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ESA moves forward on new Copernicus operation inspite lack of U.K. agreement

With a cutoff date for an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union on British involvement in and funding for, Copernicus come and go. The European Space Agency is pressing forward on various operations in the hopes a deal can ultimately be reached.

British and European mediators had been working toward a deadline of 30th November concerning British participation in the E.U. aspects of Copernicus post-Brexit. This includes a British contribution of 750 million euros ($850 million) to the program. That deadline went, though, with no contract.

Without a contract, the Copernicus program challenges a funding shortfall that could endanger work on six new Earth science missions. These have approval at ESA’s 2019 ministerial meeting, contracts for which ESA awards in July 2020.

The concern came up at the latest meeting of the ESA Council that concludes on 15th December. Josef Aschbacher is the director-general of ESA, mentions the 750-million-euro funding shortfall. This is during a media briefing after the meeting. Various choices were under concern, he says. This is including merely delaying the deadline on an agreement for as long as possible.

“One [choice] that is most likely to be brought ahead is to keep the door open and delay the decision point into the future,” he says. This is particularly until the critical design review (CDR) for the operations. “We can, with some arrangements and negotiations with industry, we could push this date into 2024. Which would give us 3 additional years to negotiate and, basically, find the 750 million. The involvement of the U.K. is still a priority and our chosen alternative.”

“It is very vital that we safeguard all the six operations,” says Massimo Comparini. Massimo is the deputy chief executive of Thales Alenia Space, on the same panel. He says that while the operations have a high level of technical maturity. There should not be any effort to compress development schedules among reviews, or from CDR to launch.

“We are talking about such vital operations that we cannot have any kind of shortcut,” he adds.

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