Space Technology

Despite a lack of consent from the United Kingdom, the European Space Agency is pressing forward with future Copernicus missions

With a deadline for a settlement between the UK and the European Union (EU) on British participation in and funding for Copernicus having passed, the European Space Agency is moving forward with multiple missions in the hopes of reaching an agreement.

British and European negotiators have been working toward a November 30 deadline for British involvement in E.U. parts of the Copernicus post-Brexit, such as a €750 million ($850 million) British contribution to the program. However, the deadline passed without a deal.

Without a deal, the Copernicus program will suffer a funding gap, which might affect work on 6 new Earth scientific missions planned at ESA’s 2019 ministerial conference and for which contracts will be issued in July 2020.

The topic was discussed at the ESA Council’s most recent meeting, which ended on December 15. During a press conference following the meeting, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher noted the €750 million euro financing shortage. He said other possibilities were being considered, including just postponing the deadline for a deal as long as possible.

“One [option] that is highly likely to be brought up is to leave the door open and defer the decision point,” he said, referring to the missions’ critical design review (CDR). “We may put this date back to 2024 with various arrangements and discussions with industry, giving us three additional years to renegotiate and, basically, get the €750 million.” The United Kingdom’s involvement remains a priority and our best option.”

That means the CDR, when final permission is given to carry forward with full-scale construction of the spacecraft, will become the “break point or go/no-go decision” on moving forward based on available money, according to him. The companies operating on those missions will face difficulties as a result of this proposal. During a panel discussion at World Satellite Business Week on December 16, Philippe Pham, who serves as the senior vice president in charge of the Earth observation, navigation, as well as science at the Airbus Defence and Space firm, said, “What we anticipate from our organizations is to create an agreement between the PDR and the CDR.” The preliminary design review, commonly abbreviated as PDR, of those Copernicus flights is set for 2022, with CDRs expected for late 2023 or early 2024.

“It provides us some leeway for a final agreement to keep the six missions,” he explained. “What we anticipate is that the EU will find a solution to the missing Brexit funds while keeping the six missions on track.”

On the same panel, Massimo Comparini, who serves as the deputy chief executive officer of Thales Alenia Space, remarked, “It’s critical that we protect all six missions.” While the missions are technically mature, he believes there should be no attempt to cut development timetables between reviews or from the CDR to the launch phase. “We’re dealing with such vital operations that we can’t afford to take any shortcuts,” he stated.

About the author

Amanda Rose

Amanda Rose

Amanda Rose has lived in Nashville her whole life. Amanda has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade and has contributed to several large publications including the Yahoo News and the Oakland Tribune. As a founder and journalist for Murphys Hockey Law, Amanda covers the latest happening in the world of technology.
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