Europe must be a runner in the race for space

Written by Marian-Jean Marinescu on 23 January 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

The EU can no longer rely on others to ensure its technology has adequate access to space, writes Marian-Jean Marinescu.

Photo Credit: European Space Agency


Space is increasingly important to our citizens and our economy.

It is indispensable and will become an economic and social security issue, not simply a military and security issue.

Technology has driven the development of new satellite applications. Launch facilities have rapidly adapted to match and are even privatised now.


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Many areas are now using satellite technologies, increasing their relevance in a wide range of fields from agriculture to aviation.

This increase of space activity has brought both advantages and challenges.

The EU still has a lot to do if it is to become a space power.

Horizon Europe must provide the funding for R&D activity, ensuring the solutions, technologies and new raw materials needed to meet future requirements and keep pace with progress in competitor countries.

“The EU needs to seriously consider setting up an independent satellite-launching capability, rather than rely on external providers”

It is the duty of the negotiators - the Parliament and the Council, assisted by the European Commission - to clarify and ensure, inside Horizon EU, the future of joint undertakings, particularly the continuity of the Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) for space, based on the Pilot Project that I proposed in 2016 which was strongly supported by the European space industry.

To create a predictable future for public-private partnerships activity, the Commission and Commissioner Moedas must support and accept the clear provisions agreed by the Parliament and Council.

At the same time, EGNOS should not be forgotten, particularly as it did not receive adequate financing in recent years.

The whole EU territory must be covered by EGNOS services, which are vital for the digital future of aviation traffic management.

The funding needed is low compared to the benefits for air passengers.

Greater importance should also be given to cybersecurity, which is central to both service reliability and cyber protection.

Horizon Europe and the defence programme should be used to finance R&I activities here and the results used by all European programmes.

“A mix of commercial and national capabilities, along with a European governance framework, is the optimum solution”

Future GOV-SAT-COM should receive the proper configuration soon, to avoid unnecessary national spending.

A mix of commercial and national capabilities, along with a European governance framework, is the optimum solution.

I believe the space programme 2021-2027 needs to develop the governance framework for this important system, even if it is not providing proper funding.

The new defence programme should also help fund the establishment of GOVSAT- COM.

Again, negotiators have the power to reach a positive agreement for all regulations on space, Horizon Europe and defence.

The EU needs to seriously consider setting up an independent satellite-launching capability, rather than rely on external providers to launch its own, or Member State’s, space missions.

National capacities should be the basis for establishing, with EU financing, a European launch capacity providing both rockets and ground infrastructure.

The competition already exists and will strengthen. This lack of capacity will disadvantage the EU space industry.

I attended the launch of a set of Galileo satellites. We waited more than four hours for confirmation of a successful launch from the United States.

We should quickly correct this; we have to develop our own capabilities to choose orbits and validate the results of a launch.

Space will become increasingly crowded in the near future. There are already numerous projects that will bring more than 1000 satellites to space in the coming years.

This will be good for the economy yet will also require greater attention from the space industry.

A ‘map’ of all space objects, near-earth objects and space debris needs to be developed.

The space programme for the next MFF includes an SSA development. However, in my opinion this is not properly financed.

My proposal for a pilot project was approved, one that will contribute to this activity and will define the requirements and the framework for the governance of such a complex system.

The Parliament and the Council have the responsibility to work hard in the limited period between now and April to reach agreements on technical provisions of the legislation dealing with the space sector.

Unfortunately, the Council has announced a possible compromise on the 2021-2027 MFF.

However, an agreement on technical provisions will provide some predictability for stakeholders and will allow for preparation of the project proposals and at the same time facilitate the swift conclusion of legislation at the beginning of 2020.

These are the mandatory conditions to start at the very beginning of the next MFF in early 2021.

About the author

Marian-Jean Marinescu (RO, EPP) is vice-chair of Parliament’s Sky and Space Intergroup

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