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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 38 - July 2003   
 Europe's troubled seas
 Gutsy bacteria 
 The triumphs of a gene hunter
 Utopia on wheels

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Title  Europe faces its future in space 

Look how far we have already come! And what prospects there are to come! These two statements effectively sum up man's ongoing adventure in space.  At the dawn of the 21st century, space holds the key to the future development of many aspects of our society. This genuine 'teleservices factory' has become essential for the workings of contemporary society in a growing number of civil, scientific and military fields. What is more, beyond the immediate periphery of the Earth, a vast reservoir of fascinating information about the history and nature of the Universe is also being revealed.

Galileo, one of the Europe's major space projects - artist's impression  ©ESA/J.Huart
Galileo, one of the Europe's major space projects - artist's impression

For many years, the intense technological development brought about by man's conquest of space was inextricably bound up with military rivalry between the two superpowers during the Cold War. Subsequently, from the 1970s, Europe managed to acquire an autonomous space capacity enabling it to become a key player in the field of civil applications. Under the leadership of the European Space Agency (ESA), set up in 1973, these successes were achieved by virtue of a policy of exemplary co-operation between the public and private sectors. 

Of prime political and industrial importance – and requiring considerable financial investment – today, the space sector is the setting for increasingly keen technological and commercial rivalry at global level. New players, particularly in Asia, are determined to join the race. Maintaining its position, autonomy and scientific and technological excellence is consequently a major challenge for the European space sector. 

In the early days of ESA and the industrial development it engendered, space was seen as a field for 'intergovernmental action’, on the fringes of Union competency. Over the past few years, however, it has become clear that the sector's importance to our economies and societies has made it crucial to a global management of the principal European policies. Transport, the information society, industrial competitiveness, the environment, sustainable development, and civil protection are all fields where progress is linked to advances in space. The approaching enlargement to a Union of 25 Member States, coupled with the now clearly expressed European desire to set common security and defence objectives, further reinforces this need for a strong space sector.  

There are now very active links between the Union and ESA, in particular on such major projects as the Galileo   satellite navigation and positioning system and the GMES initiative for the Global Monitoring of the Environment and Security.  Many European research projects on space technologies and applications also feature in the Framework Programme. 

Defining a European space policy able to meet contemporary needs and challenges is currently the subject of a major debate, initiated by the Commission's Green Paper of January 2003. This document – and the questions it raises – are the subject of wide-ranging consultation involving the public authorities, industrialists, scientists and users concerned by the sector's development.   

This exercise should shortly result in a redefining of Europe's space ambitions – and of the common resources it must mobilise to achieve them. 

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Bullet Reference site for the Union's space policy