EU Space at the heart of the EU Maritime Security Strategy

27 April 2023
With the services and data provided by the EU Space Programme and the support offered by EUSPA, it’s smooth and safe sailing for Europe’s maritime sector.
With the services and data provided by the EU Space Programme and the support offered by EUSPA, it’s smooth and safe sailing for Europe’s maritime sector.

Home to over 300 of the world’s main seaports and nearly 30% of the global merchant fleet, maritime transportation plays a big role in the European economy. In particular, the EU controls c.a. 30% of the world merchant fleet. That’s why the EU goes to great lengths to ensure its security.

The EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS) promotes international peace and security, respect for international rules and principles, and the sustainability of our oceans with the goal of providing safe maritime operations . 

But, while its focus may be at sea level, the EUMSS very much depends on space. 

“Whether it be Earth Observation data from Copernicus, the precise positioning offered by Galileo and EGNOS, or the secure communications of IRIS2 and GOVSATCOM, the services and data provided by the EU Space Programme can go a long way in securing the maritime transport sector,” says EUSPA Executive Director, Rodrigo da Costa.


Commercial vessels queuing outside the port of Piraeus, Greece as seen from Copernicus Sentinel-2

Commercial vessels queuing outside the port of Piraeus, Greece as seen from Copernicus Sentinel-2

Safety at sea starts with Galileo

GNSS is a critical technology used in maritime navigation systems. However, GNSS signals are vulnerable to interference and spoofing, which can cause user navigation systems to obtain faulty information. Intentional satellite interreference is not a new issue, but, in recent years the maritime industry has been increasingly facing GNSS spoofing incidents (Black Sea in 2017, Shanghai 2019, Louisiana 2020). Erroneous data of a vessel’s position, speed and direction poses real threats to its own operations, but also to surrounding ships, especially those carrying dangerous goods. Between leaving both crew and shipments vulnerable to hijacking and theft and the risk of guiding a vessel off course, the implications of falsifying GNSS signals can negatively impact the Union’s blue economy.

To increase the robustness against GNSS attacks, the EU is currently testing the Galileo OSNMA service. This forthcoming service is an authentication mechanism that allows GNSS receivers to verify the authenticity of GNSS information, ensuring that the data they receive are indeed from Galileo and have not been modified in any way. 

EUSPA-funded, ASGARD project is working to integrate the ONSMA capability in dual frequency shipborne receivers. The main goal is to increase the adoption of Galileo in maritime in order to detect and alert vessels that are under spoofing attacks.

Moreover, Galileo is also an important tool in maritime transportation. Thanks to the increased accuracy, coverage and resiliency it brings, the sector has benefited from better prediction of vessel location, a decrease in collisions, and more efficient manoeuvrings. Galileo has even helped the sector reduce its environmental footprint.    

There’s also the ground-breaking Galileo Return Link Service (RLS), which is part of the Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) service. Thanks to the RLS, sailors in distress, when equipped with the appropriate beacon, will see a light verifying that their distress signal has been received by emergency first responders and that their location has been established. 

Europe’s eyes on the sea 

Accidents often occur in poor weather conditions where it is difficult or dangerous to deploy manned assets (e.g., helicopters). When an accident happens in a remote area, there may not be the option to send vessels or aircraft to verify the situation. In both contexts, the Copernicus Maritime Surveillance (implemented by EMSA) service can provide valuable additional data to help detect, track and potentially identify the vessels in distress. By doing so, the CMS helps support Search and Rescue efforts. 

More specifically, Copernicus utilises Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images to detect vessels over large areas, this is particularly valuable during the night and through clouds. This capability is especially useful when a vessel loses communication and goes adrift (e.g., following a fire or tracking storm damage). Identifying the location of a vessel optimises the use of search and rescue assets and allows authorities to direct resources to where they are of most use. Optical images can also provide a wealth of information, such as characterising the damage caused or detecting any deployed lifeboats. SAR images generated by Copernicus Sentinel-1 also allow for oil spill detections in remote locations such as the Arctic circle. When combined with GNSS positioning from AIS, authorities can swiftly reach the spill site, understand the extent of the risk and implement necessary actions.


How the EU Space Programme helps address the new challenges of a changing Arctic


Uninterrupted, secure communications across the oceans

Last, are the two new components of the EU Space Programme IRIS2 and GOVSATCOM.  Both are set to ensure uninterrupted communications, even on the open seas. With the addition of IRIS2, the European Union is ramping up digitisation of European society and its economy while looking to make space data more accessible and scalable to many communities, maritime included. The combination of MEO and LEO capabilities of IRIS2 will enable the provision of seamless internet connectivity throughout the Union but also around the world, removing communication dead zones. This will be particularly useful for maritime operators who must communicate with the crew onboard the vessel.


Read this: EU Space enables safer maritime operations


Your partner in maritime safety and security 

While the EU Space Programme provides European maritime operators, seafarers and national authorities with tools to enhance safety at sea, optimise navigation performance and protect the oceans, EUSPA itself continually partners with the sector to further leverage the benefits of EU Space. 

“As a user-oriented agency, EUSPA closely follows the needs of maritime users, working together to shape and deliver new space-based services that will further enhance the security and effectiveness of this critical sector,’’ adds da Costa.

For instance, EUSPA has been working with such relevant organisations as the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to develop space-based solutions related to navigation, search and rescue and fisheries control. 

EUSPA also contributes to the EFCA and EMSA’s annual workshops, both of which focus on the use of new technologies – including drones – for fisheries surveillance and operational inspections respectively. The EFCA has invited EUSPA to their next annual meeting on 3 May, leveraging the memorandum of understanding between the two agencies, to present the latest work of several EUSPA-supported projects, including Blue Box Porbeagle, which is developing a VMS transceiver using the Galileo Open Service Navigation Message Authentication (OSNMA) service, and GAMBAS, an initiative working on a Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) with Galileo return link capability. 

In addition to this work with maritime agencies, EUSPA also supports the sector through awareness raising measures by providing key market intelligence like our EO and GNSS Market Report, and by offering a range of funding opportunities. 

To learn more about our work in the maritime sector, please contact us at Or download our brochure here.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the EUSPA website (

Updated: Apr 27, 2023