grasp these opportunities, while also delivering a comprehensive regulatory framework to manage risk and protect public safety. This means the UK will be able to play a significant role in this new market after decades of dominance by the United States and Russia.

The global space race is under way, and with a new sovereign launch capability from UK soil coming closer day by day, we intend to be part of it.

Jo Johnson was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Transport and Minister for London on 9 January 2018.

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Chris Grayling says scrapping rail electrification has saved passengers “years of delays”

The Transport Secretary suggested taxpayers’ money could be better spent on upgrading diesel trains to run on hydrogen instead.

Chris Grayling has defended his decision not to proceed with three major rail electrification projects.

Appearing before the Transport Select Committee for a second time to explain his judgment to drop plans to modernise the Great Western line from Cardiff to Swansea, the Midland Main Line and tracks in the Lake District last summer, he said: “Spending £500m to enable the same trains to travel on the same track, at the same speed, isn’t a terribly good use of taxpayers’ money.”

Network Rail’s electrification programmes around the United Kingdom, most notably on the Great Western main line from London to Swansea, which started in 2014, had been described as a crucial development that would bring cleaner, faster and more reliable services for passengers.

The committee’s chair, Lilian Greenwood, said that scrapping electrification projects represented bad news for passengers and raised “serious questions about the government’s willingness to invest in the long-term future of our railways and their commitment to the decarbonisation of transport”.

The Transport Secretary, however, insisted that passengers could benefit from “modern bi-mode trains” instead, and would no longer have to put up with engineering works, potentially causing “years of disruption”.

Grayling repeatedly told the committee it was better to focus efforts on boosting capacity rather than electrification. He also said that already available bi-mode trains, which can operate using both electric and diesel power depending on whether overhead cables are installed, could be modernised further in the future to be battery or hydrogen-powered. 

The Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell added: “My job is to try to maximise the value to passengers of the investments that we make. With bi-mode trains you're getting all the passenger benefits without any of the disruption, no passenger’s travel experience is going to be worse by using bi-mode trains.

“I’ve talked to senior people in the industry who believe there will only be one generation of diesel engines on the bi-modes and the second generation will be hydrogen engines. We’re looking now to try and get the first hydrogen trains on our network…Battery trains now are becoming a real possibility.”

Committee member Daniel Ziechner, though, was unconvinced, labelling the bi-mode concept as the “worst of both worlds” and pointing out that maintenance of these trains is twice as expensive. Bi-mode trains are heavier, he explained, which increases a risk of damage to the tracks.  

And Roger Ford, the industry and technology editor of Modern Railway, submitted written evidence to the committee ahead of Grayling’s hearing. He said: “To be blunt, the claim that bi-mode trains will provide passengers with the same quality of service is a face-saving attempt to justify cancellation of the onward electrification from Cardiff to Swansea.”

Ford argued that electric trains offered better “operating costs, environmental impact, energy efficiency, reliability and passenger comfort.” He said bi-mode trains would have to carry “up to 10 tonnes of diesel power pack and fuel under 60 per cent of its coaches” and that “performance is thus degraded in both modes by either excessive weight or lack of power”.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.