European Space Agency offers UK alternative to EU’s Copernicus project

Britain is interested in playing a bigger role in the European Space Agency if Brussels blocks its continued participation in the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation program.

George Freeman, Britain’s science minister, said the closure of Copernicus’ next phase did not match the extended membership in ESA, a separate international organization from the EU.

“In fact, just the opposite. It means our membership in ESA is several times more important,” he told the FT Investing in Space conference in London. “But we’ll have to come to the table… With a much clearer sense of what we want to put in and what we can take out.”

In an interview, ESA CEO Joseph Ashbacher congratulated Freeman on his commitment and suggested the agency as a “tool for realization” [the UK’s] “National aspirations, because we already have the right priorities and framework.”

It seems that Britain’s involvement in Copernicus, an EU program that went into action in 2014 and uses a constellation of satellites to monitor the environment, could become another victim of the increasingly heated dispute between Brussels and London over the post-Brexit trade regime in Northern Ireland.

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The UK government has originally set aside £ 750 million for future donations to Copernicus, but hopes that Brussels will allow it to participate have faded. Without British funding, the plan faces a budget shortfall that will hamper Copernicus’ planned post-2024 missions.

Joseph Ashbacher from ESA © FT Live

Ashbacher agreed with Freeman that Britain’s participation in Copernicus would be the best solution for all parties. But if no agreement was reached, the budget gap was “a problem that Brussels needs to solve,” he said. ESA was willing to work with Brussels to resolve this. Copernicus is funded by the EU and implemented mostly by ESA.

Freeman said the UK was working on £ 750m allocation plans set aside for Copernicus. Outside Copernicus the UK space industry could take advantage of many other opportunities in Earth observation (EO), which is vital for monitoring climate change and other activities.

“You just have to look at the growing appetite for EO data,” Freeman said. “There are a number of applications… So there is no shortage of customers. We have the funding… And there are many countries that want to work with us.”

Freeman refused to give Brussels an exact date to decide whether to allow Britain to remain part of Copernicus before making other arrangements, but “if the phone does not ring, then during the autumn we will start running our plans”. he said.

Ashbacher mentioned several alternative plans planned by ESA that would be in line with the UK’s space strategy. One is the creation of the “Digital Twin Earth”, a supercomputer model that will use Earth observation data to monitor and predict natural and human activity on Earth.

Another is a satellite called Truths that will provide measurements of radiation that reaches the Earth from the sun and is then reflected back into space.

Ashbacher said he would ask ESA member states to increase funding significantly at the next ESA Council of Ministers meeting, to be held in November. The agency’s budget for the three years to 2022 is 12.4 billion euros and it will offer to spend 25 to 30 percent more in the next three years.

European Space Agency offers UK alternative to EU’s Copernicus project Source link European Space Agency offers UK alternative to EU’s Copernicus project

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