Brexit deal to allow UK to continue being part of Copernicus program

Under the deal, the UK “shall participate in the Copernicus component of the Space program and benefit from Copernicus services and products in the same way as other participating countries.” This covers the Copernicus Security Service, which utilises Copernicus satellite data for border and maritime surveillance. A separate agreement between the EU and the UK is also needed to define the UK’s use of the service.

Brexit deal to allow UK to continue being part of Copernicus program
Brexit deal to allow UK to continue being part of Copernicus program

Brexit deal to allow UK to continue being part of Copernicus program

The United Kingdom and the European Union recently announced a new agreement that will allow the UK to continue being a part of the Copernicus Earth observation program after formally exiting the EU.

Announced on December 24th, the agreement covers the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit. Previously, The UK had to complete the deal covering trade, law enforcement, and participation in EU-led programs, by January 1st.

The new agreement includes participation in certain EU space programs and allows the U.K. to participate in Copernicus during the seven-year timeline of the EU’s latest multiannual financial framework, beginning in 2021, reported SpaceNews.

Under the deal, the UK “shall participate in the Copernicus component of the Space program and benefit from Copernicus services and products in the same way as other participating countries.” This covers the Copernicus Security Service, which utilises Copernicus satellite data for border and maritime surveillance. A separate agreement between the EU and the UK is also needed to define the UK’s use of the service.

The deal provides clarity on what role, if any, the UK would have in EU space programs. Copernicus was especially complicated since it is a joint program between the EU and the European Space Agency, with funding from both organizations. Despite leaving the European Union, the UK will remain a member state of ESA.

“We hope that the UK can join the program in Brussels. This is the default option and this is what we hope for,” said Josef Aschbacher, Director of ESA’s Earth observation programs, at a Dec. 17 press conference to announce he would be the agency’s next director-general, effective from July 2021.

Aschbacher said that the ESA was considering “different options” if a Brexit deal couldn’t be arrived at, but it was ultimately up to the EU to define its relationship with the UK on Copernicus and other issues.

However, Galileo, the EU satellite navigation program, is not covered by the Brexit deal. Those programs are “100% financed” by the EU, with ESA being the implementing agency, noted Jan Wörner, current ESA Director-General, at the Dec. 17 briefing.

Copernicus features “mixed participation” with ESA funding the development of initial satellites in the Sentinel series, and the EU covering the cost of later satellites. “There we have some issues, especially also with industrial participation,” he said.

A third EU space program is the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking program for space situational awareness. The UK government and private satellite operators based there will be able to continue using those services under the deal.