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Space, a policy with concrete results

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European space policy is at a turning point, with the Lisbon Treaty providing a new legal basis for action in this domain. Following a high-level conference in October, E&I magazine takes a tour of European space initiatives, a source of inspiration and innovation, and a powerful means of stimulating growth and improving the quality of people's lives.

Europe has always been at the forefront of the quest to understand the world and the universe. This is grounded in the simple, stubborn curiosity that is so characteristic of human beings - the determination to know - but the results are as concrete and real as the ground we walk on, although citizens often do not realise the extent to which they depend on space.

Space makes an enduring contribution to addressing several societal challenges. Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing citizens and governments around the world. Space technologies are a clear asset in the struggle to address climate change, but they also provide tools for ensuring successful outcomes in other key areas:

  • Civil safety, humanitarian aid, defence and security
  • Prevention and management of sudden natural and manmade disasters
  • Social and economic life
  • Exploration of space

Space and the Lisbon Treaty

At a time when new global players are emerging to establish their own footprints in space, the Lisbon Treaty creates the legal basis for a coherent space policy, acknowledging the vital nature of this economically and strategically important field.

The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty has given the European Union a shared space competence via its Article 189 with the specific aim of promoting scientific and technical progress, industrial competitiveness and the implementation of other policies. Hence, space has become a high-level political matter with the well being of European citizens increasingly dependent on it.

In raising Europe's work in space to the status of a 'European policy', the Treaty also implies new responsibilities and reallocates certain competences among the EU institutions, giving the European Parliament a crucial decision-making role.

Space and Europe 2020

The 'Europe 2020' strategy seeks to pave the way to an intelligent, sustainable and inclusive EU economy, emphasising the creation of new jobs, support for innovation and education, and ambitious commitments on climate issues and social cohesion. No wonder then that space is fully integrated in this strategy.

Space makes up a vital and integral component of the new Europe 2020 flagship 'An integrated industrial policy for the globalisation era' which the Commission presented at the end of October. The document identifies the immediate priorities of space policy, namely the Galileo programme and the GMES initiative, as well as space and security. Space infrastructures are critical infrastructures which contribute to citizens' well being and security and they need to be protected. The flagship initiative indicates the first orientations concerning new European space governance. It confirms that space research will be part of the Eighth Framework Programme for Research (FP8) and announces that measures to implement the space policy will be further fleshed out in 2011.

In addition, the European Commission will continue to implement its space industrial policy, in close co-operation with the Member States and with the European Space Agency. Europe needs to keep up the pace and build on its achievements to foster a solid and balanced industrial base in an increasingly competitive environment that is already seeing the emergence of new space powers. The European space industrial policy should cover the whole supply chain, including SMEs, to ensure greater international competitiveness and non-dependence in strategic sectors, such as launchers, and the development of a market for space products and services.

Proven capacity for innovation and competiveness

Space research and applications are recognised as important drivers for innovation and competitiveness. A well-conceived space policy allows researchers to focus on clear and strategic priorities, pooling efforts and resources, and disseminating results to the greatest effect. Again, the goal here is not just top-notch research and new technologies; there are also real economic imperatives at stake. Being a rich source of industrial renewal, research is essential to establishing strategic non-dependence in space, and to maintaining the competitiveness of Europe's industry, not only in the space sector.

Wide-ranging space activities are financed under FP7. They focus on applications as well as on areas like space science, space technologies and space transportation. Space exploration is indeed a driver for innovation, technological development, and scientific knowledge which can bring about tangible benefits for citizens. These aspects have been extensively debated by ministers and their representatives from 24 EU and ESA Members States and eight international partners during the second international conference on space exploration held in Brussels on 21 October. They concluded that an international high-level platform should be established to deepen the space exploration dialogue from 2011 onwards.

EGNOS - real-world applications now

Satellite-based positioning is now a standard and essential tool for personal, commercial and security-related activities around the world, but until now the enabling technologies have been based on systems originally set up for American and Russian military applications.

EGNOS is the 'European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service', an augmentation system that assesses and increases the accuracy of America's GPS and is suitable for safety-critical applications, such as flying aircraft or navigating ships through narrow channels.

The EGNOS open signal has been available since October 2009 and is already widely used in the agriculture sector. In the coming weeks, ESSP, the designated EGNOS service provider, will receive the go-ahead to deliver the EGNOS signal for aviation, a move that is expected to have a major impact in terms of cost savings, increased capacity and safety.

Galileo - the next big step

Galileo puts positioning services into the hands of European citizens, providing accurate and reliable facilities that are, at the same time, compatible with existing systems.

In January 2010, the European Commission agreed a series of new contracts with several partners in the Galileo programme:

  • €397 million to Arianespace for the placement in orbit of 10 Galileo satellites
  • €85 million to Thales Alenia Space for system support services
  • €566 million to OHB system AG, for the construction of 14 satellites

In October 2010, the European Commission also awarded a €194 million contract to Space Opal for the operation of the system.

The Galileo system is now expected to be fully operational within the 2016-2017 timeframe, with initial services available as of 2014.

GMES - observing our planet for a safer world

Another clear example of how Europe is bringing space-based services to earth is the GMES initiative. GMES gathers data from both earth observation (EO) satellites and ground-based systems to deliver a wide array of information services.

In doing so, GMES empowers Europe to pursue sustainable development, to fight air and water pollution and tackle climate change. GMES services play an essential role in emergency management and global humanitarian response, in the assessment of biodiversity and ecosystems, and in the energy and transport fields. GMES also helps Europe to confront new security threats, to better control its borders and police maritime activities.

Already in 2008, the Commission had put together a framework for GMES architectural, governance and financing arrangements, proposing to entrust the technical implementation of GMES services to existing bodies, such as the European Environment Agency (EEA) or the European Centre for Middle-Term Weather Forecast (ECMWF).

In October 2010, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Regulation setting up the GMES and its initial operations (2011-2013), granting additional financing of €107 million for that period. In 2011, the Commission will present its longer-term programme proposal within the framework of the future 2014-2020 financial perspectives.

European space exploration strategy

Europe has always played its part in the exploration of space. The international nature of this endeavor builds good will among global partners.

Space exploration is also an enormous source of inspiration for young people, stimulating a vital interest in science and technology. In 2009, a qualitative survey by the European Commission of the perception of space exploration among children and young people confirmed this enduring interest.

Space exploration encompasses several exciting lines of enquiry, including the search for insights into the emergence of life and the development of our solar system and the universe. Scientists are also interested in the development of sustainable, non-terrestrial, human habitats. Space sciences have provided insights into bio-medicine, and the very earthbound life and physical sciences.

As for space-related technological development, the Ariane launchers, Spacelab, the Columbus module and the automated transfer vehicle (ATV) are examples of key achievements of the European Space Agency (ESA).


'Space policy and coordination' Unit,
Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry

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