WASHINGTON — The European Union and the United Kingdom have reached a deal that will allow the UK to resume participation in the EU elements of the Copernicus Earth observation program.
The European Commission and the UK government announced Sept. 7 that they had completed an agreement to permit the UK to be a part of Copernicus as well as the Horizon Europe research funding program. The UK had been cut out of both programs after it completed its exit from the EU in 2020.
The announcement provided few details about how UK will be fully integrated back into Copernicus. “Information on the UK association to Copernicus will be uploaded shortly,” the EU’s Copernicus website stated. The UK government said that scientists in the country would regain access to data on Jan. 1, along with the ability of British companies to bid on contracts.
“The association of the UK to Copernicus will enable the UK’s access to a state-of-the-art capacity to monitor the Earth and to its services,” the two governments said in a joint statement.
“The UK’s association to Copernicus comes at a crucial moment,” the statement continued, “where the Copernicus space infrastructure and its information services will evolve further and their contribution to understanding and acting on environmental and climate change related challenges is more important than ever.”
The deal resolves what had been awkward situation for Copernicus, a joint effort of the EU and the European Space Agency. While the UK left the European Union, it remained part of ESA, a separate organization, and contributed funding to ESA’s share of the program. However, the UK’s departure from the EU created a funding gap for Copernicus and also limited UK participation in missions.
“The UK has a long history of expertise and innovation in Earth observation, so it is excellent news that we are going to continue our association in the EU part of Copernicus,” said Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, in a statement. “Participating in Copernicus will enable the UK space sector to continue to play a significant role in the development of critical missions that will enable us to monitor our planet more effectively and lead a global effort through the use of satellite data to find new solutions to the urgent challenge of climate change.”
Neither government disclosed how much the UK would contribute to the EU’s portion of Copernicus. The European Commission said the UK would provide an average of nearly 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) a year to the combination of Copernicus and Horizon Europe, a much larger program. In 2021, ESA said the UK contribution to the EU aspects of Copernicus was valued at 750 million euros over several years.
The two government also announced in the statement that the deal will also give access to the EU’s Space Surveillance and Tracking, or EUSST, program, which provides space situational awareness services. It does not include the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation program.