UK wants con­tin­ued EU Coper­ni­cus par­tic­i­pa­tion

EU has an am­bi­tion to cap­ture 10% of the global space mar­ket by 2030

Muscat Daily - - OPINION -

The UK has given the clear­est state­ment yet of its de­sire to stay within the European Union’s Coper­ni­cus Earth ob­ser­va­tion pro­gramme af­ter Brexit.

EU mem­ber states are build­ing the most ad­vanced ever satel­lite sys­tem for mon­i­tor­ing the state of the planet - with Bri­tain play­ing a ma­jor role.

Busi­ness Sec­re­tary Greg Clark says he wants that par­tic­i­pa­tion to con­tinue.

His com­ments came as Air­bus UK de­buted the lat­est satel­lite for Coper­ni­cus known as Sentinel-5 Pre­cur­sor.

This space­craft will make global maps of gases and par­ti­cles in the at­mos­phere to track pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change. It is set to launch on a Rus­sian rocket in Septem­ber.

“The UK-built Sentinel-5 Pre­cur­sor satel­lite and the suc­cess of the Coper­ni­cus Pro­gramme demon­strates what we can achieve through col­lab­o­ra­tion with our European part­ners and the UK’s vi­tal role in the pro­gramme thanks to our Earth ob­ser­va­tion ex­per­tise,” Clark said.

“We’ve been clear that we want our com­pa­nies and uni­ver­si­ties to con­tinue par­tic­i­pat­ing in key EU space pro­grammes, and through our In­dus­trial Strat­egy and on­go­ing in­vest­ment in the UK space sec­tor, we are en­sur­ing we have the in­fra­struc­ture and skills in place to sup­port our am­bi­tion to cap­ture ten per cent of the global space mar­ket by 2030.”

The gov­ern­ment’s pre-elec­tion White Paper on Brexit stated that the UK would like to col­lab­o­rate with the EU-27 on sci­ence and space be­yond March 2019 - but the lan­guage from min­sters on Coper­ni­cus specif­i­cally has re­cently be­come much sharper.

Sci­ence Min­is­ter Jo John­son said some­thing very sim­i­lar to Clark last week when he an­nounced a £100m in­vest­ment in a satel­lite-test­ing fa­cil­ity in Ox­ford­shire.

Con­tin­ued par­tic­i­pa­tion in Coper­ni­cus will, of course, be sub­ject to ne­go­ti­a­tion with the re­main­ing EU na­tions; but key UK gov­ern­ment de­part­ments - such as Busi­ness, De­fra and the MoD - are un­der­stood to be push­ing hard for that par­tic­i­pa­tion to be main­tained.

Coper­ni­cus is by some dis­tance the most am­bi­tious EO de­vel­op­ment un­der way any­where in the world at the mo­ment.

The gen­eral pub­lic tends to think that Amer­ica leads on all things space, but the US does not have a civil EO plan to match what is go­ing on in Europe right now.

Coper­ni­cus en­vis­ages a whole suite of space­craft sen­sors in or­bit to take the pulse of Planet Earth.

Five of these Sen­tinels - as the satel­lites are all called - have al­ready been launched. 5P is the next to go up. More still will fol­low.

The multi-bil­lion-euro project is led - and 70 per cent funded - by the European Com­mis­sion. The other 30 per cent comes from the European Space Agency (ESA), which acts as the tech­ni­cal and pro­cure­ment agent on the pro­gramme.

And al­though Bri­tain will be leav­ing EU mem­ber­ship be­hind in just un­der two years, its mem­ber­ship of ESA - an in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion that is a sep­a­rate le­gal en­tity - will con­tinue. That adds an ex­tra layer of com­plex­ity into the Brexit process. But Gra­ham Turnock, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the UK Space Agency, said that skills, jobs and sci­ence would all ben­e­fit from Bri­tain continuing to play a full role in Coper­ni­cus.

“There is a clear state­ment of in­tent,” he told re­porters. “Ob­vi­ously, it will need to be worked through as part of the broader dis­cus­sions around our exit from the European Union but we don’t want in­dus­try to be in any sense un­sure of our di­rec­tion of travel.”

Air­bus UK and other Bri­tish space com­pa­nies be­lieve their ex­per­tise puts them in a strong po­si­tion to win more Coper­ni­cus busi­ness. There will be many tens of Coper­ni­cus con­tracts up for grabs in the next two to three years - some of them very large in­deed.

Sentinel-5P is the re­sult of a € 45.5mn con­tract that was signed in 2011. The satel­lite car­ries a sin­gle sen­sor known as TROPOMI, which has been pro­duced by a Dutch con­sor­tium, led sci­en­tif­i­cally by the KNMI (Royal Nether­lands Me­te­o­rolog-

ical In­sti­tute).

This in­stru­ment is a four-in­one spec­trom­e­ter that is ca­pa­ble of dis­tin­guish­ing a range of chem­i­cal species in the at­mos­phere that are as­so­ci­ated with pol­lu­tion. These in­clude nitro­gen diox­ide and sul­phur diox­ide, which are emis­sions from fos­sil­fuel burn­ing.

TROPOMI will also mon­i­tor ozone - both the ‘good’ ver­sion of the gas that sits high in the at­mos­phere and pro­tects us from harm­ful ul­tra­vi­o­let ra­di­a­tion; and the ‘bad’ ozone that forms at ground level and causes res­pi­ra­tory ir­ri­ta­tion in vul­ner­a­ble in­di­vid­u­als.

The ‘Pre­cur­sor’ in the space­craft’s name ref­er­ences the fact that the in­stru­ment comes be­fore a near-iden­ti­cal sen­sor that will even­tu­ally fly on Europe’s next-gen­er­a­tion weather satel­lites from 2021.

Putting up 5P now also en­sures there is no data gap in ob-

ser­va­tions should an age­ing, pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion in­stru­ment sud­denly fail. That sen­sor, called OMI, flies on the US space agency’s Aura satel­lite. Al­though still in good health, it is op­er­at­ing far be­yond its de­sign life­time.

“But TROPOMI is more than a gap-filler be­cause it will see a ma­jor im­prove­ment in data qual­ity,” said prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Pepijn Veefkind from KNMI. “The spa­tial res­o­lu­tion is ten times higher than OMI. It will be like putting on glasses; you will be able to dis­tin­guish dif­fer­ent re­gions of a city to see how they change as emis­sions evolve.”

Josef Aschbacher, the di­rec­tor of Earth ob­ser­va­tion pro­grammes at ESA, said Sen­tinel5P would be feed­ing an in­sa­tiable de­mand for EO data.

Al­ready, Coper­ni­cus was ser­vic­ing tens of thou­sands of users across the world, he added.

This photo shows sci­en­tists pos­ing af­ter the com­ple­tion of the Sentinel-5 Pre­cur­sor plat­form. Sentinel-5P will make global maps of pol­lu­tion from an al­ti­tude of 824km

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