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Interview with Mr. Rodrigo da Costa, Executive Director, European Union Agency for the Space Programme – Summer 2021

  1. Could you tell us a bit about the EUSPA?;  how the agency started, its mission and role in the Galileo programme, some examples of actions that have been taken and some success stories?

Space services have had an impact on economy and society since quite some time across a broad spectrum of industries from aviation and agriculture to maritime and surveying just to name a few. With this in mind, the Commission and the co-legislators (Council and European Parliament) decided to bring the EU space assets under one roof with the creation of the first ever integrated EU Space Programme and the establishment of the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA). EUSPA will become a pillar for Space Programme ensuring the implementation of the EU Space regulation to the fullest. This new agency has increased responsibilities in terms of the Galileo and EGNOS services but also undertakes tasks related to the promotion and commercialisation of the Copernicus data. EUSPA is also coordinating the development of GOVSATCOM, the EU’s secure telecommunications system for governmental users.

Since its inception, the Agency had been engaging with the EU space user community, designing, developing and implementing services that best meet their needs.

To stimulate space innovation in Europe and advance the market uptake of EGNSS we have been transmitting GNSS expertise and market development knowhow, leveraging grants, innovation competitions and R&D schemes to those wishing to make use of EU Space.

We have managed to create a blossoming ecosystem of SMEs, start-ups and academia using European Space technologies. Currently, thanks to our #MyGalileo series competitions, we have mobilized a network of 1000 start-ups, private inventors from all over Europe. This pushed the bar of innovation higher and yielded applications ranging from drone medical deliveries to beekeeping solutions and precision farming projects.

These competitions are part of our adoption strategy for Galileo and EGNOS.

Today, this led to some impressive results. Just to name you few:

  • currently more than 2 billion smartphones are using Galileo,
  • more than 3 million trucks use Galileo and EGNOS in Europe,
  • 15 million cars use EGNSS worldwide and 9 million of those cars are in Europe,
  • Already more than 100 car models on the market are fitted with Galileo and EGNOS solutions, which represents 29 car brands in total.
  • 30% of drones use Galileo
  • 30% of Maritime receivers are Galileo-enabled

Innovation and the support for entrepreneurship is at the heart of our strategy and we are planning to continue to support it for Copernicus downstream development.

  1. The EUSPA has been asked to take on an expanded role to help develop the uptake of Copernicus. How would you describe this new mission?

We’re very excited to have Copernicus onboard for this new EU Space journey. Copernicus is the world’s most advanced Earth Observation system offering a dearth of value-adding services to a growing group of users around the world. EUSPA is in charge of developing downstream commercial applications and markets for Copernicus, fostering innovation, leveraging funding mechanisms such as Fundamental Elements and Horizon Europe. We are already working together with the Entrusted Entities of Copernicus to ensure that all the markets are reached and that commercialization of Copernicus data are bringing added value for European companies and ultimately the citizens.

  1. How does this mission benefit from the existing role in Galileo? How do you see the similarities, synergies and areas of distinction between your ongoing role for Galileo and the new role for Copernicus?

It is within EUSPA’s scope to forge synergies between the EU Space Programme components and therefore Copernicus. The synergies between EO services and GNSS services will help us develop a range of solutions for various business sectors but most importantly they allow us to respond to societal challenges such as preserving our ecosystem. Let’s look at maritime protection for example. Oceans produce over 50% of the oxygen we breathe and regulate the climate. They are vital for human and animal life which is why they require constant monitoring and protection. And that’s where the synergies of Copernicus and Galileo are essential. The high positioning accuracy offered by Galileo when combined with high-resolution imagery coming from the Copernicus Sentinel satellites can allow authorities to identify and reach an incident site easily such as an oil spill and thus, mitigate its negative impacts. Likewise, we can fight illegal fisheries. I see these synergies as a way to democratize the services from space and also to drive progress in EU space. There is a lot of potential to be explored.

