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UK stays involved in European space strategy

January 4, 2021

While the Christmas Eve signature on the exit agreement between the UK and the European Union grabbed most of the headlines, the fact is that the Christmas to New Year period saw a number of other announcements made concerning future trade deals and agreements. Cynics might argue that the news had been buried by the authorities.

The core UK-EU agreement – at least in its summary – is somewhat vague but Part 5 (chapter 164) is where the UK’s participation in EU programmes is outlined, and states: “The additional detail on the individual programmes the UK is intending to participate in – Horizon Europe, Euratom Research and Training, and Copernicus – will be included in a protocol to the main Agreement, once the regulations establishing the programmes are settled, a draft of which has been published alongside the main Agreement.”

The agreement adds: “A protocol to the Agreement will set out the UK’s access to services from the EU Space Surveillance & Tracking programme on these terms and will be adopted by the Specialised Committee when the relevant Union regulations are finalised.” The agreement states that the UK will pay a participation fee towards the admin costs of these programmes.

The EU budget for the Space Surveillance & Tracking is being set for the period 2021-2027. As was generally expected the UK remains part of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is not part of the UK/EU exit, has the UK paying about €1.8 billion towards the ESA’s Copernicus Segment 4 (Earth observation) tasks. In other words, the UK will be allowed to use ESA’s Space Surveillance & Tracking, but NOT the Galileo sat-nav service.

The Galileo sat-nav service is 100 per cent funded by the EU, and despite ESA being the implementing agency (and the UK’s portion of the manufacturing aspects) the UK’s departure from Europe means an end to access to Galileo, hence Britain’s enthusiasm for OneWeb to fill the gap.

Copernicus (and its ‘Sentinel’ missions) focuses Climate Change, biodiversity, agriculture and similar studies. There are 6 Copernicus missions contracted and these cover border surveillance under the Copernicus Security Service scheme which includes maritime surveillance.

However, on December 29th the British government issued a statement saying that the agreement was subject to the finalisation of EU Space Regulation which the UK says it will need to assess.

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