With a £1.8 billion investment over the next five years the UK has reaffirmed its commitment to the European Space Agency (ESA) following a two day summit in Seville, Spain, during which the agency finalised the funding of a Moon orbiting space station and new satellite programmes.
The UK Space Agency is investing £374 million per year into a raft of science projects that will be undertaken by the ESA, a European intergovernmental organisation founded in 1975 with the goal of developing Europe’s space industry.
A proportion of the investment will go towards building the Lunar Gateway, a crewed space station that will orbit the moon roughly 240,000 miles away from Earth. The station will have scientific and research laboratories and will act as a staging point for future missions to the Moon and will be instrumental in the human exploration of Mars. The Lunar Gateway project is being led by NASA, but involves global investment from the EU, Russia, Canada and Japan.
Jan Wörner the ESA’s director general commented: “Bringing together our Member States, 22 governments that change regularly, and agreeing on such inspirational projects to share a joint future in space might seem an impossible task on paper. But in two days in Seville, we have proved it is possible.”
“It is possible because we work together to develop good programmes, and it is possible because people are dedicated, and invest all their effort in a long and thorough decision process involving the scientific community, industry and national delegations.
ESA Budget Gets a Shot in the Arm
All 22 ESA members have committed to a 10 percent rise in the ESA’s science budget, of which the UK’s share is £600 million.
The investment will go towards the funding of a host of scientific and business focused projects; like the development of an early warning system for solar storms which can potentially render all satellite infrastructure inert.
As part of the exploration programme £180 million has been allocated to help bring back the first samples from Mars.
The ESA has also earmarked £250 million for the development of its telecommunications programme which aims to enable 5G connectivity between satellites. New satellites have also been commissioned with the sole purpose of obtaining a greater understanding of the on-going climate crisis.
The UK pulled out of the Galileo project in 2018, the EU’s alternative to GPS, due to Brexit uncertainty about the country’s place in the EU, even though the UK had already invested £1.4 billion into the project.
The UK currently hosts ground infrastructure for the Galileo project and as the UK is still an EU member state it automatically contributes to the programme. As such UK entities are still free to use the position, navigation and timing services enabled by the Galileo constellation.
However, in the event of a no deal scenario the UK government has made clear that: “The UK will no longer play any part in the development of Galileo or European Geostationary Navigation Overlay programmes. This means that UK-based businesses, academics and researchers will be unable to bid for future EU Global Navigation Satellite System contracts and may face difficulty carrying out and completing existing contracts.”
To avoid this the UK says it is exploring alternatives for these services and has invested £92 million towards a Brexit readiness fund to design a UK Global Navigation Satellite System. For reference the Galileo satellite navigation system was built through collaboration at a cost of £10 billion.
Speaking on the increased ESA budget and future projects Jan Wörner commented that: “Together we have put in place a structure that sees inspiration, competitiveness and responsibility underpin our actions for the coming years, with ESA and Europe going beyond our previous achievements with challenging new missions and targets for growth along with the wider industry.”
The current members of the ESA are: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.