TOULOUSE, France — The British government on Jan. 31 agreed to invest 15 million British pounds ($25 million) in two French satellite Earth observation programs — one being run with the United States, the other with European governments — as part of a bilateral framework agreement punctuating the growing space policy relations between the two nations.
Meeting at the Royal Air Force base in Brize Norton as part of a bilateral summit, the heads of the two nations’ space agencies signed agreements that will see British scientists enter into partnership with France for the IASI Next Generation instrument for Europe’s weather satellite organization, Eumetsat. The infrared sounding instrument, which measures atmospheric temperature and humidity, will be placed aboard the Eumetsat Metop polar-orbiting meteorological satellites, now in development.
The IASI investment totals 5.5 million pounds.
The agreement also commits Britain to investing 7.5 million pounds into the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite being developed by the French space agency, CNES, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for a launch in 2020.
The SWOT spacecraft is a follow-on to the 20-year Jason line of ocean topography satellites that started as a bilateral CNES-NASA program but has extended to include the U.S. and European weather satellite agencies.
CNES and the U.K. Space Agency said the framework agreement is also designed to coordinate the two nations’ positions in the run-up to a meeting of the 20 European Space Agency member governments in December in Luxembourg.
The December meeting ofministers will notably decide the future of relations between ESA and the European Union, an issue on which France and Britain have not always seen eye to eye.
The British government in the past year has substantially raised its space profile in Europe under David Willetts, the British science and universities minister, who has especially favored British investment in ESA satellite telecommunications programs.
Follow Peter on Twitter: @pbdes