Taking care of business with Space Solutions

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16 June 2016
European businesses from an array of sectors are looking for innovative ways to bring space to Earth.

One major takeaway from last week’s European Space Solutions conference in The Hague is that satellite navigation and Earth observation data are creating big opportunities for game-changing growth in Europe and beyond.

Opening a dedicated session on the topic of space solutions for business, European GNSS Agency (GSA) Executive Director Carlo des Dorides described how space is bringing effective tools to face the many challenges that business and society are confronting. Under the equation ‘(Space + Innovation) x Entrepreneurship = Growth!’ he noted that “entrepreneurs must not only have a vision, but the capacity to realise their vision, and be keen to take on risks and able to learn from ‘unsuccess’”.

As a case in point on how European space solutions can benefit businesses, he highlighted the role of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) in opening up business opportunities in the aviation sector and beyond. From six airports with operational EGNOS approaches in 2011, there are now over 350 operational EGNOS based procedures in Europe – a number set to double by 2018.

“This innovation ensures that smaller regional airports remain accessible in all weather conditions, increases operational efficiency and boosts tourism and trade,” he says. “This is resulting in major benefits for many airport operators and their regional communities.”
According to des Dorides, EGNOS is the perfect showcase of European innovation, saying that “EGNOS-based operations represent the most significant innovation in European air traffic since the invention of radar.”

Already an estimated 6 % of the global gross domestic product (GDP) depends on space technology. “If Europe gets our space strategy right, we will provide the right opportunities for using this space data for jobs and growth well into the future,” adds European Commission Head of Unit for Galileo and EGNOS Applications Philippe Jean. 

Space to Earth

Looking at what businesses want to do with space solutions, perhaps Shell Vice-President of Exploration Technology and Chief Scientist Geophysics Dirk Smit summed it up best by saying: “We want to bring space to Earth.” Elaborating on this statement, he notes that in his sector space is already providing solutions to the global energy challenge, including the use of space-based monitoring techniques for geoscience that are helping Shell “turn data into decisions”.

This is especially true when applied to the Earth’s subsurface, which Smit describes as “the last frontier” for exploration. Routine visualisation of the Earth’s subsurface, including the ocean floor for which Shell is sponsoring an Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, is close and, according to Smit, space-borne technology is critical.

Space-powered businesses

So how are business leaders addressing today’s challenges and preparing for tomorrow’s opportunities with space solutions? According to global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver manufacturer ST Microelectronics Director Carlo Bagnoli, all one has to do is look at the transport sector. “After ST pioneered a volume supply of multi-constellation GNSS standalone receivers in 2011, we are now delivering our Teseo third-generation global GNSS solution supporting all existing signals, including Galileo,” he says. “Furthermore, we are developing precise positioning solutions to support new applications in Highly Automated ADAS [Advanced Driver Assist Systems] that match the performance, reliability and cost targets of these new exciting applications.”

In terms of smart cities and autonomous driving, Bagnoli feels that no single technology will drive this business alone. However, he believes that GNSS must be an important part of the technological mix. “This market will be global, dynamic and highly competitive, but will also rely on regulation and standardisation to ensure growth,” he says.

Adding to this role of GNSS in the transport sector, Xerox Tolling Business Senior Manager Peter Depuydt talked about space-based solutions in applications such as public transport, fleet management and route optimisation. According to him, GNSS-based systems have major applications in border control solutions. He also believes that legislation for data safeguards will become increasingly important. “Vehicle tolling systems will generate a huge amount of data that enables efficient traffic management. However the actual tracking guarantees privacy,” he says.

Business case

Entrepreneur and self-proclaimed space invader Robert Mica discussed the current investment climate, noting that interest in investing in space-based businesses was changing – and fast. “Venture capital invested more in space start-ups last year than in the previous 15 years,” he says. “Clearly, there is a big shift happening.”

That being said, he also advised that, when talking to venture capitalists, it is important to get down to the business case: “They are not interested in space per se. What they really want to know is where the money is,” he says. He also noted a difference between the USA and the EU, saying that in the EU business was more driven by a technology push, while in the USA businesses operated in a more market-push environment.

To put all this into perspective, Planet Labs CEO used his company’s ambitious Earth observation and remote sensing business plans as a case study of space-based success. According to him, a global sensor revolution is currently underway, and the Planet Lab approach is looking to enable monitoring on a daily basis with global coverage and rapid online delivery at lower cost.

To achieve this, a fleet of over 100 small mass-manufactured satellites will be needed – a process that will “institutionalises innovation”. “This constellation will allow monitoring of ‘everywhere, everyday’ at a three-metre pixel resolution,” he says. “This almost real-time information will let us take the pulse of the planet and, when combined with excellent analytics, will help decision-makers and support efforts for global sustainability.”

Stay tuned!

Want to learn more about the many ways Space Solutions can benefit your business? In the coming weeks we will be running focused articles and business profiles on how such sectors as energy, smart mobility, climate change and the environment, agriculture and food, river deltas and health and safety are all making the business case for space.

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 (http://www.gsa.europa.eu).

Updated: Dec 08, 2022