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Galileo and Copernicus, two European satellite programmes: A launching pad for EU industry

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Galileo and Copernicus, two European satellite programmes, are advancing Europe’s march into the 21st century. By making high-quality Earth observation data widely available, Galileo and Copernicus will help a multitude of sectors take off.

For years, the European Commission has helped EU enterprises thrive beyond Europe’s borders. Thanks to Galileo and Copernicus, the Commission is taking that philosophy to another level: space.

While independent from one another, Galileo and Copernicus each utilise satellite technologies to achieve a variety of goals: Galileo is a navigation system providing precise positioning and timing services worldwide; Copernicus is designed to monitor the environment on land, at sea and in the atmosphere.

As these systems evolve, an increasing number of European enterprises will be able to exploit their vast potential and utilise cutting-edge technology. This will strengthen economic development and help European businesses reach new heights.


In 2009, an estimated 7 % of Europe’s gross domestic product – a total of roughly €800 billion – came from technologies that relied on the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS). But thanks to Galileo, Europe will have a global precision navigation framework all its own, helping to develop and reinforce the EU’s economic foundation. Galileo will act as a catalyst for a variety of economic activities and, as a result, underpin sectors throughout the European economy: power grid synchronisation; air and sea traffic management; mobile phone networks and more.

The first two Galileo satellites were sent into orbit in 2011, and two more followed in 2012. The total number of Galileo satellites will reach 10 in 2014, creating a functional constellation and enabling Galileo to offer services by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

By 2020, Galileo will boast 20 satellites, which will help Europe tap into the booming market for navigation satellite products, expected to hit €244 billion by the end of the decade. This will generate jobs and innovation within the EU, and nurture increased efficiency in sectors ranging from transportation to agriculture.

Indeed, Galileo’s capabilities will have a ripple effect throughout the economy. For example, more efficient transportation could reduce shipping costs, with savings then passed along to European consumers. The same holds true for precision agriculture, which will enable newfound efficiency in food production and help render wasteful, resource-draining practices obsolete.


Utilising a series of satellites known as ‘Sentinels’, Copernicus will carry out regular observation and monitoring of the atmosphere, oceans and continental surfaces. This will ensure that Europe is at the forefront of understanding a broad range of environmental and security applications.

Like Galileo, Copernicus will be a driver for economic growth, creating jobs in areas that are certain to flourish in the future.

‘Copernicus presents a huge opportunity for the European Union as it will provide information on our environment,’ European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani said. ‘It will monitor climate change and will improve security for our citizens. It will also trigger investments made by companies delivering space infrastructure and will thus create growth and jobs.’

Copernicus is structured into six different services: marine, atmosphere, land and climate change monitoring, as well as support for emergency and security services. Using data from satellites and in-situ sensors – such as buoys and air sensors – Copernicus will provide timely, precise information. This information will be utilised for fisheries, land use, fighting forest fires, monitoring air pollution and much more.

In addition to the immediate, practical benefits that will be realised thanks to Galileo and Copernicus, the ‘spill-over’ effects are also expected to be immense. Research and development (R&D) from the space industry can be transferred to other sectors, creating knock-on benefits in seemingly unrelated parts of the economy. Oxford Economics, one of the world’s leading forecasting groups, estimated that R&D investment in the aerospace sector yields a return of roughly 70 %. In other words, for every €100 million invested in R&D, the long-term GDP increase will be €70 million thanks to development in other sectors.

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