Thursday 4 February 2010

UK Spending Cuts and Cassini

Copied here is a Memorandum submitted by Early Career Cassini Scientists (FC 10) to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into `The Impact of Spending on Science and Scientific Research' in 2010.  For background to the story, see Jonathan Amos' BBC news article "Cassini flies on but with UK involvement in doubt"

To the Science and Technology Committee,

 We, the undersigned, are all early-career scientists at a range of UK institutions, primarily involved in planetary science using the Cassini spacecraft. We have prepared the attached document for submission to the Science and Technology Committee inquiry, detailing the impact the recently announced cuts will have upon our research, careers and opportunities in the UK.

Declaration of Interests:
Those of us currently studying for PhDs are supported by the STFC. Those of us employed as research associates are funded by the STFC.

Yours Sincerely,

Early Career Cassini Scientists

Imperial College London, Space & Atmospheric Physics Group
Dr. Jun Cui Research Associate
Jack Cutler PhD Student
Dr. Caitriona Jackman Research Associate
Dr. Laurent Lamy Research Associate
Daniel Went PhD Student
Dr Laurence Billingham Research Associate (Earth Science & Engineering Group)

University of Leicester, Department of Physics & Astronomy
David Andrews PhD Student
Kay Clarke PhD Student
Stephanie Kellett PhD Student
Dr. Henrik Melin Research Associate
Dr. Jonathan Nichols Research Associate
Dr. Gabrielle Provan Research Associate
Dr. Dean Talboys Research Associate

Queen Mary University of London
Nathan Allcock PhD Student
Dr. Gareth A. Williams Cassini ISS Operations Programmer

Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London
Dr. Christopher S. Arridge STFC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Glynn Collinson PhD Student
Sheila Kanani PhD Student
Dr. Adam Masters Research Associate
Anne Wellbrock PhD Student

University of Oxford, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Group
Dr. Leigh Fletcher Research Associate
Dr. Jane Hurley Research Associate
Dane Tice DPhil Student

[1] We, the undersigned, are early-career scientists at a range of UK institutions, primarily involved in planetary science using the Cassini spacecraft - a highly successful international interplanetary mission that has been studying Saturn, its moons and local environment, since its arrival in 2004.
[2] Worryingly, the recently published STFC Science Programme Prioritisation indicates that a "managed withdrawal" will take place from funding of operational costs for the UK-funded instruments on board the Cassini spacecraft. Furthermore, the report recommends that "support be withdrawn for exploitation grants of those projects not recommended for funding", ultimately leading to the cessation of Cassini-based science in the UK. We feel that the STFC Programme Prioritisation does not accurately reflect the community's views as expressed in the recent Near-Universe Advisory Panel (NUAP) report, to which we contributed extensively. STFC should provide a full explanation of how the community's input contributed to the Programme Prioritisation. It appears to have been ignored.
[3] The planned programme of managed withdrawal is by no means unique to those of us involved with the Cassini mission. The current prioritisation process seeks to cut all UK-instrument support for space missions actively making in-situ plasma measurements.  While we recognise the external economic pressures faced by the research councils, we believe that the long-term implications of such wide-ranging cuts will be severe, and will have a very real impact both to our research, and to the long-term future of planetary science.
[4] As early-career scientists we are deeply concerned about the future of space physics within the UK, and in particular the loss of jobs, skills and training opportunities.  The result of STFC's prioritisation process will force UK based early-career scientists abroad, or into leaving the field completely. Meanwhile, current PhD students face the very real possibility that there will be no UK planetary space physics community for them to join once they have completed their studies, should they wish to continue their research.  If we fail to retain our world-leading capabilities within planetary space physics, there will not be a future generation of scientists able to exploit upcoming missions, such as the Bepi-Colombo mission to Mercury and the potential Europa-Jupiter System Mission.
[5] The international Cassini scientific investigation is in its prime - a quick search reveals over 2000 scientific papers published by nearly 4000 authors to date at a rate that has increased by 30% year-on-year since the spacecraft's arrival at Saturn[1]. NASA are currently reviewing a proposed extension of the Cassini mission to 2017, and are due to announce their decision on February 8, 2010. Scientists in the UK contributed to one of the discoveries of the decade, by detecting the magnetic signature of plumes of water ice ejected from Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus. It is now recognised that there is a very real possibility that a liquid ocean exists beneath the moon's icy shell, posing the profound question - is there life on Enceladus? This question, and the tools required to answer it, has an excellent ability to inspire lasting interest in the STEM subjects in the public, across all age ranges.
[6] The UK is a world leader in space physics.  Clearly, this reputation cannot be maintained if the UK's involvement is categorically withdrawn from one of the most successful international scientific missions to another planet thus far.  Scientists around the world are relying on the UK's expertise in operating key instruments on board the spacecraft.  It seems tragic to turn off healthy world-leading instruments on a £2bn spacecraft, denying both UK and our international collaborators a vital resource in our field. Serious questions must be asked about the value of these decisions that have been made by the STFC Council. The STFC has a Royal Charter to "promote and support high-quality scientific and engineering research" - our view is that this is not currently being achieved.

Early Career Cassini Scientists

[1] Thomson Reuters Web of Science, topic "Cassini", Number of papers published per year, 2004 - 2009 inclusive