AND BEST WISHES FOR 2018Â
from everyone at Pixalytics
AND BEST WISHES FOR 2018Â
from everyone at Pixalytics
Brexit currently dominates UK politics. Whilst itâ€™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 UKâ€™s future arrangements with the EU.
Last week, the â€˜Collaboration in science and innovation: a future partnership paperâ€™ 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 UKâ€™s core objectives is to â€˜seek agreement to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.â€™
Future Partnership with EU Principles
Key aspects of the UKâ€™s ambition for the future partnership include:
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.
As we have described before the European Space Agency is not an EU institution, and so is not impacted by Brexit â€“ a fact reinforced by the paper. Three key EU, rather than ESA, led space programmes are highlighted:
The paper states that given the unique nature of space programmes, the â€˜EU and UK should discuss all options for future cooperation including new arrangements.â€™
What Is Not Said
There are a lot of positive and welcome words here, but also a huge amount unsaid, for example:
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.
UK companies involved in European Commission space programmes face an uncertain future according to media reports over the last week. The Financial Times reported that the European Commission wanted two key clauses in the contracts for work on the next part of the â‚¬10 bn Galileo Satellite Navigation System. These would allow the Commission to:
Clearly, this poses a huge risk to UK companies given the fact that the UK has indicated its intention to leave the EU in 2019 by triggering Article 50. We wrote about the potential impacts of Brexit last year, and whilst we did pick up concerns over Galileo we didn’t see this coming!
Should the UK Space Industry be concerned?
Despite reports to the contrary, this does not mean we are leaving the European Space Agency (ESA). We are very much remaining part of ESA, something that was confirmed at the ministerial in December. This solely relates to programmes owned, and funded, by the European Union (EU). However, it is concerning for two key reasons:
What CanÂ UK Companies Do?
The options are limited:
Any Causes For Optimism?
Not really, but there are tiny strands of hope.
It was fairly obvious, despite the contrary political rhetoric, that Brexit would have huge consequences on the UKâ€™s relationship with Europe.
The UKâ€™s space industry looks as though it will be at the forefront of those consequences. Forget 2019, the bite of Brexit is being felt today!
The future direction of the space industry in Europe is set to be debated at the European Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial Council taking place at the start of December. It will look at the Space Strategy for Europe which we reviewed last week, and crucially will set ESAâ€™s budget for the few next years.
The Council is the governing body of ESA and each of the 22 member states is represented, plus Canada. The Council is chaired by ESAâ€™s Director General Jan Woerner, and he gave a press briefing in Paris earlier this week in advance of the meeting.
Sadly, I was unable to go to France for the meeting; but luckily Peter B de Selding from Space News was there and produced an excellent article which highlighted the key points including:
The headline message on money is clearly the requested â‚¬11 billion settlement. In 2016 the ESA budget was â‚¬5.25 billion, of which almost 30% was income from the European Union (EU), Eumetsat and other programmes. The remaining 70% came from the contributions of each member state and Canada, and it is these future contributions that will be discussed at the Ministerial. This year the biggest contributor was Germany (â‚¬872.6 m), followed by France (â‚¬844.5 m) and Italy (â‚¬512 m) â€“ between them these three accounted for almost 60% of the ESA member state budget.
For us, Pixalytics and the UK, there were a couple of interesting points. Firstly, ESAâ€™s Earth Observation Envelope Programmes (EOEP-5) has had a 12.5% funding cut reducing their budget down to â‚¬1.4 bn for the period 2017 – 2025. Itâ€™s not currently clear what impact this reduction will, or will not, have on existing and planned activities.
Secondly, and for the second week running the blog has had to mention the B word. Weâ€™ve previously written about the fact that ESA and the EU are different organisations, and that Brexit does not directly impact our involvement with ESA â€“ a point reinforced by the Director General at the briefing.
Indirectly though, Brexit impacts, if not dominates, the political and financial landscape of the country and as such will have affected the discussions surrounding our ESA contribution commitment. For example:
We need Ministers to understand our industry, and to ensure that they support us as much as possible. This means, as we said last week, that we need to give a positive commitment to our ongoing involvement with ESA and a strong financial contribution at the Ministerial in Lucerne on the 1st and 2nd of December.
