Science - 06.12.2019

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1176 6 DECEMBER 2019 • VOL 366 ISSUE 6470 SCIENCE



ven optimists at the European Space
Agency (ESA) were startled last
week when its member governments
awarded it a €12.5 billion, 3-year bud-
get, its largest ever and more than 20%
above its previous 3 years of funding.
With the unexpected windfall, ESA will de-
velop a reusable space cargo capsule, support
the International Space Station until 2030,
and join NASA in retrieving rocks from Mars.
But one of the biggest winners, up 29% to
€1.8 billion, is Copernicus, a program sup-
porting a fleet of satellites that continuously
tracks features of Earth’s atmosphere and
surface, including the contours of the sea
surface and shifts in vegetation. The money
will help Europe expand the fleet to observe
humanmade sources of carbon dioxide (CO 2 )
on a daily basis—making ESA the only space
agency capable of monitoring pledges made
under the Paris accord to cut greenhouse
gases. Europe’s CO 2 monitoring plans are
“unparalleled,” says Christopher O’Dell, an
atmospheric scientist at Colorado State Uni-
versity in Fort Collins. “The Europeans are
just running with this.”
Just why ministers from ESA’s 22 member
states were feeling so generous at a meeting
last week in Seville, Spain, is unclear. It could
be because Europe’s economy is better than
3 years ago, or because ESA officials did a

good job talking up plans with ministers and
stakeholders, says Athena Coustenis, a plan-
etary scientist at the Paris Observatory and
chair of the European Space Sciences Com-
mittee, an advisory body. Regardless, the
only mission not to receive full funding was
Lagrange, a set of space weather satellites.
“There’s no need to kill anything,” Coustenis
says. “I’m in shock.”
ESA’s science budget, stagnant for decades,
got a 10% hike to €2.8 billion. That should
allow the agency to study black holes with
two concurrent missions, a gravitational
wave detector and an x-ray observatory
(Science, 25 October, p. 410). The explora-
tion budget was boosted by one-third, which
means ESA can launch the ExoMars rover
next year—if it can fix problems with its
parachutes in time (Science, 29 November,
p. 1061). The money will help ESA join
NASA’s Artemis program to build a Moon-
orbiting space station called the Gateway
and work toward a human presence on the
surface. It will also pay for initial work on a
complex mission to bring back samples from
Mars. NASA hopes to follow suit next year
(Science, 22 November, p. 932).
The Copernicus system of Earth-observing
Sentinel satellites also got a lot of love. This
joint venture with the European Union
provides long-lived, unbroken data sets to
government, industry, and academic users.
Existing Sentinel satellites monitor, for in-

stance, land use and sea surface height. The
first three Sentinels are now operational,
along with duplicate satellites that serve as
backups. Three more Sentinels are in the
works. When it comes to Earth observa-
tion, “Europe has the most capable fleet in
orbit,” says Martin Visbeck of the GEOMAR-
Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel,
Germany, and chair of ESA’s Advisory Com-
mittee for Earth Observation.
The funding boost ensures ESA can pro-
ceed with ambitious plans for a further set
of six candidate Sentinels, among them the
CO 2 monitoring mission. Around the time
of the Paris climate pact of 2016, the Euro-
pean Union decided that national carbon
budgets, based on disclosures from known
emitters such as power plants and cement
works, needed checking from the sky. In re-
sponse, ESA resurrected plans for Carbon-
Sat, which failed to win a launch slot in
2015, and beefed it up into a Sentinel, which
would look for the spectral absorption sig-
nals of CO 2 in infrared sunlight reflected off
Earth’s surface.
With the new funding, a CO 2 Sentinel
could launch as soon as 2025, putting Eu-
rope in position to contribute to a census of
emissions that the Paris accord says should
take place every 5 years beginning in 2023.
Carbon dioxide is “a quantity we need to
watch for years to come,” Visbeck says.
The ministers gathered in Seville appar-

By Daniel Clery


Europe to lead in monitoring carbon from space

Budget hike for ESA’s Copernicus program advances satellites to monitor Paris accord cuts

IN DEPTH Satellite data could refine models that predict
carbon flows, seen here peaking in northern spring.

Published by AAAS

on December 12, 2019^

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