space

ESA appoints new director, hopes UK will continue to collaborate on EU projects

The European Space Agency (ESA) has said it hopes the UK can strike a deal with EU negotiators to maintain involvement in its programmes.

While the UK will continue to be a member of ESA even after Brexit, some of its programmes are financed by the EU, calling the involvement of the UK with those into question.

Jan Wörner, the agency’s outgoing director-general, expressed hope that the UK could have a relationship similar to that which Switzerland and Norway currently enjoy with the EU.

Speaking after an ESA council meeting where his successor was appointed, Wörner said: “Both Switzerland and Norway have agreements with the EU and I hope that also the UK will have agreements in the future with the EU, which allow us really to forget about Brexit also in the programmes paid by the EU.

“Right now, for these specific programmes, there is a certain problem.”

Wörner has been head of ESA since 2015, but will be succeeded by Dr Josef Aschbacher when his term ends on 30 June 2021. Aschbacher is currently ESA director of earth observation programmes at its centre for Earth Observation near Rome.

The €6.7bn Copernicus Programme, which aims to achieve continuous and autonomous observation of the Earth from space, currently has a joint funding arrangement with ESA and the EU, which complicates the UK’s continued involvement.

For now, the UK has said it will remain a member of ESA and will continue to participate in the Copernicus Space Component of the Programme, which will allow UK firms to continue bidding for contracts.

Commenting on the issue, incoming chief Aschbacher said: “We hope that the UK can join the programme in Brussels; this is, of course, the default option and this is what we hope for.”

Dr Aschbacher was elected to his new role by the ESA’s 22 member states and has already been deeply involved in some of the agency’s most high-profile missions.

A total of 19 of the agency’s member states are part of the EU, while the UK, Norway and Switzerland are not. The UK was shut out of the EU’s Galileo project in June 2018 due to concerns over security clearance and Brexit.

The UK's then-Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced £92m for a feasibility study into a possible homegrown navigation system that could rival Galileo, although this was reportedly scrapped for being a waste of taxpayer funds.

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