Oral history of British science

Parkinson, Bob (Part 10 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering; Space Science and Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Parkinson, Bob, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 10: Comments on differences between scientific civil service and industry: government better organised than industry in some respects; civil service promotion system formalised compared to industry; anecdote about senior industry manager treating him suspiciously. [04:55] Comments on tetrapartite committees [TPTC]: annual meeting; differences in US Navy and US Air Force cultures; bureaucratic reason why the Australian delegation consisted of one person. [09:00] Remarks on: BP technology exchange visits to the USA: trip, to NASA Lewis, connected with electric propulsion; TPTC meetings searching for areas of common ground; BP visit to Thiokol; format of TPTC meetings; secrecy considerations. [15:30] Comments on: Collaboration with France and Germany whilst at Waltham Abbey, lack of experience collaborating with Europeans in 1980s; better collaboration in space field, with remarks on long term collaboration with people he met on second day at BAE at Toulouse; European funding regulations meaning that Marconi were BAE Stevenage's rivals rather than foreign companies. [short pause][20:45] Comments on first job at BAE at Toulose: connection of earlier Spacelab project with early 1980s interest in space station; German aspirations for human space flight and Columbus project; development of space station ideas in ESA studies; British interest in unmanned space platforms; [27:30] BP's assignment of unmanned space platform work and decision to work on Polar observation platform, eventually realised as ENVIASAT; BP and PC proposals for polar observation platform finding ministerial support and eventually built in Bristol. [31:10] Further comments on unmanned space platforms: Martin's Law - politics, economics and engineering, in that order; importance of practical application of Earth observation platform platform and support from scientists, such as Met Office; British interest in areas where there was a commercial market; modular nature of platform. [34:30] Story about a public debate on UK participation in European space programs, at the RAeS, hosted by Minister Geoffrey Pattie, where BP successfully, presented space platform concept. Remarks: on political engineering; division of space work between Germany, France, Italy and the UK. [38:30] Story about ESA competitive tender process, where BP mis-pitched the bid for the polar platform, but won the contract anyway, with remarks on quality assurance environment issues with ESA. Anecdote about BP's relationship with ESA official and learning how to work with ESA. [44:00] Description of processes of working with ESA: study projects, ESA science programme, initial Phase A studies, competition between different ESA programmes, [52:45] follow on design Phase B study, progress to Phase C and D. Remarks on complications in case of space platform as concept changed, programme leaving BP's hands c.1985 to become Bristol's responsibility. [57:10] Remarks on: changes in ESA programme c.1987, differences in viewpoints between French and Germans, acceptance of Ariane-Hermes and Columbus; Minister Kenneth Clarke's disagreements with ESA; Roy Gibson and British National Space Centre [BNSC]; anticipated cost overruns, leading to Kenneth Clarke violently taking UK out of Ariane-Hermes and Columbus. [1:03:10] Comments on: space platform progress and changes in design; BP developing speciality costing projects, with story of the saving of a billion pounds in an afternoon; remarks on language and difficulties accounting  for Europe-wide projects; BP part of programme reducing cost of Columbus. [1:10:45] Discussion about space politics: Colin Pillinger's experience; getting politics right; comparisons with 'Alice in Wonderland's' caucus race; ENVISAT example of interesting the users, such as government departments and industry; division of work and different national negotiation styles on negotiation, PC assistance for BP in negotiation; [1:17:40] description of industrial negotiations; RAeS meeting where BP first met Geoffrey Pattie; Roy Gibson's hopes for BNSC to be a British Space Agency; aftermath of Kenneth Clarke's 1987 disagreement with ESA; British scientists' contribution and value to ESA after 1987, such as non-compliant approaches project, with anecdote about Mark Amstal. [1:26:15] Comments on: Ariane Transfer Vehicle [ATV] studies c.1992, with anecdote about importance of BP's easy access to BAe director Dave McLauchlin; BP's position within BAe, tasked with future project studies, working with John Stark, position unclear at first. [1:32:30] Comments on BP 1980s parallel activity working on EUROSTAR communications satellite; expected British Sky Broadcasting application; BP work on propulsion system, including a trip to Societe Europeene de Propulsion [SEP] Bourdoux where he recommended switch to all liquid propulsion; BP turning down job as EUROSTAR propulsion engineer. [1:36:45] Remarks on HOTOL: PC funding studies; BP links with Concorde group at Filton; anecdote about meeting with Geoffry Pattie and Raymond Lygo to secure funding; HOTOL becoming BP main area of activity after space platform work; internal funding arrangements, BAe Wharton taking management role. [1:41:05] Discussion of different cultures of BAe Stevenage, Rolls Royce and BAe Wharton: BP's project costing expertise; different units of measurement; Wharton's CAPS computerised design tool. [1:46:00] Remarks on HOTOL: integrated system, more advanced than contemporaries; anecdote about Raymond Lygo's support for HOTOL; difficulties in 1989, death of project manager Sandy Burns. 

  • Description

    Interview with aerospace engineer Dr Bob Parkinson.

  • Related transcripts

    Dr Bob Parkinson interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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