One of Europe's flagship space projects looks as though it is going to proceed with the UK continuing to be a bit-part player, scientists and engineers fear.

The Kopernikus programme is dedicated to acquiring and collating satellite data on the health of the planet.

Although Britain says it recognises the project's high value, especially for monitoring the climate, it has so far declined to take a lead in the venture.

Industry and academia have called for a swift change in government policy.

Failure to adopt a more positive approach before a critical meeting of Europe's space ministers next month will put expertise and jobs in the UK at risk, they warn.

"We had a chance three years ago to play a major role in this programme and I'm afraid it looks as though we are about to let slip another opportunity," said Dr Mike Healy from EADS Astrium, the largest space company in the UK.

Global view

Kopernikus is a joint endeavour of the European Space Agency (Esa) and the European Commission.

It is building a coordinated system for Earth observation and monitoring.

It will pull together all the information obtained by environmental satellites, air and ground stations to provide a comprehensive picture of the planet.

Its quest is to generate continuous, cross-calibrated, long-term data-sets that can be used to inform European policies to deal with global change. New satellites are being ordered to fill in data gaps.

But Kopernikus will cost in excess of two billion euros and the UK, despite its claim to lead on climate issues, has been reluctant to invest in the project.

It passed up the opportunity to drive the programme when it was initiated in 2005, and figures in industry and academia have told the BBC that the noises coming from within government indicate the UK will also give the second phase only limited financial support.

It has been suggested there may be as little as 40m euros on the table from Britain when the member states of Esa meet in The Hague at the end of November to declare their positions.

Leadership question

Kopernikus supporters were hoping there might be funds in excess of 100m euros.

"One wonders if Europe will get anything from the UK, frankly," a depressed Colin Challen MP told BBC News.

"At the present time, we can claim scientific leadership on climate matters, in the Hadley Centre (a climate modelling facility) and at a great many other institutions in the UK that are doing a lot of extremely valuable work.

"But this kind of investment is about keeping us at the forefront," said the chair of the all party parliamentary group on climate change.

"Maybe that doesn't matter; maybe it's OK for the rest of Europe to do this job and for us to just freeload. But then we won't be able to claim we are the world leaders on tackling climate change."

For the UK's Earth observation scientists, the government's position is baffling.

Professor Shaun Quegan from Sheffield University said that Britain was losing influence in Kopernikus.

Satellite instruments that would obtain key climate and pollution data, and which the UK would excel at building, risked being sidelined, he warned.

"Dealing with climate change isn't just about running [computer] models; it's about actually getting the data. It's the data which keeps the models honest, if you like," Professor Quegan told BBC News.

"If we're saying climate is a major scientific issue and the UK is a serious player in this, but then we're choosing not to take part in the observational system that is needed - well, basically, we are talking the talk and not walking the walk."

For industry, the unwillingness of the UK to commit to Kopernikus has a very direct and negative impact.

Because Esa programmes operate on a juste retour (fair return) basis, those countries which contribute most to programmes can be guaranteed to get the biggest contracts to build satellites and support systems.

In Britain's case, the flip-side applies: its low subscription means its companies get less work. Astrium UK watched the contract for the first dedicated Kopernikus satellite go to an Italian company even though the British outfit had done the early research work.

"The last ministerial was disastrous for us," said Dr Healy.

"OK, we've been pretty successful recently - we've won quite a bit of commercial work - but institutional funding is very important to us; it accounts for 30% of what we do. To have two disastrous ministerials in a row would erode our long-term competitive position."

Last efforts

Kopernikus is often held up as the classic illustration of what is wrong with British space policy.

Whereas Germany, France and Italy have national space agencies that speak with single voices backed up by single budgets, the UK's approach is to devolve space policy decisions to a club of "users".

These users are the government departments and research councils that have interests in space science or space-borne services. The arrangement is supposed to ensure that limited space funding chases "need" and not "vanity".

But critics say the inability of this club to adopt coherent positions on complex programmes such as Kopernikus means that UK delegations often find themselves marginalised when they go into international negotiations.

Colin Challen intends to put down an Early Day Motion in the Commons on Tuesday to bring attention to the Kopernikus issue. "We have a few weeks left before the ministerial to try to put this right," he explained.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead user on Kopernikus in the UK. A spokesperson said: "The UK government is committed to supporting this valuable environmental monitoring programme and no final funding decisions have yet been taken."


flagship 旗艦 (輪船公司裡)最好(或最大)的船;(同類事物中的)佼佼者 頭號,一流

as though 猶如;好似

dedicated 以...奉獻,以...供奉  獻(身);把(時間,精力等)用於

collating 校對,核對;對照 整理;檢點

monitoring 監控;監聽;監測;監視


called for 需要

swift  快速的,快捷的 立刻的,即時的

adopt 採取;採納;吸收 挑選...為候選人  正式通過,接受

expertise 專門知識;專門技術

joint 接頭,接縫;接合點 聯合的,共同的

endeavour 努力,力圖 盡力

coordinated 協調,調節,使調和

quest 尋找;追求;探索

generate 造成,引起 產生,發生

calibrated校準 使...標準化

data-sets 資料集;資料組;資料裝置

deal with 應付;處理

reluctant 不情願的;勉強的

passed up 拒絕;放棄

initiated 開始;創始;開始實施

noises 聲響;喧鬧聲 議論

depressed 沮喪的,消沈的,憂鬱的  蕭條的,不景氣的;貧困的

facility設備,設施;工具 熟練,靈巧;流暢

institutions 公共團體,機構;公共團體的建築物  制度,習俗   建立,設立,制定


freeload吃白食;揩油;依賴他人為生  不勞而獲

tackling 著手對付(或處理)


instruments 儀器;器具,器械  手段,工具;促成某事的東西  樂器

excel 勝過,優於 突出;勝過他人

unwillingness 不情願;勉強

guaranteed 必定的,肯定的

flip-side 對立面;相對立的人

outfit 全套裝備;全套工具,全套用品  全套服裝  】(協同工作的)一組人;團體;部隊  公司,企業  裝備,配備

disastrous 災害的;災難性的,悲慘的

erode 腐蝕;侵蝕;磨損

held up 阻礙

agencies 專業行政機構,局,署,處,社

backed up 支持


devolve 被轉移,被移交

arrangement 安排;準備工作 約定,非正式協議;調停

chases 追逐,追趕;追尋;追求

vanity自負;虛榮(心)[  虛幻;無意義,無益 

inability 無能;無力;不能

coherent 一致的,協調的

delegations 代表的委派;委任,授權  代表團

marginalised 使局限於社會邊緣;排斥;忽視;使脫離主流

intends 想要;打算

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