The UK Space Agency Overlooked in the Copernicus Earth Observation Program

15th Jul 2020

The European Space Agency is leaving behind the UK Space Agency, as it decides on the contractors for the expansion of the Copernicus Earth Observation satellite program. The contract, valued at €2.5 billion, will be led by companies in Germany, Spain, and Italy. The companies that will work on the six missions are OHB (Germany), Thales Alenia Space (France and Italy), and Airbus (Spain and Germany). Despite Brexit, the UK remains a member of the ESA.

The Surprise Omission of the UK Space Agency

The omission of the UK Space Agency from the contract came as a surprise to many. The agency’s spokesperson said: “The Government has made clear its ambitions for space and is currently developing a new Space Strategy that will bring long-term benefits to the nation,” adding that, “While UK organizations will play important roles in 5 out of the 6 Copernicus High Priority Candidate missions, we’re disappointed overall with the contract proposals and abstained on the vote to approve them. We’re committed to working closely with ESA to ensure our investments deliver industrial returns that align with our national ambitions for space.”

The UK’s subcontracting value is about two-thirds of the expected value. However, it should contribute to five of the six missions through organizations, such as Thales Alenia Space (UK), Airbus UK, Oxford University, the NPL, UKRI, Isardsat, Teledyne, Leicester University, and M Squared Laser.

The ESA Copernicus Missions

According to ESA, the six Copernicus Missions intend “to address the EU policy and gaps in Copernicus user needs and expand the Copernicus space component capabilities.” These missions are:

  • Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter (CRISTAL)
  • L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (ROSE-L)
  • Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer (CIMR)
  • Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM)
  • Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission (CHIME)
  • Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring (CO2M)

Thales Alenia was awarded three missions and will undertake the CHIME, ROSE-L, and CIMR, missions. Airbus will be the prime contractor for two awards; LSTM and CRISTAL, while OHB System will lead the CO2M mission. The ESA is made up of 22 countries across Europe and one associate member (Slovenia). It also has formal working relations with other countries, including Canada.

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