Brussels poised to reinforce space spending

December’s Ariane 5 launch orbited Galileo satellites 19 to 22, bringing the constellation near to completion (ESA/Manuel Pedoussaut)

23 January 2018 

Europe appears to be preparing to boost spending on space, with all three of its flagship projects – Copernicus Earth observation, Galileo navigation and Ariane 6/Vega C launchers – lined up for emphasis in upcoming EU budgets. And, Copernicus looks set to be increasingly aligned with defence and security policy, through public and private investment.

Opening the 10th annual conference on European space policy in Brussels today, European Commission vice presidents Elżbieta Bieńkowska and Federica Mogherini underscored the EU’s determination to make space work for Europeans, and to make sure Europe remains a leading space power. Bieńkowska – head of the so-called “DG Grow”, or directorate general for the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs – told delegates that “space is the enabler of security and defence and those are today on top of citizens’ concerns. We need to acknowledge the obvious synergies between space and security and defence purposes, especially at a time when we are building stronger European defence co-operation.”

Both Galileo and Copernicus, she said, must “expand into new areas, in order to match the new political priorities which are emerging”. Specifically, on climate change Copernicus must evolve to “become a global and central instrument in the implementation of COP21 commitments, especially on CO2 monitoring”. The “second evolution”, she added, is “security and defence”.

And, she hinted, cash is forthcoming to support this vision: “In May this year, the Commission will make its proposal on the next EU budget, including space. It is too early to discuss this, but if we are to be ambitious on space, budgetary means are to be mobilised.”

Beyond the budget, Bieńkowska said she will present a “new regulatory framework for a true and genuine EU space policy based on the principles of simplification, efficiency and flexibility”. Copernicus and Galileo – and its adjacent EGNOS high-precision location service – are to be joined in this scheme by “my third priority [which] is to develop and design a European launcher strategy. There is no space policy without an autonomous access to space.”

Upcoming proposals, she said, will detail Commission plans to become a “smart customer” by aggregating demand for launchers from all EU space programmes, and encouraging member states to do the same with their own institutional launches. [This more central approach addresses a recognised impediment to the economic viability of the Ariane and Vega programmes, which is the small number of European institutional launches compared to those in the USA or Russia.]. And, she added, she was “very pleased” to announce a €10m Horizon 2020 prize for low-cost launch.

PRIVATE CASH

Bieńkowska also stressed the Commission’s desire to leverage private investment. She described the EU’s support of “seed investment and initial risk” for the new Copernicus DIAS (Data and Information Access Service) as a “new approach of using the EU budget, as leverage to increased private sector involvement in space”. DIAS will see several private-sector consortia develop and operate systems for making Copernicus data easily available anywhere.

She also pointed to the space-adapted Joint Technology Initiative pilot project proposed by the European Parliament last autumn, and the European Defence Fund capability development programme, launched in June with nearly €600m to 2020 and €1.5bn per year after that. And, she said she expects the recently-launched Space Equity pilot fund to stimulate investment for start-ups, with €50m from the EU and “an expected leverage factor of four to six from venture capital and business angels”.

Mogherini, who represents the EU on foreign affairs and security, noted that space is “not a luxury toy” but “essential to our own security and policy making”. Citing examples such as the use of satellite imagery to respond to natural disasters or oil spills, or catch people-traffickers, she said an “adequate budget” for joined-up satellite programmes was essential, to ensure “better access to images coming from national satellites, from private providers and of course from our Copernicus programme.”

A theme she emphasised was that Galileo “shows the kind of space power we, the Europeans, can be: innovative, autonomous and co-operative”. Pointing to its value in the Carribean and Florida after Hurricane Harvey struck last year, Mogherini said: “Copernicus is probably the best rapid-mapping system in the world, to assess damage and plan for the rescue operation. We do it for Europeans, because something that happens anywhere affects some Europeans, but also for our friends.

We see it as our duty and responsibility as a reponsible global power to help our friends in the moment of need.” Copernicus, she went on, “contributes to making us a global security provider, and I think we need to factor this awareness into our work and thinking much more.”

Recognising that satellites “contribute to a strong European foreign policy and… help us take better and swift decisions” points to another future line of investment – to develop an autonomous capacity to protect European satellites: “We need our own space surveillance and tracking sytems, because we cannot rely only on US data. I believe member states could join forces on a common initiative carried out at European level.”

Co-operation also beckons, she said, to improve “autonomous and secure” governmental satellite communications, for example between EU embassies around the world.

And, noting that “our citizens and our partners see us as a global point of reference and a security provider, and this is growing by the day… The good news is that we finally have the tools to join forces and better spend our resources for innovation and development in our space services.”

Returning to her theme of Europe’s relations with other space powers, Mogherini stressed: “I believe there is no contradicion between autonomy and co-operation. On the contrary there is no viable alternative to co-operation on space issues, but this requires a strong autonomy from a European perspective.”

To that end, she added that Europe would “continue to invest in co-operative governance off all space issues” at the International Space Exploration forum in Tokyo in March and at the next meeting of the UN committee for the peaceful uses of outer space in Vienna, in June.

The world,” she concluded, “needs a responsible space power and we can be the space power the world needs: ambitious, co-operative, innovative and autonomous.”