Space – underpinning the blue economy

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26 September 2019
Europe’s space programmes help sustain Europe’s growing blue economy.
Europe’s space programmes help sustain Europe’s growing blue economy.

The European Union's blue economy is thriving - economic activities related to oceans, seas and coastal areas recorded gross profit of EUR 74.3 billion in 2017. By providing the tools needed to streamline marine navigation and port operations, support fast and effective search and rescue, and monitor the health of the marine environment, Europe’s GNSS and Earth Observation programmes offer crucial services for this vital segment of the European economy.

The maritime sector is critical for Europe’s economic well-being - almost 90% of the EU’s external freight trade is seaborne. For World Maritime Day, which falls on 26 September, we take a look at some of the ways that satellite technology is supporting effective maritime operations and the sustainable use of Europe’s marine resources.

Speaking at the ‘International Space Forum 2019 - The Mediterranean Chapter’ earlier this month, European GNSS Agency (GSA) Executive Director Carlo des Dorides noted that the core contribution of GNSS to the maritime world and the blue economy – the provision of accurate position, velocity and time – is already well known. 

Key contributions

Consequently, in his address at the event, des Dorides highlighted some lesser-known ways in which GNSS supports the blue economy. In particular, GNSS enables the generation of Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) position reports for maritime traffic management and situational awareness.

Watch this: EGNOS for Waterborne Transport

What’s more, GNSS supports position reporting in Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS). In the EU, all vessels above 15 metres are fitted with a VMS, and a “blue box” installed on the vessel transmits the GNSS-derived vessel position to the Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC) in the flag state, which then communicates this information to the state or regional fisheries body in whose waters the vessel is fishing.

Galileo SAR

Another key service offered by Galileo is its search and rescue (SAR) service. Galileo is the first GNSS constellation offering global SAR capability. The Galileo SAR service is also a fundamental European contribution to the Cospas-Sarsat International Programme, thanks to the SAR/Galileo repeaters and ground segment equipment that relay Cospas-Sarsat distress alerts to national authorities through the Cospas-Sarsat ground network.

And this: Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) Service

Timed to coincide with World Maritime Day, Shark Bait - a live demonstration of how quickly the Galileo SAR service can help in triggering a rescue operation - will be held on 26 September in Oostende, Belgium. 

As part of the event, a ‘victim’ will be left on a life raft at sea with a 406MHz Cospas-Sarsat distress beacon. When the beacon is activated, a chronometer will be launched to calculate the time taken to receive the distress signal, to compute the raft’s position and to send the alert to the relevant authorities. The event will be broadcast live on YouTube and on EuropeBySatellite (EBS).

Europe’s eyes on Earth

But it’s not just European GNSS (Galileo and EGNOS) that offers services to support efficient maritime operations. The European Union's Earth Observation Programme – Copernicus, “Europe’s eyes on Earth,” also provides some crucial services to the maritime sector, offering information services based on satellite Earth Observation and in situ (non-space) data.

In particular, the Copernicus marine environment monitoring service provides regular and systematic core reference information on the state of the oceans and seas in support of all marine applications, including those related to marine safety, marine resources, the coastal and marine environment, and weather forecasting and climate action.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Agency (GSA) 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 GSA website (

Updated: May 16, 2023