EU Space Policy 2014 – report

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On 28th and 29th of January the EU Space Policy conference was held in Brussels. During this event several important announcements were made.

For last several years the European Union (EU) has been realising its own space strategy, which aims to provide measurable benefits to Europe. The two most important programmes, which are being realised under this strategy are: the Galileo satellite navigation system and the Copernicus (formerly GMES) Earth Observation satellite constellation. Both programmes are right now entering the most critical implementation phase, the delivery of satellites into orbit and their early service.

Both programmes are of great importance to the European position on the global scale, further development of its industry and services as well as independent data access. These goals are discussed on the political level during the EU Space Policy conferences. This was the sixth such event. The venue was held at the European Commission in Brussels and over 750 people have registered to participate in this conference. Poland was represented by various politicians, representatives of several institutes and companies, including Kosmonauta.net.

The conference began with a summary of the current and upcoming status of the European space sector. Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship announced, that six operational Galileo satellites will be launched this year and the early service offered by this system should commence at the beginning of 2015 at the latest. Tajani also announced the need for further discussions with the European Space Agency (ESA), which is a separate entity, but also serves European needs. These discussions would focus mainly on coordination of activities and a common strategy of development.

The Director General of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, gave the second speech on the current position of the European space sector. Dordain confirmed that the European position on the global space market is strong, but a new competition is present, which has recently achieved several major accomplishments. Their presence means a stronger need for investments in new space technologies in Europe, including more risky projects, which over last years have not been often funded.  It may not be an optimal situation for Europe, because recently other countries and regions have invested in more risky projects resulting in a structure change of the global space sector. An example might be the electric propulsion for telecommunication satellites achieved by American companies.

The issue of competitiveness of Europe was also raised during the conference. For example Zbigniew Zaleski, a EU Parliament member, noticed that European satellite hardware often contain non-European components, which has many times led to several complications. In addition, politicians and entrepreneurs from Europe confirm that the current shape of the space industry is different, from what it used to be just a few years ago. An example of such dramatic change is commercial access to space. There are new commercial entrants, such as the SpaceX company, as well as countries developing their ambitious space programmes, which also focus on new launch vehicles. In this sector a potential weakness of Europe can be noticed, because the Ariane 5 rocket is not considered to be “flexible” enough for some telecommunication satellites currently being produced.

On the other hand, several aspects of competition have turned into cooperation. Thomas Reiter, a former astronaut from Germany currently serving as an ESA manager presented an example of the International Space Station, which is a cooperative programme with several, different countries as partners.

On the second part of the first conference day, the issues of the Galileo system promotion were raised. Currently efforts are being made for Galileo to become popular for “downstream” applications (various on-ground services, including those commercial ones) beyond Europe, for example in Africa or Asia. However, there is still no defined cooperation policy with markets outside the EU.

At the end of the first day presentations were made on space industry products entering other domains, such as telecommunications, transport or education. The use of space industry services in those fields should by 2020 lead to a wider access of broadband Internet thorough Europe, as well as changes in transportation and efficient electricity usage. Still, much depends on the technology developments in the coming years and a proper allocation of funds from available programmes.

Much time at the EU Space Policy conference was devoted to programme funding issues. Politicians stressed, that funds available various programmes, such as Horizon 2020, should not be taken for granted. Funds will be given only to projects giving measurable benefits to Europe. That is the reason why after years of investment into hardware and infrastructure, application projects are being promoted, which will use in particular Galileo and Copernicus satellite data

The second conference day focused in security aspects and European participation to exploration programmes. Also the commencement of work on a new European military satellite was announced, which should be placed into orbit no later than 2018. The detailed mission goals of this satellite will be negotiated by individual countries during the Italian and Greek presidency of the EU.

The sixth EU Space Policy conference was held at an important moment for the development of European advanced technologies. The Horizon 2020 programme has just started, which intends to conduct ambitious development objectives between 2014 and 2020. Some of those funds will be allocated for space projects, in which every EU member state should actively participate. This also concerns such countries as Poland, where the space industry is at a formation stage.

It is worth noting that the current name of the “Copernicus” Earth observation system is a success of the Polish diplomacy. In the past, during the negotiations on how to write the name, Germany proposed to use the non Latin form. This was mentioned by a German politician at the conference. Poland suggested to use the Latin name version, which was later accepted.

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