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UK Earth Observation

Volume 723: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2022

The Government are announcing today a package of up to £200 million funding to invest in the UK Earth observation sector, to protect the future of UK talent and industry in earth observation and mitigate the impact of ongoing delays to UK participation in the EU Copernicus programme, while the EU continues to block our association.

Earth observation (EO) is a vital science and a growing industry. This is the right time to invest in projects that benefit our planet and grow our economy: EO supports the UK to become a science superpower and prioritises our space and net zero ambitions—more than half of key climate data comes from space.

The UK has a vibrant landscape of world-leading EO academic and industrial organisations and a well-founded reputation for excellence in EO. For example, in climate science, leading UK research institutions have been measuring sea and land surface temperature from space for over three decades—Oxford University, RAL Space, Reading University and Leicester University. This data is used by meteorological agencies around the world to improve weather forecast accuracy, helping to save lives, infrastructure and crops.

In the “National space strategy”, His Majesty’s Government committed to remain at the forefront of earth observation technology and know-how. The investments announced today will deliver an essential funding boost to recognise the importance of this work/market and will benefit academia and industry and build our national capability. The funding is spread across 17 projects delivered through the following Government partner organisations:

£137.6 million UK Space Agency (UKSA)

£19.3 million Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

£14.7 million Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

£11.7 million Met Office

£4.2 million Innovate UK

These projects will deliver benefits across the UK and include a broad range of activities from measuring wind speeds to improving the accuracy of climate data, and from funding small and medium-sized enterprise projects to additional PhD places. Some projects will involve new or extended collaborations with international partners such as Australia.

Investing in the UK EO sector is a vital part of achieving our ambitions in space and with the range of applications of EO data, including net zero targets, but it is just the first step.

Over the last few months, my officials have begun discussions with the Earth observation community about the longer-term plans for the sector. The package announced today provides an interim response to what we have been hearing are their biggest challenges. We will continue to work with the sector to identify strategic priorities to keep building on the world-leading excellence in UK Earth observation.

These investments are UK-wide and will provide targeted support during this time of uncertainty. They aim to support the retention of talent and firms across the sector, and we have particularly focused on how to ensure that both academia and industry can benefit from these projects.


The EU has now delayed our association for nearly two years. The UK has done everything it can to secure association, including entering into formal consultations to encourage the EU to implement its obligations.

The Government remain ready to discuss association with the EU, but with the EU continuing to refuse our request to formalise association, we cannot wait forever. Our priority is to invest in the UK’s EO sector and protect our knowledge and capabilities.