4 key elements of the EU’s new space strategy

13 Jan 2021

Image: © jim/Stock.adobe.com

Secure digital connectivity and a space entrepreneurship hub are areas of focus for the future.

2021 will be a “defining year” for Europe’s space strategy. That’s what EU commissioner Thierry Breton said yesterday (12 January) at the 13th European Space Conference.

He laid out future plans for the EU’s €13.2bn space budget, which will complement investments by the European Space Agency (ESA) and member states.

“What I call for is a rather fundamental overhaul of the way we do space in Europe,” Breton added. “Of course we will continue on developing our strengths and past successes. But we need to invent new ones.”

1. Consolidating Galileo and Copernicus

The first area of focus in the EU’s space strategy for the coming years regards the Galileo and Copernicus satellite and Earth observation systems. Looking ahead, Breton said that these “must evolve” or will “fast become obsolete”.

The EU will frontload the launch of the second generation of Galileo satellites, with a first launch planned for 2024. These new satellites will have improved services capabilities, notably in the field of secured navigation and resilience against emerging threats.

New missions are also being designed for Copernicus. The ESA has awarded six new precursor missions, including a CO2 monitoring mission and a polar observation mission.

2. Future connectivity 

Looking to the future, the commissioner proposed a space-based connectivity initiative as a third infrastructure to sit alongside Galileo and Copernicus.

Breton said that this infrastructure would enable the EU to put an end to dead zones, giving high-speed broadband to everyone; avoid dependence on non-EU initiatives; bring Europe into the quantum era, ensuring quantum-encrypted communication; and keep the continent connected in the case of attacks on the internet.

“My objective is to go fast,” he added. “And therefore it would be appropriate that the Commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council so we can move concretely.”

A study on a secure space-based connectivity system was recently launched, and a consortium of European satellite manufacturers, operators and services providers, as well as telcos and launch service providers, will give feedback on the possible design and development of this project in a few months’ time.

3. Strategic autonomy

Enhancing Europe’s strategic autonomy in space and reducing dependency on other nations is another key priority – and the first element of this is developing the European launcher industry to access space.

“Yes, we have fantastic EU launchers, competitive of the global stage,” Breton said. “But the standards for launchers are currently being redefined outside of Europe.”

He revealed plans to initiate a European launcher alliance, with the ESA, European Parliament, member states and industry, to define a roadmap for the next generation of launchers and technologies related to accessing space. 

4. Space entrepreneurship

The final element of the 2021 space strategy involves positioning Europe as a hub for space entrepreneurship.

“We have in Europe the creativity, the start-ups, the entrepreneurs, the research and innovation capacity. But we do not have a coherent approach, rather a scattered and inefficient one,” Breton said. “We are missing disruptive technologies by not working together.” 

As part of this focus, a new €1bn European space fund called Cassini will be established to boost start-ups and space innovation. It will cover the full innovation cycle from business idea to industrialisation, building on the €100m Space Equity Pilot launched last year.

The aim is also to stimulate more VC funds to actively invest in space companies in Europe, and get other industries to invest in space technologies. Breton also proposed a large-scale in-orbit technology validation programme with the ESA, which would provide regular access to space for testing promising tech.

“This is will be a strong accelerator to innovation in Europe, and a driver to the necessary change of mindset,” the commissioner concluded.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic