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Space facility to come to the UK

26 November 2008

The European Space Agency announced today that it will build a facility in the UK. Science minister, Lord Drayson, negotiated the deal at the space agency's ministerial meeting at The Hague.

Diamond synchrotron

The proposed space facility site at Harwell in Oxfordshire already houses the Diamond Light Source.

The centre will be part of a €10 billion overall package for ESA agreed by the 18 member states.

The facility will focus on climate change research and robotics. The site for the facility looks set to be the Harwell innovation campus, just south of Oxford, as reported by Planet Earth yesterday.

The site, which is owned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Health Protection Agency, is already the centre of many cutting edge technologies, and houses the Diamond Synchrotron light source (pictured).

During the ministerial meeting, which finished today, Drayson also committed €102.5 million (£82m) to ESA's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programmes.

'It will transform how the UK is perceived in space research.'
Professor Alan O'Neill, director of the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation

'The UK is the fourth highest contributor to the European Space Agency's programmes, and I'm determined that we remain a significant player in European space,' said Drayson.

'The GMES programme offers a crucial tool to aid our understanding and monitoring of climate change variables,' he added.

The UK's world-leading position in climate change research is believed to have contributed to securing the facility for Britain. The UK operates the Met Office Hadley Centre, and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the British Antarctic Survey, the National Centre for Atmospheric Research and the newly-established National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) amongst others.

The NCEO in particular already has close links with the space agency. NCEO director, Professor Alan O'Neill, said, 'This looks really good for the UK. It will transform how the UK is perceived in space research.'

He added that the announcement is an opportunity for the UK to have much greater influence with the space agency.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) manages the UK's Earth observation budget and invests around £40 million in ESA projects annually, primarily Earth observation satellites. NERC's senior management were part of the UK contingent who brokered the deal.

The UK's contributions to the ESA Optional Programme in full:

GMES programmes €102.5 million. This is split in two: the European Earth Watch Programme for global monitoring of essential climate change variables (€15 million); and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme - segment two (€87.5 million).

Aurora - Enhanced Exo Mars Mission Component - an increased subscription to (€165 million).

Aurora - Mars Robotic Exploration Preparation Programme Component (€6.5 million).

Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES) (€121 million)

Space Situational Awareness (€1 million)

General Support Technologies Programme (€3 million)

What is GMES?

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme is a joint initiative set up by the European Space Agency and the European Commission. It was designed to support European policies, in particular Europe's environmental commitments.

The GMES system has four components: dedicated satellites known as the GMES sentinels; monitoring systems on the ground or oceans; marine monitoring and forecasting systems and land cover mapping; and data management systems.

Satellites and other observing systems can provide governments with information on deforestation, desertification, land degradation, agriculture, fisheries, transport, humanitarian aid and regional development. They can also provide valuable data for UK researchers.


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