ESA selects prime contractors for six new Copernicus missions

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WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency on July 1 awarded 2.5 billion euros in development contracts for six new Earth-observation missions under the Copernicus remote-sensing satellite program.

According to the German space agency DLR, some 800 million euros ($901 million) of those contracts will go to companies in Germany. 

Funding for the six so-called High-Priority Candidate Missions was approved as part of the European Space Agency’s Space 19+ ministerial meeting in Seville, Spain. 

During last fall’s meeting, Germany committed to spending 3.3 billion euros on future space programs, making it ESA’s single biggest contributor. 

“These investments are now flowing back to Germany in the form of orders,” DLR board member Walther Pelzer said in a news release announcing German industry’s share of the Copernicus awards. 

At time of publication, the European Space Agency had not issued a news release on the Copernicus awards. ESA’s newsroom did not immediately reply to SpaceNews’ request for information about the awards. 

Based on DLR’s news release and other sources, Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy will lead three of the six missions, Airbus of Germany and Spain will lead two, and OHB of Germany will lead one. 

Bremen, Germany-based OHB Space Systems said in a news release that it will lead the CO2M mission as prime contractor and will provide instruments for two Thales Alenia Space-led missions: the Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission (CHIME) and the Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer mission (CIMR). 

Thales Alenia Space will also lead development of the ROSE-L, a synthetic aperture radar mission.

Germany-based Airbus Defence and Space, according to DLR, will serve as prime contractor for the Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter mission, known as Cristal for short. 

Airbus will also lead the Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring mission, known as LTSM, but will do so from a division in Spain.

The UK Space Agency, which remains part of ESA despite Britain exiting the European Union earlier this year, expressed disappointment that UK firms were not among the Copernicus prime contractors announced following a July 1 vote by ESA’s Industrial Policy Committee. 

“While UK organisations will play important roles in five out of the six Copernicus High Priority Candidate missions, we are disappointed overall with the contract proposals and abstained on the vote to approve them,” a UK Space Agency spokesman said in a statement given to the BCC and subsequently provided to SpaceNews. “We are committed to working closely with ESA to ensure our investments deliver industrial returns that align with our national ambitions for space.”

ESA takes each member state’s budget contributions into account in making contract awards, a practice known as geographic return. 

Of ESA’s five biggest contributors — Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Spain — only the UK came away from the July 1 Industrial Policy Committee meeting without a Copernicus prime contract for one of its companies.