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COP28: UK climate satellite contracts   

Airbus UK has been awarded nearly £95 million and Teledyne e2v £9 million, through the UK Space Agency’s membership of the European Space Agency (ESA), to deliver the next phase of the TRUTHS mission.  

The funding to Airbus will go towards satellite design and development, while Teledyne e2v will work on a sensor, called the Hyperspectral Imaging Spectrometer Detection System, and associated electronics. This instrument will make measurements of ocean and land surfaces to support studies of Earth radiation budgets and improve observations that support the modelling of climate, land use change, the carbon cycle, agriculture and pollution. 

TRUTHS, which stands for Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies, will collect the most accurate measurements of energy coming into the Earth from the Sun, and light reflected off Earth’s surface. This will significantly improve understanding of changes in the Earth’s climate and inform global action to mitigate them. 

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, said: 

This UK-led mission will have a global impact, providing invaluable measurements to improve our understanding of our climate. Thanks to British skills and expertise, this work is generating growth and developing important industrial capabilities across our space sector, driving forward our ambitions to cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower.

Signing at COP28 in Dubai (L-R: Antonino Spatola, Sales & Marketing Director, Teledyne e2v, Beth Greenaway, Chair of Space4Climate and Head of Earth Observation and Climate, UK Space Agency, David Masterson, Head of Future Programmes, Airbus UK, Simonetta Cheli, Director of Earth Observation at ESA, Dr Paul Bate, CEO of UK Space Agency, Dr Karen St Germain, Division Director of Earth Science, NASA, Donna Lyndsay, Vice Chair Space4Climate and Strategic Market Lead for Environment & Sustainability, Ordnance Survey, Rune Floberghagen, Head of Climate Action, Sustainability & Science Department at ESA)

Due to launch in 2030, the ground-breaking mission will create a ‘climate and calibration observatory in space’ which will reduce uncertainty in Earth observation data and set a new benchmark to detect changes in Earth’s climate system. This will build confidence in climate action by linking observations from space unequivocally to international measurement standards. 

Conceived by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and initiated by the UK Space Agency, TRUTHS is being developed by ESA. The satellite will be built by the UK space industry, led by Airbus UK, along with partners across Europe, including Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Romania and Czech Republic, which have also provided funding for the mission. 

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, who has been at COP28 this weekend, said: 

This a major milestone for the TRUTHS mission and fantastic news for our world-leading Earth observation sector.   

The mission will play a vital role in improving how we monitor climate change using satellite data and supporting the decisive climate action which global nations are negotiating at COP28.  

But TRUTHS is more than something to monitor the planet, it is an exemplar of how the industry can incorporate sustainable space operations and reduce carbon impacts through the life cycle of the mission. 

TRUTHS will complement the Copernicus Sentinel missions and other systems, which help measure 38 of the 55 Essential Climate Variables from space. By also observing the Moon and specific sites on Earth, TRUTHS will provide calibration references – helping to improve the accuracy of other satellites in orbit and harmonise results from the global Earth observation network, increasing its ability to inform decisive climate action. 

Jean Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus, said:  

This contract takes us one step closer to building a mission that will enable scientists and climatologists to cross reference their measurements and data enabling much more accurate forecasts and analysis in a shorter time. TRUTHS will provide the gold standard of calibration for space-based Earth observation – a kind of ‘standards laboratory in space’. 

Antonino Spatola, Business Development, Sales and Marketing Director at Teledyne e2v Space Imaging, said:  

We are proud to work with the European Space Agency, the UK Space Agency, and Airbus on the important climate change TRUTHS mission. Our sensor and electronics onboard TRUTHS will be the enabling technology of this space-based metrology laboratory for climate change forecasting and play a key role in giving climate decision-makers confidence in climate data gathered from space. This is also a testament to the capabilities and skills in the UK Space sector and it is important that together our work at Teledyne e2v makes the world a better place for future generations.

The announcement of the new contracts was made during the UK Space Agency’s involvement in COP28 in Dubai. The Agency, exhibiting alongside Space4Climate, is hosting two events during the climate conference; one on TRUTHS and how it can support climate action and the other on the importance of international standards for monitoring methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – from space. A Space Summit during COP28 is expected to lead to a number of leading spacefaring nations adopting a space climate pledge. 

The TRUTHS event at COP28 includes input from the other five ESA member states which collaborate with the UK on the mission. It will also highlight how TRUTHS is part of a future global system of collaboration that will complement NASA’s CLARREO pathfinder mission, which is designed to detect infrared emissions from Earth. 

Today’s announcement follows the recent news in the Autumn Statement of an additional £47 million to boost activity and innovation in the Earth observation sector, and comes ahead of the UK re-joining the EU Copernicus programme in January 2024. 

The UK also committed £314 million in funding for Earth observation in November 2022, as part of its record investment in ESA programmes.