EU space strategy will bring benefits to all

The EU must ensure it continues to implement its space strategy, so that all citizens can one day benefit, writes Maroš Šefcovic. Written by Maroš Šefčovič on 26 January 2017 in Opinion

The EU must ensure it continues to implement its space strategy, so that all citizens can one day benefit, writes Maroš Šefcovic. European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič was a speaker at the annual conference on European space policy

Since it took office, the Juncker Commission has promised to be ‘big on the big things’, to tackle what matters the most. Space has proven to be big, not only figuratively speaking, but also because of its huge impact on our economy, citizens and quality of life.

Many people immediately associate the field of space with exploration of the unknown, a field which our colleagues at the European Space Agency (ESA) are working on, making us proud and excited with every new discovery.

But space also enables a wide range of technologies which are crucial to many aspects of our lives here on Earth. Examples include fighting climate change; smartening our transport; ensuring the safety of critical infrastructure for energy, telecommunications or transport; enabling modern farming; providing disaster response; supporting border and maritime surveillance; monitoring of the ground, sea levels or the atmosphere.

Europe’s space industry is doing well, and it has many reasons to be proud; it has already captured a third of the global market, employing some 230,000 professionals and with an annual value of approximately €50bn.

Yet, our ambition does not end here. Europe’s space industry has tremendous potential, in terms of job creation, enabling more disruptive technologies and allowing more satellite-based services.

But to be perfectly honest, Europe’s space industry also faces new risks and growing competition from new players.

That is why last year the Commission presented the first space strategy for Europe, with a clear shared vision for the years to come. It is the fruit of long discussions with numerous stakeholders and with our partner organisations, such as ESA and member states’ national space agencies.

The EU space strategy is our way to continue Europe’s historic quest ‘far and beyond’; far above the skies and beyond Europe’s current space capacities. It will ensure Europe’s space industry can serve us humans, boost our economy, and protect our environment.

Take geo-localisation for example. Without us realising it, geo-localisation technologies make some of the most mundane (yet critical) activities possible; from drawing cash out of an ATM, zapping between (satellite) TV channels, or using GPS navigation when driving.

It is also a necessary component of more advanced technologies that are omnipresent in our lives (like interactive maps, shared car services, or location-based technologies).

Thanks to our joint EU efforts, the new generation of geo-localisation has just begun; we have just launched the initial services of Galileo, the EU global satellite navigation system (GNSS) that provides radio signals for position, navigation and timing purposes.

Galileo, which became operational a month ago, is very much like the American GPS, but offers a more precise free public service.

Once completed in 2020, it will be 10 times more precise than the very best geo-localisation signals currently available. It will shift us from 10 meters to one meter precision level. Galileo will also provide services to public authorities and commercial companies that will be even more precise.

We also have Copernicus, which is a leading provider of Earth observation data across the globe. Copernicus is already helping to save lives at sea, improve our response to natural disasters such as earthquakes, forest fires or floods, and is allowing farmers to better manage their crops – by collecting data from earth observation satellites as well as ground and sea-bound stations.

2016 was a very exciting year for Europe’s space industry, but we’re not quite done. We must continue implementing the strategy. For example, in order to bring Galileo to its full capacity, we will need more satellite launches.

Therefore, within a few months, four additional satellites will be launched on a single Ariane 5 missile. Over the coming year, there will also be three launches of Copernicus satellites – the world’s largest single Earth observation programme.

The Commission is committed to ensuring the market uptake of both Copernicus and Galileo, through various means. We will launch two networks to help raise awareness about the programmes at regional and local levels.

We will co-organise two Space Weeks this year with the 2017 EU Council presidencies (in June in Malta and in November in Estonia).

We will also continue organising competitions for start-ups that use data from Copernicus and Galileo in new, innovative ways. Building on this support, we will launch the Copernicus accelerator and incubation programme, to help start-ups develop ideas into real applications and products.

All in all, the Commission has dedicated some €1.4bn from the Horizon2020 budget, with a very high return on this investment. The benefit for the economy from one euro invested in space is seven euros back.

As you can see, space is not only the domain of the unknown, thousands of kilometres away from our planet. It is about how we can make our lives here better, safer, healthier, more convenient, efficient and secure. For all those reasons, the Commission will continue supporting Europe’s space technologies and industries, for the benefit of all our citizens.

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