“We are writing an extraordinary chapter in the history of space”
Jean-Yves Le Gall
Chair of the GSA Administrative Board (2016-2020)
At the 45th meeting of the European GNSS Agency’s (GSA) Administrative Board back in July 2016, Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES, the French space agency, and France’s interministerial coordinator for European satellite navigation programmes, was elected as Chair. European GNSS has gone from strength to strength in the four years since then. As his term draws to an end, he looks back at what has been achieved.
During your term as chair of the GSA Administrative Board, the agency has seen a lot of changes and Galileo and EGNOS have evolved significantly. What do you see as the main achievements?
Everywhere we look our lives are shaped by satellite data, whether we are aware of it or not. We rely on mapping apps and satellite navigation to find our way around the world. We use satellite-driven weather forecasts to make decisions on what to wear. And we use satellite observations to monitor air quality, predict disease outbreaks, detect changes in crop conditions, monitor water reserves, and much more besides. In addition, Galileo-enabled optimization of traffic flows and of rail, sea and air transport is helping to preserve the environment.
I see it as a major achievement that Galileo and all its stakeholders—the European Commission, the European Space Agency, the European Space Industry and of course GSA—have succeeded in being part of this evolution and contributed to the ubiquity of satellite services and applications in our lives. I took up my position as Chair of the Administrative Board just before the launch of Galileo Initial Services about five months later. Since then, we have reached a situation where there are over 1.5 billion Galileo-enabled smartphones on the market. This is an astonishing achievement and it shows that the market values the added accuracy and robustness that Galileo provides.
We have also seen the launch, in March 2018, of eCall, the EU’s emergency response system, which automatically calls emergency services in the event of a road accident. Since then, over three million eCall-enabled vehicles have been sold in Europe. By speeding up emergency response times it is estimated that eCall could help prevent 2,500 road deaths and save €26 billion every year. This is a very concrete example of how satellite positioning is improving our lives.
Search and rescue is another example. With the launch of Galileo Initial Services in December 2016 we put the Galileo SAR Forward Link Service into operation, reducing search-and-rescue location times from two hours down to 10 minutes. Since then we have launched the SAR Return Link Service, an important evolution that will help save even more lives.
And it’s not just Galileo that has made significant strides; the EGNOS programme has also gone from strength to strength and more than 636 EGNOS-based approach procedures have been implemented at over 361 airports in 24 countries. These programmes are now operational and we must continue to develop and improve them to achieve strategic goals, such as carbon neutrality, and to maintain Europe as a world leader in telecommunications and connectivity.
As we have demonstrated during the recent health crisis, the European space programme is very quick to adapt and is able to support the rapid development and implementation of solutions to pressing societal problems, as was the case with the Galileo Green Lane application, which facilitated the flow of essential goods during the pandemic.
I am very proud to have chaired the Administrative Board for four years and to have helped to develop the space policy Europe so greatly needs for its strategic independence and to support its economy. I want to thank and congratulate all the key stakeholders in what is today a global success, the Member States for developing a very ambitious space policy, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Space Agency, the European space industry and of course, the women and men of GSA.
What should be our focus going forward?
The current situation with the coronavirus pandemic has shown how vulnerable our economy is to threats of this nature. It is our role to encourage the research community and industry to leverage European investment in space to help meet these and future challenges. It is also our role to support SMEs and companies in matching space to user needs in order to strengthen Europe’s independence and economic position. This is an important mission which should be pursued.
GSA needs to continue promoting the added value of Galileo’s precision and encouraging companies to develop apps using Galileo and EGNOS. It also needs to focus on optimizing its resources to meet the needs of users and companies and contribute to setting up a space ecosystem for resilient entrepreneurship, through a network of space hubs at national and regional levels.
It will be helped in this by exploiting the enabler effect of space signals and data, and strengthening the synergies between all components of the space programme, in addition to communalities with digital technologies, to create European products for a NewSpace made in Europe.
Finally, collaboration with the Member States and other European entities should be stepped up to foster the use of space data to ensure that economic growth and the benefits of European investment in space are felt in its Member States.
How do you see the European space programme and GSA evolving?
We are living in a time when satellite data, be it positioning or observation, are playing an increasingly important role in our society and in our economy, creating opportunities and jobs and helping to meet the challenges we face as a society. As a result, I believe the future is bright, both for the European space programme and for GSA.
With the new Regulation establishing the European Union Space Programme Agency (EUSPA), the GSA today and the EUSPA tomorrow will continue to play a crucial role with all the various entities within the European space programme. It will help to make Europe’s industry and entrepreneurs more resilient by making the most of what the European space programme has to offer.
Do you have any recommendations or advice for GSA, the Member States or your successor?
Apart from the issues I have highlighted, I would like to underline that we are fortunate in Europe to have a range of entities developing space programmes that are the envy of the world. More than ever, we must work together to enable Europe to continue writing an extraordinary chapter in the history of space!
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