Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Europe's 10bn euro space vision

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, The Hague

Sentinel (Esa)
New Earth-observing satellites are needed for GMES

Britain says it will put substantial investment into the world's biggest environmental monitoring project.

The UK delegation to the European Space Agency ministerial meeting in The Hague has pledged 102m euros (86m) to GMES.

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme will use satellites to build a full picture of the state of the planet.

The UK contribution should position its national scientists and engineers to play an important role in the project.

GMES, sometimes also referred to as Kopernikus, is a joint venture between the European Union and Esa, and will cost in total in excess of 2bn euros.

The project's quest is to generate continuous, cross-calibrated, long-term data-sets that can be used to inform European policies to deal with global change, and will become a key tool to monitor the effects of the shifting climate.

Larsen B ice shelf
Joint venture of European Union and European Space Agency
Pulls together all Earth-monitoring data, from space and ground
Will use existing and newly commissioned spacecraft
Crucial to the understanding of how our climate is changing
Important for disaster monitoring - earthquakes, floods, fires, etc
An enforcement tool for EU policies: fishing quotas, etc
Project briefly called Kopernikus; but preferred name is now GMES

"This is vital for us to make sure that we develop both an understanding of the science of climate change but also the effectiveness of the measures the world is now taking to reduce global warming," said UK science minister, Lord Drayson, who led the British delegation to the Esa meeting.

"Again, this is an area of space science that we see as a real priority for the UK. We are a global leader in the debate about the world's response to what I believe is the greatest challenge of our generation," he told BBC News.

GMES will pull together all the information gathered by ground-based monitoring equipment and combine it with observations from many satellites.

New spacecraft, known as the Sentinels, are being ordered to fill in science gaps and guarantee the data stream into the future.

The UK passed up the opportunity to lead GMES when it was initiated in 2005, contributing just 4.5% to the cost of the Esa segment offered at that time. This surprised many observers who expected Britain to fund the project in a way that reflected its economic weight within the space agency and its interest in climate matters.

The new British money will go into the second segment of the project, and puts UK industry and academia in a much better position to have some influence on GMES' evolution.

UK industry is keen to help build Sentinel 5, which will gather information on atmospheric composition. It had been worried that another low subscription from Britain might lock companies out of the contracts to make the satellite.

Richard Peckham, the chairman of trade group UKspace, told BBC News: "I am very pleased that the UK has joined at a significant level, especially after the last ministerial when Britain very nearly dropped out of GMES; and we're grateful for the efforts of Lord Drayson.

"We're disappointed the subscription wasn't a bit more but [British space officials] believe the subscription will be enough, coupled with an under-return on Earth observation in other areas from Esa, for the UK to be given the lead on Sentinel 5."

The 18 member states of the European Space Agency have been meeting here in Holland to approve policies and programmes for the next three to five years.

They have sanctioned funding for ongoing activities, such as Esa's involvement in the space station and the Ariane rocket project; but they have also initiated a range of new ventures.

These cover new space technologies and science missions to the planets.

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