All hands on deck for European space push

This page has been archived and is provided for historical reference purposes only.
The content and links are no longer maintained and may now be outdated.

10 January 2011

High level representatives have weighed in on European space activities, including EGNOS and Galileo, at a recent conference hosted by the European Parliament.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani told a packed house at the European Parliament Hemicycle Conference in Brussels that Galileo and GMES are "tackling societal and environmental challenges". With a revision of the Commission's budget for space activities expected by the end of 2010, his comments were pertinent.

The European Parliament Hemicycle. © Peter Gutierrez.The European Parliament Hemicycle. © Peter Gutierrez.

Galileo, he said, in combination with GMES, will be a key tool for agriculture in the future, particularly important in helping to insure food stocks in the developing world. EGNOS, the European satellite navigation augmentation system, is already making great strides in the precision agriculture market.

Joining forces

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy delivered a recorded message in which he cited specific references to space in the Lisbon Treaty. Importantly, he said, the Treaty implies proper governance, greater coherence, greater ambition for EU space activities, and a new relationship between the Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA's Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain expanded on this thought, underlining that European space activities bring together a 'triangle of powers': the Commission, ESA and the Member States. "Today we are talking about governance and industry policy, but these are still domestic concerns, not global. We should also think more about the importance of Europe in the world."

Dordain said the new EU space policy should not be about doing the same thing in a different way, but about doing more things. He cited a number of recent European success stories, including the European ISS modules and the scheduled launch of CryoSat, dedicated to the study of environment and climate change. And he cited EGNOS as another important programme demonstrating European leadership in space.

Broadening the discussion

Mercedes Bresso, Committee of the Regions President, and Vittorio Prodi, MEP and Chairman of the Sky and Space Intergroup, added their voices to the call for better governance and funding. DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich Woerner and Italian Space Agency Director General Enrico Saggese both argued for large scale projects such as Galileo and GMES. Meanwhile, EUMETSAT Director General Lars Prahm encouraged the development of more user-driven applications for Galileo and GMES, emphasising building on existing assets already paid for by citizens and not wasting money on new structures.

Paul Weissenburg of the European Commission's Industry and Enterprise and Directorate-General said that while Galileo and GMES are clear priorities, article 189 of the Lisbon Treaty implies much more. We also need to look in new directions, tackling climate change, innovation, exploration and, significantly, security. "Space is more than R&D," he stated. "The political and social dimensions also include security and defence."

Space for security

Conference organisers apparently agree that space-based security is now squarely on the table. The event featured a full session on space infrastructures for crisis management, security and defence. A stellar panel included MEP and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Gabriele Albertini and Chairwoman of the European Interparliamentary Space Conference Liana Dumitrescu, as well as representatives of defence agencies and industry.

Speakers all agreed that space technologies and infrastructure will be crucial to Europe's emerging Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Understandably, the panel was reticent in terms of the specific use of defence-related space assets, but it was clear than the vast majority of space technologies are inherently 'dual-use' in nature, and that includes Europe's satellite navigation technologies.

Benefits on the ground

Galileo and EGNOS are expected to have a major impact on how real people live on the ground. Speaking at a special session on space infrastructure serving society, Paul Verhoef of the European Commission's Enterprise and Industry DG said, "Space infrastructure is there to provide services. They are a means to an end; they create jobs and stimulate economic development."

As EU Satellite Navigation Programme Manager, Verhoef is a keen promoter of satnav as a means of sustaining European prosperity. "We are already dependant on satellite navigation," he reminded participants. "To lose GPS today would be a major catastrophe. But we are looking forward. We see a tremendous potential market for new applications and services. Already, EGNOS is working for a better environment through precision farming, and it will allow the introduction of improved road transport schemes. In the aviation sector, we are on schedule for the introduction of EGNOS Safety-of-Life services, which will deliver great improvements in the way our airports operate."

Importantly, Verhoef concluded, staying on schedule means maintaining confidence in the ability of the EU to deliver on its promises, crucial to exploiting the full potential of these technologies and realising the Union's lofty ambitions in space.

Jacqueline Foster, MEP and Vice-Chair of the Sky and Space Intergroup said, "We have a number of successful initiatives currently underway that can make a big difference to the lives of our citizens, but the message needs to get to the man or woman in the street. We tend to see our priorities in terms of technological and policy development, but we have to remember to explain what we are doing. We are, after all, here to serve the Union and its people."

Updated: Sep 03, 2014