Budget threat to space science

February 10, 1995

British research projects in particle physics and astronomy are under threat because of last week's science budget allocations to the research councils.

According to officials at the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, which is responsible for overseeing these projects, its allocation of Pounds 196.4 million for 1995/96 could mean that the United Kingdom will not play a leading role in a Pounds 250 million European Space Agency programme Integral.

The Integral satellite is intended to study the sky in the Gamma radiation region of the spectrum. British scientists have been heavily involved in developing the techniques to be used by the instrumentation. Universities which would have played a key role include Southampton, Birmingham, Leicester and University College London, as well as engineers at Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton Laboratories.

The pressure on PPARC's domestic budget has largely resulted from a Pounds 5 million increase in subscription to ESA and the Geneva-based particle physics laboratory, Cern.

Another initiative that could be shelved is the potentially Nobel-prize winning effort by Glasgow University scientists to build a gravitational wave telescope to detect ripples in space and time caused by the movement of masses in space. The scientists have been collaborating with colleagues in Germany, which has already agreed to meet two-thirds of the Pounds 6 million cost of the telescope.

A Pounds 2 million effort by researchers at Cambridge University to build an array of small radio telescopes to allow a study of the background cosmic radiation also faces the axe.

Ken Pounds, chief executive of PPARC said: "We do face a difficult year. Final decisions on how we intend to cope will be made in council meetings soon." Professor Pounds said the "capping" of the Cern budget whereby it is held at zero indexation for a few years followed by a 1 per cent increase thereafter will be of considerable help.

He said that PPARC will be aiming to maintain its full range of support for postgraduate education and training. He said he broadly welcomed the settlement from the Office of Science and Technology.

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