Go back

Space faces squeeze that may damage Copernicus

Concern is growing among EU space scientists that a funding squeeze on the European Earth Observation Programme, Copernicus, could severely weaken its operations over the next seven years.

At an EU space policy conference in Brussels on 29 January, space researchers expressed fears that EU leaders may allocate less than €3.8 billion to the programme from 2014 to 2020, meaning the project—formerly known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security—will not progress as planned.

“If it is less than €4.5bn, then we will not be able to order replacement satellites within the next seven years,” said Volker Liebig, director of the Earth observation programme at the European Space Agency. Liebig said this could lead to a gap in signalling from the satellite system, which monitors Earth to provide warnings of environment change and natural disasters.

In November 2011, the European Commission proposed investment of €5.8bn for the project. But the latest budget proposal from Herman Van Rompuy, EU Council president, includes an allocation of just €3.8bn, to which ESA may add a further €1bn, for future system upgrades, said Liebig. “Doubts about funding has cast a shadow over operations,” added Antonio Tajani, EU commissioner for enterprise and industry.

The announcement mirrors concerns about the impact of under-funding for the wider space programme, including research under Horizon 2020. “If we ignore the contribution that can be made by space research, we would be making a huge error,” said Daniel Calleja Crespo, director general of DG Enterprise and Industry. “Research and investment in space will support a cutting-edge sector and have significant economic repercussions of around €100bn over the next 20 years,” he said.

Anne Glover, the Commission’s chief scientific adviser, said that, to maintain funding, scientists should promote the widespread benefits of space research. “The best space agency in the world is ESA, but most people would say NASA because we don’t broadcast what we do,” she said.

Some efficiency savings could also be made by forging closer ties between the EU and ESA, said Philippe Brunet, the director of DG Enterprise and Industry. In November, the Commission outlined problems including different financial rules that it says prevent efficient interactions between the two organisations.