ESA hoping for UK involvement in EU-funded space programmes

The European Space Agency (ESA) hopes the UK can strike a deal in Brussels for involvement in European Union (EU) funded ESA programmes.

While ESA is non-governmental and the UK’s membership is not in question, some of the agency’s programmes are financed by the EU.

But for other projects, such as the Earth observation programme Copernicus, the situation is a bit more complicated.

Copernicus is based on mixed contributions where some satellites are paid for by ESA, and others are directly funded by the EU but implemented by ESA.

ESA director general Jan Woerner, said: “We have not only the UK we have also Switzerland and Norway.

“Both Switzerland and Norway have agreements with the EU and I hope that also the UK will have agreements in the future with the EU, which allow us really to forget about Brexit also in the programmes paid by the EU.

“But right now, for these specific programmes, there is a certain problem.”

He was speaking after an ESA council meeting which appointed the new ESA director general and discussed matters involving ESA’s space transportation, space economy and analysis of the impact of Covid-19.

ESA appointed Dr Josef Aschbacher as the next director general and he will succeed Prof Woerner, whose term ends on June 30 2021.

Dr Aschbacher is currently ESA director of earth observation programmes.

Commenting on what would happen if there was no UK participation in Copernicus, he said: “We hope that the UK can join the programme in Brussels, this is of course the default option and this is what we hope for.”

Dr Aschbacher added that if this was not possible, other options would have to be investigated.

Prof Woerner also spoke about the scientific discoveries that were discussed in the council meeting.

He said: “Just to go into one thing, dark matter was in the past, always seemed to be something like a cloud in the universe, a cloud which is something like 25% of the universe.

“That was the idea of dark matter, and dark energy then another 70%.

“So, Gunther Hasinger (ESA director of science) showed us that the newest investigation showed that dark matter is not like a cloud, but is more localised.

“And this gives food to the theory that dark matter and black holes are let’s say at least brothers or sisters, if not even identical.

“This is a very fascinating thing but he was also reporting about all the other missions – the campfires on the surface of the sun, and things like that, which were very impressive.”