We await the outcome with interest!
Ignorance is no defence in law. Business owners must know all the legal requirements for running a business from financial regulations, through human resources issues to waste disposal. If you work in the vehicle industry, you have to know the legal minimum requirements for having vehicles on the road, insurance and maximum driving hours. Every industry has its own legal framework; do you know requirements for the space industry?
Space Law begins within discussions at the United Nations at their Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), and itâ€™s associated Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Through these bodies a number of international agreements are approved covering how space and space activities should be operated. There have been five treaties agreed:
Once a treated has been agreed, there is a two stage process to adopt the treaty into law in by individual countries. A country needs to first sign the treaty, then they must create their own national law to enact it â€“ known as ratifying the treaty. Once a country has signed a treaty, it becomes binding on them. According to OOSA, of the 193 members of the United Nations at the 1st January 2014:
Only 19 countries had signed the Moon Agreement, and 4 of those still have to ratify it.
Interestingly the UK has only signed the first four treaties, we have not signed the Moon Agreement. Other nations like the UK who have only signed the first four treaties include China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States of America. There are 13 countries that have signed and implemented all five treaties: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Turkey and Uruguay; in addition France and India have signed the treaty, but not yet ratified it.
In previous blogs weâ€™ve highlighted that in the UK the 1986 Outer Space Act is the piece of legislation which contains enacts these treaties. It contains details about who the act applies to, the licensing requirements for operating in outer space, registration of space objects, actions that can be taken to prevent people operating in outer space and offences that can be committed. The offences can be committed both by individuals, and by corporate bodies. Other countries have their own legislation, itâ€™s important that you read, and are aware of, the law in any country you are operating. Remember, ignorance is no defence.
Yesterday NASA announced its ambition to launch astronauts into space from American soil by 2017, and here the Government is currently assessing eight potential sites â€“ including one in Cornwall â€“ to be a UK spaceport by 2018. This nationalistic view of launch pads got me wondering about what the UK has previously launched in space and crucially, where from?
Under the United Nations Convention on the Registration of Space Objects 1976 a country is deemed to have launched something into space if it does so from its own soil, or it organises someone else to launch it on its behalf. This convention also places obligations on each signatory country, and the UK is one, to make information about all such launches readily available. Details are on the UN website, and in June the UK Space Agency released the UK Registry of Outer Space Objects which makes interesting reading.
According to these sources the UK has launched 67 objects, mostly satellites, into space, beginning in April 1962 with the Ariel 1 satellite. At the time, the United Kingdom was the third country to operate a satellite, after the Soviet Union and the USA. Sadly Ariel 1 had a short four month operational lifespan as it was damaged by the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test. Of all the UKâ€™s launches 63% are still operational; a further 22% are in orbit, but non-operational; while the remaining 15% have decayed and returned to earth.
Ariel 1 was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and since then another 17 launches have occurred from American soil, although the most popular UK launch site is French Guiana spaceport with 30 launches. Weâ€™ve also launched from Kazakhstan, Russia, Australia, India, Kenya and one even from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean.
Weâ€™ve not launched objects every year; our last fallow year was 2004 and 2013 was the most prolific year with eight launches. Perhaps unsurprisingly a third of the satellites have been launched for telecommunications purposes, with another 18% for military communications. The vast majority of the remainder are for scientific, technological or engineering research purposes. Of the current operational satellites, 56% are in geosynchronous orbits, 30% in low earth orbits and the remaining 14% in medium earth orbits.
This doesnâ€™t give quite the full picture of the UKâ€™s space activities. There are an additional forty five satellites where the UK was not the launching country, but has issued an Outer Space Licence (described in our recent blog) which are listed in the Supplementary Registry of Space Objects on the UK Space Agency website.
The UK has a significant, and growing space sector, and who knows in a few years we may see satellites launched from our shores in Cornwall, Wales or Scotland. Exciting times ahead!
