Brexit: Science & Space

Artist's rendition of a satellite - paulfleet/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – paulfleet/123RF Stock Photo

Brexit currently dominates UK politics. Whilst it’s clear the UK is leaving the European Union (EU) in March 2019, the practical impact, and consequences, are still a confused fog hanging over everything. The UK Government Department for Exiting the European Union has been issuing position papers to set out how it sees the UK’s future arrangements with the EU.

Last week, the ‘Collaboration in science and innovation: a future partnership paper’ was issued. Given our company’s focus we were eager to see what was planned. Unfortunately, like a lot of the UK Government pronouncements on Brexit, it is high on rhetoric, but low on any helpful, or new, information or clarity.

It begins with a positive, but perhaps rather obvious, statement, stating that one of the UK’s core objectives is to ‘seek agreement to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.’

Future Partnership with EU Principles
Key aspects of the UK’s ambition for the future partnership include:

  • Science & Innovation collaboration is not only maintained, but strengthened.
  • With its strong research community, the UK wants an ambitious agreement for continued research co-operation.
  • Government wants the UK to be a hub for international talent in research, and to welcome the brightest and best people from around the world.

The principles are followed by four particular areas the UK wants to discuss with the EU. Interestingly, it specifically outlines how non-EU countries currently participate in each of these areas, which are Research & Innovation Framework Programmes, Space Programmes, Nuclear R&D and Defence R&D.

Research & Innovation Framework Programmes
Horizon 2020 is highlighted as the UK ranks top across the EU in terms of contracts and participants in it. The Government confirms its commitment to underwriting any projects submitted whilst the UK is still an EU member.

Support for this programme is good, however with an end date of 2020 it is going to be equally important to be a strong partner of whatever research funding programme that is going to follow.

Space Programmes
As we have described before the European Space Agency is not an EU institution, and so is not impacted by Brexit – a fact reinforced by the paper. Three key EU, rather than ESA, led space programmes are highlighted:

  • Galileo Navigation and Positioning System – Issues here surround both the use of the system and its ongoing development. UK firms have been key suppliers for this work including Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), Qinetiq, CGI, Airbus and Scisys.
  • Copernicus – The Copernicus Earth Observation data is freely available to anyone in the world. The key element here is about being at the table to influence the direction. Although, the paper does refer to existing precedents for third party participation.
  • Space Surveillance and Tracking – this is a new programme.

The paper states that given the unique nature of space programmes, the ‘EU and UK should discuss all options for future cooperation including new arrangements.’

What Is Not Said
There are a lot of positive and welcome words here, but also a huge amount unsaid, for example:

  • Interconnectivity: Science and innovation happens when researchers work together, so the UK’s approach to the movement of people is fundamental. Will the brightest and best be allowed to come and work here, and will they want to?
  • Education: Education is fundamental to this area, yet it does not merit a single mention in the paper. New researchers and early career scientists benefit hugely from programmes such as Erasmus, will our involvement in these continue?
  • Financial Contribution: How much is the UK willing to pay to be part of science and innovation programmes? The paper notes any financial contribution will have to be weighed against other spending priorities. Not exactly hugely encouraging.
  • Contractual Issues: Part of the issue with Galileo is that the contracts specifically exclude non-EU countries from involvement.. Whilst, it is possible to see that the UK could negotiate use of Galileo, continued involvement as a supplier may be more difficult.

Conclusion
The UK wants dialogue with the EU on far-reaching science and innovation agreement. This ambition is to be applauded, but we are a very long way away from that point. We hope both parties are able to work together to get there.

Home from Hawaii

I got back to a ‘cold’ UK on Saturday afternoon after spending last week at Ocean Sciences 2014.  It was a fantastic conference with over 5,600 attendees.  My scientific highlights were:

The Surface Ocean Layer Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) session on Monday where speakers presented research on the sea surface microlayer (the top 1 mm of the ocean); this layer is important so we can understand the transfer of compounds, such as carbon dioxide, and particles from the ocean to the atmosphere and vice versa that are critical to our interpretation of the climate.

On Tuesday afternoon it was the Optics and Light in the Particle-Laden Coastal Ocean session, with presentations focused on understanding the acoustic and optical signatures of particles, including their shape, from multi-angular measurements and Lidar (laser) profiling of a phytoplankton bloom.

My key session was obviously Optical Remote Sensing of Freshwater, Estuarine and Coastal Environments on Wednesday. I gave a presentation on Multi-Sensor Ocean Colour Atmospheric Correction for Time-Series Data.  Atmospheric correction is the removal of the atmosphere’s signal from data so only the water-leaving radiance signal is left; it allows data to be compared between days irrespective of the weather conditions of that day – so an image taken on a hazy day will look like it was taken on a clear day.

HICO™ Data, image of Hong Kong from the Oregon State University HICO Sample Image Gallery, provided by the Naval Research Laboratory

HICO™ Data, image of Hong Kong from the Oregon State University HICO Sample Image Gallery, provided by the Naval Research Laboratory

Other interesting talks from this session included Tiit Kutser’s presentation on comparing in-situ measurements with MERIS data for dissolved organic carbon and iron concentrates in Lake Malaren in Sweden, Keping Du’s retrieval algorithm for phycocanian, a pigment within cyanobacteria, within Taithu lake in China, Heidi Dierssen’s optics of seagrass for remote sensing and I also really enjoyed my mentee Guangming Zheng’s presentation on suspended sediment within Chesapeake Bay, off the west coast of America – this took me back to my PhD that focussed on the suspended sediment plume from the River Humber.

Finally, there were great presentations by Curt Davis and Nick Tufillaro on the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) mission. It’s an experimental mission that’s designed to sample the coastal ocean; one 50 x 200 km scene per orbit at a spatial resolution of around 90 m. The image on the right shows a HICO example.

On top of these oral sessions, I also spent time in the exhibition, poster sessions and some of the evening events.  My last event on the Thursday evening was about getting involved in the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research programme – so if anyone needs an Earth Observation specialist partner for their bid, get in touch!