Brussels (Brussels Morning) EU member states are committed to pushing the bloc onwards and upwards in terms of its space leadership role and in pursuit of increased security, after the Council’s adopted a 14.8 billion euro space programme, yesterday.
“The EU relies on space activities as drivers of sustainable economic growth and security. Our new EU space programme will enable us to remain competitive in the New Space economy and to preserve the EU’s space sovereignty”, Manuel Heitor, Portugal’s Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education, stated on behalf of the Council.
As commercialised space ventures ramp up, the EU wants to encourage scientific and technical progress through its support for developing the competitive and innovative capacity of space sector industries, the Council declared.
“With two billion Galileo smartphones and a range of critical applications relying on space infrastructures and services, space security is key in ensuring the performance of such infrastructures”, the European GNSS Agency’s Head of Security, Stefano Iannitti, said.
Institute for Security Studies analyst Daniel Fiott said that the combination of cheaper commercial launchers and the rise of private companies with an interest in space, provides EU member states good reason to reflect on the political. and not just the economic, importance of space enterpises.
In particular, Fiott noted that earth-based technological shifts such as the introduction of 5G and 6G and the rise of new space powers such as China, India, the United Arab Emirates and others, should serve as catalysts for the EU to act and modernise.
EGNOS, Galileo and Copernicus
Since the late 1990s. the EU has been developing its own space initiatives and programmes. Notably, these include the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) and then the Galileo and Copernicus, EU satellites that have played key roles in ensuring success in terms of navigation and Earth observation.
On 20 April, the EU inaugurated its Knowledge Centre on Earth Observation (KCEO), a new infrastructure intended to support improved evidence-based decision-making.
“The KCEO will ensure that Copernicus can give the best policy support and the best possible return on investment” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, said.
As the space race builds, the EU is acquiring the momentum to position itself to play a key role within the evolving space environment.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Alpha Mission is set to launch astronaut Thomas Pesquet, for the second time, on his way to to the International Space Station, on 22 April. ESA is a major contributor to the analysis of space debris in determining how to limit it.
ESA vs EUSPA
Nonetheless, the new space programme has sparked clashes with the ESA, since the EU is planning to create the European Union Space Programme Agency (EUSPA), as part of its new venture.
ESA’s main mission is to manage Copernicus and Galileo, the two major space programmes, but the the agency also expected to have a greater role within the new space programme.
In announcing EUSPA, Commissioner Breton said that the European space policy will continue to rely on ESA and its “unique technical, engineering and science expertise”. ESA, he assured, would continue to be the European go-to agency for space matters.
“I would really like to make ESA the main agency, the go-to agency of the European Commission for all its flagship programmes,” ESA’s Executive Director Josef Aschbacher said.
ESA’s and EUSPA’s distinct roles and competencies will be clearly spelled out in the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement (FFPA).
During January’s European Space Conference, Commissioner Breton urged the Council and the European Parliament to speed up their space proposal. He spoke of the EU’s intention of “going fast” to realize its ambition of sending a constellation of hundreds of internet-beaming satellites into orbit.
In pursuing such goals, Europe seeks to emulate the pioneering space ventures of the US and Russia, knowing that space dominance will bring greater security to the continent and the world.