Weâ€™ve written a number of blogs about satellites being launched, and it got me wondering if anybody can launch one â€“ in case Pixalytics ever wants to go into space. I know weâ€™re a micro business, but we think big! Unsurprisingly, it turns out that you can’t just launch a satellite.
In order for any UK company, or individual, to launch any object into space, operate a space object or engage in any activity in outer space, you need to have a licence. The licensing arrangements are detailed in the Outer Space Act 1986, which brought into UK law the provisions of the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty.
The UK Space Agency manages the licencing procedure on behalf of the UK Government, and in order to start the process you need to fill in an application form. This requires:
In addition, you need to send a non-refundable licence fee of Â£6,500; although interestingly, educational institutions carrying out activities for the purpose of scientific research or teaching donâ€™t have to pay this fee. This starts to explain why a number of Universities have launched satellites, which we highlighted in an earlier blog.
Once submitted a variety of Government organisations will assess the application including the UK Space Agency, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, OFCOM and any third party technical experts. A licence will only be issued if itâ€™s clear that the activities will not jeopardise public health or the safety of persons or property, will be consistent with the UKâ€™s international obligations and will not impact on our national security.
Once a licence has been granted, the licensee has a number of ongoing obligations; including these two intriguing ones:
The guidance suggests that you should submit your application at least six months before launch, although to me given the time, and cost, of building and launching a satellite, six months seems a little late in the day.
Whilst satellite technology may be getting smaller and cheaper with the development of cubesats and nanosats, the requirements around launching them are the same as any other satellite. The UK Government acknowledged this in response to the 2012 consultation on the Outer Space Act in 2012, by noting that the regulations for smaller satellites needed reviewing.
Pixalytics is a few years away from getting into space, our first job is work out what paradigm shifting Earth observation data weâ€™d collect, but itâ€™s useful to have an understanding of the steps weâ€™d have to take. Anyone else thinking of taking one small step?
Not sure if you know, but today – April 9th – is Earth Observation Day in America!
Any celebration of Earth Observation has our support, but this particular initiative deserves promotion as itâ€™s focussed on inspiring students, and teachers, to engage with remote sensing applications; something thatâ€™s at the heart of our company too.
The event is the brainchild of a non-profit organisation called AmericaView; whose aim is to advance the availability, timely distribution, and widespread use of remote sensing data and technology through education, research and outreach, and sustainable technology transfer to the public and private sectors.
The day itself focuses on using remote sensing imagery and in-situ measurements to explore surface temperature for different types of land cover using Landsat imagery; as itâ€™s freely available and has a historical archive. The AmericaView website has exercises and factsheets to support activities for kindergarten to year 12. In addition, AmericaView scientists, who have expertise in remote sensing and geospatial technology, support teachers in their local area by giving talks, helping teachers design lessons or being available to answer studentâ€™s questions.
We think this is a brilliant way to get students learning about remote sensing, and using lots of elements of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculums. We wondered why we donâ€™t have something similar in the UK?
We know there are similar events, for example the Royal Geography Society has been running a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) Day for a number of years; and the National STEM Centre supported World Meteorological Day on the 23 March that looked at weather and climate change. However, there is far more to remote sensing and Earth Observation than weather. We need to promote the potential for the subject to support crop management, helping disaster response, forestry use, support water and marine management, urban planning, flood prevention … the list could go on!
Earth Observation offers huge potential to help our understanding of this planet and its natural resources. With the introduction of cubesats, swarm satellites, and last weekâ€™s successful launch of the first satellite of ESAâ€™s Copernicus mission, data available is going to increase exponentially in the near future. It gives students opportunities enhance learning, and apply skills, in a variety of subjects beyond the obvious STEM ones. Remote sensing could be used in the teaching of geography, history and even politics. Couple this with the ambition to double the size of the UK space sector by 2020, Earth Observation could not only supports learning, but offers realistic opportunities for future jobs and careers.
We need to interest, excite and, most importantly, inspire the next generation of scientists in this country, and an educational based Earth Observation Day could play an exciting part of that development. What does the rest of the Earth Observation community think? Should we get our voice heard for an Earth Observation day here too?