regarding the Copernicus Programme of the European Union

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This FAQ gives a short overview about what is EU’s Copernicus Programme and background information about the current legal status and in particular the relevance for Switzerland. The questions shall answer basic questions and gather information about the current status of the Copernicus Programme impacting Switzerland. ​

Last update: 03.10.2017

Copernicus is a European Union Programme aimed at developing European information services based on satellite Earth Observation and in situ (non-space) data. The Programme is coordinated and managed by the European Commission.

Vast amounts of global data from satellites and from ground-based, airborne and seaborne measurement systems are being used to provide information to help service providers, public authorities and other international organizations improve the quality of life for the citizens of Europe.

The Copernicus Programme is based on three pillars (e.g. Art. 2-7 of [1] ):

  • space components including sentinel fleet and contributing missions
  • in-situ measurements
  • Copernicus services

More information can be found under http://copernicus.eu/main/copernicus-brief

[1] Regulation (EU) no 377/2014 of the European parliament and of the council of 3 April 2014 establishing the Copernicus Programme http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32014R0377&from=DE

The information services provided are freely and openly accessible to its users.

The Copernicus Services transform this wealth of satellite and in situ data into value-added information by processing and analysing the data. Datasets stretching back for years and decades are made comparable and searchable, thus ensuring the monitoring of changes; patterns are examined and used to create better forecasts, for example, of the ocean and the atmosphere. Maps are created from imagery, features and anomalies are identified and statistical information is extracted.

These value-adding activities are streamlined through six thematic streams of Copernicus services: Atmosphere, Marine, Land, Climate, Emergency, Security (factsheets about the different services: http://copernicus.eu/main/fact-sheets)

Except Security, all services are under the free and open data policy.


The Regulation No 1159/2013 [2] defines the free and open data politics for the Copernicus programme. In addition, the regulation defines that third party contribution used for Copernicus Programme, that may include contributing satellite data or in-situ data, fall under special regulations. ESA organizes the procurement of Earth Observation data from a series of Copernicus Contributing Missions, which data access rights is listed under “Copernicus Space Component Data Access Portfolio 2014-2020” [3] and their webpage (https://spacedata.copernicus.eu/web/cscda/copernicus-users/access-rights). The regulation No 1159/2013 [2] also reserves access to countries and organization contributing to Copernicus where the requests for access exceed the capacity of the dissemination platform (Art. 17). The regulation also foresees restrictions in case of conflicts with other rights and agreements (Art. 11), protection of security interests (Art. 12). In addition, ESA member states (including Switzerland) agreed up-on the free and open data policy for the Sentinel satellites developed under ESA contracts [4],[5] (e.g., Sentinel1/2/3 A&B).

[2] commission delegated regulation (EU) No 1159/2013 of 12 July 2013 http://www.copernicus.eu/sites/default/files/library/Commission_Delegated_Regulation_1159_2013.pdf

[3] https://spacedata.copernicus.eu/documents/12833/14545/DAP_Release_v2.2/

[4] http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Free_access_to_Copernicus_Sentinel_satellite_data

[5] http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Securing_Our_Environment/ESA_Member_States_approve_full_and_open_Sentinel_data_policy_principles

ESA’s role is defined by Art. 10 of EU Regulation No 377/2014 and by the delegation agreement between EC and ESA/EUMETSAT [6]. In Annex of the Delegation Agreement [7] the details and financing of the agreement in the frame of the EU’s Multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 are defined. Chapter 3.2. for instance defines the building of the Sentinel-1/-2/-3 C and D units that are funded by EU only. The operation of the sentinel satellite is secured until mid 2021 by ESA. EC delegated the building of the follow-on units to ESA (2028-2030) [8]. ESA will also act as the research and development agency for the next generation of Copernicus [9].

[6] http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2014/DE/3-2014-7248-DE-F1-1.PDF

[7] http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2016/EN/3-2016-743-EN-F1-1-ANNEX-1.PDF

[8] http://www.copernicus.eu/news/sentinel-1c-and-1d-satellites-ordered-esa

[9] http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Copernicus_operations_secured_until_2021, accessed 1. Sept. 2017, date 28. Oct. 2014

Sentinel 1-3 A/B were developed and funded mainly by ESA where the C and D Units will be funded by the Multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 of the EU. Further details can be found in the Annex of the delegation agreement between EC and ESA/EUMETSAT. [10]

[10] http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2014/DE/3-2014-7248-DE-F1-1.PDF

EC has the possibility to entrust the service component implementation tasks, by means of delegation agreements or contractual arrangements. Beside to the agreement with ESA/EUMETSAT [11], the EC has agreements with:

Calls regarding Copernicus program can be delegate to these different service operators. These specific invitations to tenders fall under the regulation of the dedicated institution and are publish through their own system. Swiss entities is eligible to bid for some of these tenders.

[11] http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/3/2014/DE/3-2014-7248-DE-F1-1.PDF

Copernicus Space Component and dissemination infrastructures:

Copernicus Climate Change and Atmosphere Monitoring Services are publish through the EU TED portal (http://ted.europa.eu/TED/browse/browseByBO.do) or the ECMWF (CH is member) dedicated eProcurement portal (https://procurement.ecmwf.int).

In EU’s Regulation No 377/2014 [12], it is explicitly foreseen that the Swiss Confederation (Art. 26) can become part of Copernicus on the basis of an appropriate agreement.

[12] Regulation (EU) no 377/2014 of the European parliament and of the council of 3 April 2014 establishing the Copernicus Programme http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32014R0377&from=DE

The actual costs for a participation of Switzerland are not known. However, similar agreements like Switzerland’s participation to Galileo[13] or H2020 were based “on the basis of the proportionality factor, which is obtained by establishing the ratio between Switzerland’s gross domestic product, at market prices, and the sum of gross domestic products, at market prices, of the Member States.”

In a study published in 2016 [14] the costs were estimated to 22.1 Millionen EUR per year.

[13] https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/gg/pc/documents/2407/COOPERATION_AGREEMENT.pdf

[14] https://www.bafu.admin.ch/dam/bafu/en/dokumente/daten-karten/externe-studien-berichte/copernicus_2016-10-05.pdf.download.pdf/Copernicus_2016-10-05.pdf

The data can be downloaded for instance through the Copernicus Open Access Hub [15]. In addition, the EO browser [16] allows to see and download available data with a visual interface (including Landsat and Envisat data). Platform like USGS’s EarthExplorere [17], Google Earth Engine [18] or Amazon WebService (Sentinel-2 only) [19] allows access to the sentinel data sets.

[15] https://scihub.copernicus.eu/

[16] http://apps.sentinel-hub.com/eo-browser

[17] https://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/

[18] https://earthengine.google.com/datasets/

[19] http://sentinel-pds.s3-website.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/

Swiss player can participate for the programs within ESA where Switzerland already subscribed investments. Participation is also possible for open calls of other organizations with a delegation agreement for the Copernicus program and Switzerland as a contributing member (specified in the specific calls).

Swiss players are excluded from open calls falling under the delegation-agreement between EC and ESA/EUMETSAT that are fully funded by the EU (e.g., if they are published through https://copernicus-emits.esa.int). The contribution in a long-term perspective is therefore not secured for Swiss players as long as Switzerland is not part of the Copernicus program and can Swiss players can be excluded from open calls (see example “Invitation to the ESA Industry Day regarding the future Copernicus Space Component: Very High Resolution (VHR) Image 2018 ITT” b)

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