  1. How does this mission relate to the European Commission DG DEFIS? Can you describe the governance of the agency and especially in relation to Copernicus?

Working together with the European Commission and more specifically DG DEFIS as programme manager, ESA, the Entrusted entities of Copernicus and the Member States,  EUSPA will be supporting the implemention of the the EU Space Programme regulation to the fullest. While the Commission remains the project manager of the EO programme, EUSPA is here to support its tasks and make sure Copernicus market share is increased the coming years. 

  1. There is some confusion concerning a second space agency in Europe, how do you perceive your future relationship with the European Space Agency?

EUSPA is an operational user-oriented EU Agency contributing to sustainable growth, security and safety of the European Union. We are aiming at fostering the market uptake of the different space components (Galileo, EGNOS, Copernicus and GOVSATCOM) and is thus linking space to user needs.

EUSPA and ESA are complementary bodies with different responsibilities and different nature. EUSPA is an EU Agency although ESA is not an EU body but an intergovernmental body.

We will continue to work with our partner ESA because they are an essential partner to implement the EUSP.

  1. The political decision has only just been taken, how have you been preparing the agency for this new role?

Indeed, the political decision was made official only weeks ago by the European Parliament. Knowing earlier on -from December’s political agreement- that this is the direction we are heading to, we had started devising our new EUSPA strategy at many levels to ensure a smooth transition to our new responsibilities. I am proud that our teams at the Prague HQ but also in, Paris (Galileo Security Monitoring Centre, GSMC), Madrid (GSMC, European GNSS Service Centre, GSC), Toulouse (EGNOS) and Noordwijk (Galileo Reference Centre) helped rollout a new agency in a tight deadline. It’s a result of great teamwork and contributions from all EUSPA departments.

  1. What will be the main elements of the programme which you will put in place?

Our role regarding Copernicus is to promote and ensure the commercial market uptake of Copernicus data.

Under the new Space Regulation, however, EUSPA’s mandate will now include:

  • increased responsibilities in Galileo and EGNOS, including enhanced management responsibilities for the operations and service provision;
  • the security accreditation of all the components of the EU Space Programme, the operation of the Galileo Security Monitoring Centre, together with operational security;
  • the coordination of the user-related aspects of European Union Governmental Satellite Communications (GOVSATCOM), in close collaboration with the Member States and other involved entities;
  • the development of downstream markets and fostering of innovation based on Galileo and EGNOS, and now including also Copernicus, leveraging funding mechanisms such as Fundamental Elements and Horizon Europe.

The European Commission (EC) may also decide to entrust the Agency with other tasks in the future.

  1. In your opinion, what will be the best mechanism to build a strong partnership with the EO services industry and how can EARSC help? / At the end of the interview, here is the opportunity for your final thoughts and how your activities could contribute to the future development of the EO geo-information service sector?

Knowledge and information about the EU Space Programme and the possibilities it offers are key to further reinforcing the EO downstream sector in Europe. As the agency’s scope has been enlarged, we will be looking forward to introduce ourselves to the EO industry and communities by participating in industry-relevant events as well as promoting EUSPA’s contribution to the commercialization of Copernicus through various online and offline channels. Already last year, during EU Space Week, we hosted a great number of EO companies in our virtual exhibition. I look forward to seeing these integration actions for EU Space grow.  

What’s more, to stimulate the market update of Copernicus, we will be establishing partnerships and continue initiatives like hackathons and innovations competitions. I am sure EARSC, as representative for remote sensing companies will give us great support in our new ventures.

Lastly, I would like to highlight the fact that the EU Space Programme was conceived with the core aim of benefitting the lives of Europeans. I understand that the knowhow of EO and GNSS is not equally spread across the Union members. This is one of the challenges we will overcome the coming years and we have the tools and talents to do so. By working closely with all the EU Member States, EUSPA will give SMEs, start-ups, innovators the means to make their first venture into the world of EO or satellite navigation.

Thank you for your contribution to the Interview and for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers.