Q&A on European Union’s New Space Policy

European_Commission_LogoBRUSSELS, 26 October 2016 (EU PR) — EU space programmes already deliver services that benefit millions of people. The European space industry is strong and competitive, creating jobs and business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Today’s proposal for a new space policy will foster new services and promote Europe’s leadership in space.

1. Why a space strategy now?

The EU is developing three high quality space projects: Copernicus, a leading provider of Earth observation data across the globe; Galileo, Europe’s own global navigation satellite system (GNSS); and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), which provides precision navigation services to aviation, maritime and land-based users over most of Europe. A total of EUR 12 billion from the EU budget will be invested in these projects and in research over 2014-2020. Now that the infrastructure of EU space programmes is well advanced, the focus needs to shift to ensuring a strong market uptake of space data and services by the public and private sector. By generating more services which respond to people’s needs and new economic opportunities, every euro spent on EU space policy is a euro well spent. This is also in line with the Commission’s Budget for Results initiative.

The strategy also responds to a changing environment. Global competition is growing. Space activities are becoming increasingly commercial with greater private sector involvement. Major technological shifts are disrupting traditional industrial and business models in the sector. Europe needs to remain a leader in space. This requires a stable, predictable framework which stimulates investment and a strong research base, which is supported under the Horizon 2020 research programme.

Space resources will be used more strategically to support Europe’s competitiveness and help boost jobs, growth and investment in Europe. Space technologies and information will also support key political priorities such as monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, helping secure our borders and developing our digital economy.

2. What are the existing EU space programmes?

The EU has three flagships programmes in the field of space:

Copernicus , a leading provider of Earth observation data across the globe, already helps save lives at sea, improves our response to natural disasters such as earthquakes, forest fires or floods, and allows farmers to better manage their crops, collects data from earth observation satellites and ground stations, airborne and sea-borne sensors. It processes data and provides users with reliable and up-to-date information through a set of services in six thematic areas: land monitoring, marine monitoring, atmosphere monitoring, climate change, emergency management response and security. Most of these services are already operational and have been enabled by the earth observation data from the first four Copernicus Sentinel satellites, as well as a number of contribution missions from other operators. Three more satellites are to be launched next year and two more satellites by 2021.

Galileo, Europe’s own global satellite navigation system (“the European GPS”), will soon provide more accurate and reliable positioning and timing information for autonomous and connected cars, railways, aviation and other sectors. The deployment of Galileo is on track and initial services, which are the first step toward full operational capability of Galileo in 2020, will be available soon. The Galileo Services will gradually improve as more satellites are deployed and other services (e.g. commercial services) will be made available.

The European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) provides “safety of life” navigation services to aviation, maritime and land-based users over most of Europe. Safety of life means that the positioning information is so precise that, for example, an aircraft can safely land using it. All services provided by EGNOS are already fully operational and the number of users is growing.

The EU is also conducting other space-related activities, such as the funding of R&D through the Horizon 2020 programme. This has already yielded great results in the form of projects which use space generated data for such things as the monitoring of agricultural sustainability (SIGMA and AGRICAB projects), analysis of the chemical composition of our oceans (OSS2015) as well as providing support to urban planners to coordinate city resources (DECUMANOS) to name but a few. In addition, the EU contributes to the space surveillance and tracking support framework (SST). Operational since July 2016, the SST services detect and warn against possible collisions in Space and monitor re-entry of space debris into the Earth atmosphere.

3. When will we start to see EU space policy deliver in practice?

We already do! Some examples where European space policy is already providing practical support are:

  • Removal of the Costa Concordia in July 2014: Copernicus provided the operation with mapping of sea currents and monitoring services which made the long voyage across the Mediterranean to Genoa possible in terms of minimizing risk of further pollution.
  • The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in March 2010: It generated a cloud of volcanic ash which caused massive disruption to air travel, forcing many European countries to close their air space. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service produced daily forecasts of the movements of the Eyjafjallajökull ash plume based on its global modelling system.
  • Earthquakes in Ecuador in April 2016 and more recently in central Italy in August 2016: The European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre activated the EU Copernicus Emergency mapping service for damage assessment grading maps over the populated areas most affected by the quake. The maps based on satellite-imagery are produced to help understand the situation on the ground and thus help the rescue teams to find survivors in the rubble of the affected buildings. They are also able to assist in later months in the reconstruction and monitoring of recovery of the area.
  • The European Coast and Border Guard Agency‘s missions in the Mediterranean: In 2015, 350 people were rescued after Copernicus satellites helped to spot four flimsy rubber dinghies leaving the coast of Libya. These also helped Greek authorities seize a ship smuggling 60 million cigarettes after tracking a suspect vessel in an operation coordinated through Eurosur. Spanish coastguards were able to locate a 7-metre migrant boat with engine failure which had been reported lost by Moroccan authorities, thereby rescuing 38 people, including three children.
  • Satellite navigation in farming: EGNOS is providing an important contribution to precision agriculture in the EU. Today 80 % of tractors which have GPS are also equipped with EGNOS, which allows farmers to determine crop lands with higher precision than ever before.
  • Landing of airplanes: Today 195 airports in Europe have implemented EGNOS landing procedures, on the one hand allowing them to save money on ground based landing infrastructure, and on the other hand making landing in difficult weather conditions more secure, thus avoiding delays and re-routing.

4. Who is responsible for space issues in Europe?

The Commission focuses on devising a space policy which fosters an innovative internal market for space-based applications for the benefit of European citizens. We also support the development of a robust European industry that can create jobs and growth and compete on the global stage. The EU is not financing any action regarding space exploration.

The EU also fully finances, owns and manages Copernicus, Galileo and EGNOS. However, the Commission has delegated the actual operations of the space infrastructure. The European Space Agency (ESA), an intergovernmental organization undertaking space exploration activities, deploys the Galileo infrastructure. The EU Agency dedicated to Global Navigation Satellites Systems –the GSA –is the exploitation entity of Galileo and EGNOS, responsible for market uptake. Copernicus satellite operations on the other hand are managed by the ESA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), while the services are delegated to the European Environment Agency (EEA), the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Mercator Ocean, the EU Satellite Centre and the Joint Research Centre. The European Coast and Border Guard uses Copernicus high-resolution images, for example to track suspect vessels at sea.

5. What new business models could emerge?

The possibilities opened up by the huge volumes of data from space and the precision signals of Galileo will lead innovators and entrepreneurs to new solutions that we perhaps cannot even imagine today. A number of innovative start-ups are already developing cutting-edge space based information and technology services. A good indication of what future solutions may look like come from The Commission’s Copernicus and Galileo prizes has awarded innovative space-driven applications. Recent winners include solutions which help farmers receive weekly updated maps on their crop health status (FieldSense project),provide real-time information about buildings and construction projects all over the world (Building Radar project) or develop mobile phones that allow us to use augmented reality superimposed on our surroundings (CybEarth project).

New services driven by space data will emerge, and as launch costs fall, for example when multiple small satellites can be launched, new technologies can be deployed to provide new products. But no one can predict exactly how things will unfold, any more than we might have tried to predict the future uses of the Internet back in 1990.

The Commission will monitor market developments and consider how to underpin this transformation through research and innovation, by making access to space data easier, promoting more private investment for such start-ups (in particular in the context of the Investment Plan for Europe), and support the emergence of European industrial space hubs and clusters in European regions.

6. Is space data available for free? And how can it be accessed?

Copernicus offers free, full and open access. Anyone can access Copernicus data and information (i.e. Copernicus Sentinel data and Copernicus service products and information) at no charge at any time through the Copernicus website. The Space Strategy will encourage the dissemination and take-up of these opportunities, offering countless possibilities for businesses, scientists, and public authorities, making Copernicus a real game changer in Earth Observation. The Commission will make it easier for innovative companies and start-ups to access space data via dedicated industry-led platforms in order to develop services and applications.

7. How will you encourage the Galileo signal uptake when there is such reliance on GPS?

As Galileo moves into its operational phase, it will begin to deliver tangible results.

With additional satellites as well as due to its enhanced features, Galileo will significantly improve the precision of navigation as compared to the current GPS system. More satellites in orbit means more satellites are visible above the horizon so that more signals can be compared, giving a more precise location. Also Galileo receivers can distinguish between direct signals and reflections. This will particularly improve accuracy in cities, where a large part of the sky is obscured by buildings, which can compromise accurate positioning. In addition, Galileo will provide unprecedented timing accuracy, which is vital for the synchronisation of critical infrastructure such as telecommunication networks and electricity grids as well as for providing exact timing of financial transactions.

Thanks to Galileo, more accurate Search & Rescue service will become available to the international COSPAS SARSAT operations. These services depend on satellites detecting a signal from a distress beacon. The current satellites may take three or more hours before passing close enough to a beacon to detect it, and can only locate it to within 10 kilometres. The Galileo service picks up the signal within 10 minutes and narrows the range down to 5km, meaning that the area to be searched is just one quarter the size of the current area. This will help save lives at sea or in the mountains.

The Commission will also look at possible actions to introduce Galileo in mobile phones. This will build on the experience from a current project, which is already testing how Galileo signals can be used in emergencies by automatically providing the accurate location of the caller to public services.

Other sectoral measures will be taken to introduce Galileo into specific markets or areas for example in autonomous and connected cars, railways, aviation as well as in protecting critical infrastructures using time synchronisation.

In addition, a study will be launched to look into possible standardisation measures and putting in place a voluntary labelling and certification scheme for Galileo (and EGNOS).

8. Will we see a growing space industry and more European launchers?

Europe is already a major global space player. It has a strong and competitive industry, e.g. for satellites, launchers and related services/operations. The European space industry employs over 230 000 professionals and generates a value added estimated at EUR 46-54 billion. Europe manufactures one third of all the world’s satellites.

With 18 satellites currently in orbit and over 30 planned in the next 10-15 years, the EU is also the largest institutional customer for launch services in Europe. The Commission will aggregate the launch service needs of EU programmes and act as a smart customer of European reliable and cost-effective launch solutions.

It is crucial that Europe continues to have modern, efficient and flexible launch infrastructure facilities. In addition to measures taken by Member States and ESA, the Commission will consider ways to support such facilities within its areas of competence, for example through its contracts for launch services or other funding instruments where this corresponds to EU policy objectives or needs.

In the future, Ariane 6 and Vega C will progressively replace the current fleet, with a substantial cost reduction for access to space foreseen. The European Union will also continue to support research and innovation efforts, in particular to ensure Europe’s ability to react and anticipate disruptive changes such as reusability and small launchers.

9. Are Copernicus and Galileo purely civilian programmes?

Yes. The existing GNSS, as well as Galileo and Copernicus are purely civilian programmes entirely under civilian control. Some of the services and data can be used for emergency services, police, crisis management, border management or peace-keeping operations. The use of the services is to be decided by individual Member States, including any potential military use.

10. How can space contribute to Europes common security and defence capabilities?

EU space-based applications can provide additional operational capacity for the implementation of the common security and defence policy, notably with regard to precision navigation (Galileo), surveillance (Copernicus), communications (Govsatcom), autonomous access to space (launchers) and situational awareness (SST), and can contribute to European strategic autonomy and non-dependence. Space and defence technologies are also closely interlinked.

11. What is the link with upcoming European Defence Action Plan?

Space capabilities will be considered in the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP), principally as regards satellite communications. These provide infrastructure to support a range of vital capabilities to deal with security situations such as disaster response, border and maritime surveillance and terrorist attacks. In this respect, we expect the EDAP to tackle the area of secure satellite communications which can be used by EU and national public authorities (both civil and military). The EDAP’s coverage of this area would build on and be compatible with the proposals in the European Space Strategy.

12. What happens next?

The Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council to discuss and support this strategy, and its implementation In 2017 the Commission should start to implement the actions outlines in this strategy and initiate a regular structured dialogue with stakeholders to ensure its effective delivery and monitor its progress.

One of the foundations of the Space Strategy is strengthening partnerships between the Commission, Member States, ESA and GSA, together with all other relevant agencies such as EUMETSAT, stakeholders, industry, research and user communities.

Relations between the EU and ESA will be one of the cornerstones of success. Working together, sharing resources, expertise and investing in a common future, we can push the boundaries of what is possible. An important symbol of this cooperation is the EU-ESA Joint Statement on shared vision and goals which will be signed on the day of the adoption of the Space Strategy and which will offer a common reference framework for the respective strategies of the EU and ESA in space.

As part of the midterm review of the EU Space Programmes in 2017, the Commission will also examine the possibility to further simplify and improve the governance, transparency and accountability of EU space programmes through a single Financial Framework Partnership Agreement with ESA.

The Commission will continue its successful collaboration with EUMETSAT given its crucial role in the delivery of Copernicus. The role of the Galileo Space Agency (GSA) will also be strengthened to better support the exploitation of Galileo and EGNOS and to increase their market uptake. The Commission will consider extending the GSA’s responsibilities in certain security-related tasks to other EU space activities.

The Commission will also look at how EU space programmes can support the needs of various other EU agencies, such as the European Environment Agency, European Fisheries Control Agency, European Maritime Safety Agency, the European Coast and Border Guard Agency and others. It will work closely with the European External Action Service, the European Defence Agency and the European Union Satellite Centre, together with Member States and ESA to explore possible dual-use synergies in the space programmes.