Skip to content

Space for European innovation

The EU has transformed space into a strategic policy area. The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative is among its major success stories and is reaping a wealth of environmental and social benefits, as well as stimulating space research and generating downstream commercial applications.

(17.06.08). Last year, the EU, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), launched the European Space Policy (ESP).

“Without the ESP, Europe could become irrelevant [in the space sector],” Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for Enterprise and Industry, cautioned at the launch.

The ESP affects a wide range of policy areas, including telecommunications, research and innovation, enterprise, the environment, security, and more. In fact, it is safe to say that space, despite its out-of-this world reputation, is very much a down-to-earth pursuit. Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) and the Galileo satellite navigation system are currently the policy’s two main pillars.

Eye in the sky

Half a century ago, in 1958, SCORE, the first communications satellite, was launched. In the 50 years since then, satellite telecommunications has become the most economically and socially significant space application, one which intimately affects our daily lives: modern telecommunications services, weather forecasting, earth observation, air travel, shipping, the media, the internet, global positioning, telemedicine, tele-education and video conferencing.

Over the past three decades, Europe has developed a leading position in the civilian satellite sector, deriving over half the European space sector’s revenues from the global satellite communications market.

Earth observation and monitoring are among the most crucial functions made possible by satellites. The most obvious and well-known use of observation technology is for weather forecasting, where satellites and weather stations collect data which is then interpreted by sophisticated computer modelling technology to produce a usually accurate forecast.

Smooth operators

In order to function effectively, all the multitude of complex components in earth observation and monitoring systems need to be able to function together as a harmonious whole.
Launched in 1998 as a joint EU-ESA programme, the GMES initiative seeks to provide the seamless and invisible link between all the divergent space-based and terrestrial technologies in order to maximise the value of earth observation for society and the economy.

“This major collaborative initiative focuses on promoting research and innovation in order to develop downstream environmental, security and economic services,” explains Mats Ljungqvist, the scientific officer responsible for emergency core services at the Enterprise and Industry DG.

The overarching objective of GMES services is to help improve the environmental safety and overall security of European citizens and the European economy, as well as supporting the implementation of many other EU policies. GMES monitors the state of the environment and its short, medium and long-term evolution to support policy decisions. It is also the European contribution to the worldwide Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) initiative.

Prepared for the worst… and the best

GMES’s possibilities are extensive. “There is potentially a very wide range of downstream applications,” points out Ljungqvist. The applications GMES delivers fall into three main categories: mapping, support and forecasting. Mapping covers road maps, topography, land-use patterns, risk maps for floods and forest fires, etc. Forecasting covers not only weather, but air pollution levels in cities, and the quality of marine waters.

GMES also seeks to support emergency responses to natural and human-induced disasters. An inkling of this potential was seen following the tsunami of 2004 when satellite images helped direct the relief effort.

Preview of things to come

A generation of GMES activities funded by the ESA and by the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6, 2002-06) is currently coming to an end, notes Ljungqvist. One example of this is the Union-funded PREVIEW project which has sought to develop new or enhanced information services for risk management to serve regional, national and European civil protection units.

PREVIEW has drawn on cutting-edge R&D to develop systems to help prevent, anticipate and manage different types of disasters, such as floods, forest fires, windstorms, earthquakes, landslides and man-made disasters.

“PREVIEW is an important building block of the GMES initiative and complements EU space policy in general,” observes David Hello, the project’s coordinator.

The project has focused on a number of priority areas, including new early-warning systems to better anticipate short-term risk connected to floods, landslides and other phenomenon; crisis-support services, such as fire monitoring, to allow more effective rescue operations; and the development of ‘risk maps’ for different types of hazards so as to improve prevention and preparedness measures. PREVIEW has also developed two models simulating an earthquake followed by a tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea as part of efforts to forge a Euro-Med civil protection system.

“[PREVIEW] is an important step towards developing operational GMES systems for emergency responses,” notes Hello. “Our new project, Safer, will use PREVIEW’s results to develop core emergency response services,” he said.

Under FP7 (2007-13), space is a research priority under the Co-operation programme. More than four-fifths of the €1.4 billion allocated for space will go to support the GMES initiative.
To learn more about specific space-related projects funded by the EU, check here