Deal struck on UK-ESA Research Centre and GMES

A European Space Agency (ESA) research centre will be established in the UK following an agreement made by Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson today.

Lord Drayson and ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain signed an agreement in principle to secure an ESA research centre in the UK at the ESA Ministerial taking place this week at The Hague. The research centre, which will be based at the Harwell science and innovation campus in Oxfordshire, could be up and running within a year.

Once established, ESA money will be directed to fund new work on climate change modelling that uses space data and the development of technologies for a new era of planetary exploration, including robotics and novel power sources.

Announcing the agreement, Lord Drayson said:

"I'm delighted to have struck this deal today. Laying the foundations for a possible centre was one of my aspirations at this meeting, but to come away with a signed agreement on a facility is great news for the UK and ESA.

"This centre represents a first for the UK. It will direct more ESA business and funding to our shores, which of course is very important for our economy - but also the establishment of a new ESA centre is extremely encouraging for British scientists working in space science as they will have closer involvement in international space station programmes."

During the two-day ministerial meeting, which concludes today, Lord Drayson also committed to invest £82 million in the ESA's flagship Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programmes in a package of UK subscriptions totalling over £300 million.

Announcing the GMES commitment Lord Drayson said:

"The greatest challenge facing our generation is climate change. Despite the global economic downturn, it is vital that we increase the pace of research in this area.

"The GMES programme offers a crucial tool to aid our understanding and monitoring of climate change variables.

"I am pleased to have announced the UK's commitment to the second segment of the programme at the Ministerial today. Participation in GMES, alongside the other significant projects that the UK has committed to support at this meeting, will ensure the UK remains a key player in using space science to monitor climate change."

Other programmes backed by the UK include those that will search for life on Mars and develop telecommunications technology - which will strengthen the UK's role in the global space industry.

Lord Drayson added:

"It is the Government's priority, particularly in the current economic climate, to ensure the most out of every pound we invest in ESA. This is why we have selected the areas and programmes where the UK can compete and grow most effectively.

"Historically, the UK has made smart investments in robotics and microsatellites and this has enabled us to develop world-class leads in these areas.

"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."

The UK made contributions to seven optional ESA programmes, including:

  1. Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES). This programme will make the most of the UK's reputation and expertise in satellite communications technology, where the UK has a vibrant and growing business.

  2. Aurora Enhanced Exo Mars Mission Component and Exploration Programme. ExoMars will search for evidence of life on Mars. It is expected to launch Jan 2016 and will consist of a rover vehicle and stationary lander. The UK is the second largest contributor to the programme in terms of funding and the UK company Astrium has the contract to construct the Mars Rover.

  3. Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) segment two. GMES will provide essential observations to monitor climate change. The programme includes a key satellite mission to measure the chemicals in the atmosphere. It is expected that the high-tech UK space industry will play a leading role in developing the satellites for this programme.

The UK also agreed investments in the ESA's mandatory programmes over the next three years; The Science Programme, funded by Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC, pays for the design, build and launch of a series of science missions in astronomy, solar physics and planetary science. The UK's investment will be €234.5 million.

The General Budget, funded by STFC and the Natural Environment Research Council, pays for the basic infrastructure and overheads of the ESA programme. The UK's investment will be €110 million.

The ESA Ministerial is a meeting of 18 Ministers from across the Agency's Member States. Held every three years, the meeting's objective is to agree levels of investment to all ESA programmes.

Notes to editors

For interviews with the Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson, please contact:

Clare Kingston
Tel: +44 (0)7827 282 030

For interviews with Daniel Sacotte, ESA Director Advice to Director General, please contact:

Franco Bonacina
Tel: +31 6 0874 6109

The confirmed UK subscriptions to the ESA Optional Programme are:

  1. GMES Programmes: Total € 102.5 million, comprising of:-
    • European Earth Watch Programme - global monitoring of essential climate change variables - € 15 million
    • Global Monitoring for Environment and Security segment two - € 87.5 million

  2. European Space Exploration Programme - Aurora - Enhanced Exo Mars Mission Component - an increased subscription to € 165 million

  3. European Space Exploration Programme - Aurora - Mars Robotic Exploration Preparation Programme Component - € 6.5 million

  4. Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES) - total subscription to seven elements of this programme - € 121million

  5. Space Situational Awareness - € 1 million

  6. General Support Technologies Programme - total subscription of €3million across the four programme elements

The British National Space Centre (BNSC) coordinates civil space policy across UK Government. A voluntary partnership of 11 Government departments and research councils, BNSC represents the UK at the European Space Agency.

The European Space Agency (ESA) represents 18 Member States. The Agency's projects are designed to find out more about the Earth, the Solar System and the Universe, as well as to develop satellite-based technology and services, and to promote the competitiveness of European industry.

For more information, contact the DIUS press office on 0203 300 8105.

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