For Europe, the sky is not the limit

Written by Lowri Evans on 23 January 2019 in Opinion

By supporting the EU’s ambitions in space, we are backing a cutting-edge industry in Europe, writes Lowri Evans.

Photo Credit: European Space Agency

The European Union has already developed an ambitious space programme, with the flagship satellite navigation systems Galileo and EGNOS as well as the Earth Observation programme Copernicus.

The EU’s space programme generates considerable benefits for the EU economy and society - between €120bn and €195bn over the next 20 years.

This represents a return of investment for Europe of between 10 to 20 times the costs of the programme.


The EU is a major customer of Europe’s space industry, but the relationship goes much deeper than that. We rely on our industry to build, operate and upgrade our space systems.

To develop and operate Copernicus, Galileo and EGNOS, we have invested over €11bn from the current MFF (2014-2020).

In addition, there was €1.5bn through Horizon 2020 to support research in breakthrough technologies and innovations that support our activities.

This helps European industry maintain a leadership position in the lucrative global space sector, which is at the cutting edge of technology.

“The Commission’s ambitious plans will positively impact the EU space industry’s revenue, employment and technology innovation”

Looking to the future, we will see our space systems upgraded to keep abreast of technological developments, political priorities and the evolving needs of users.

This is why we are proposing an ambitious EU space programme worth €16bn over the next seven years (2021-2027).

What will this mean for industry?

In concrete terms, we will support the upstream industry that will help upgrade Europe’s space technologies and develop new ones.

For Galileo, this means replenishing the constellation and upgrading and developing various technologies to further improve the performance of Galileo.

We will upgrade EGNOS to make it fully compatible with Galileo, while coverage of the system will be further extended.

For Copernicus, we are looking to maintain the current constellation and develop new observation capabilities in areas such as CO2 monitoring and will extend coverage over the Polar Regions.

“If industry uses its ingenuity to develop new technological solutions, they do so in the knowledge that there will be an EU institutional market ready for their innovations”

We are also proposing new actions in Space Situational Awareness and secure satellite communications.

The Commission’s ambitious plans will positively impact the EU space industry’s revenue, employment and technology innovation.

Copernicus and Galileo support, and will continue to support, thousands of jobs in the upstream space industry.

Most crucially, EU industry now has a long-term perspective concerning space: if industry uses its ingenuity to develop new technological solutions, they do so in the knowledge that there will be an EU institutional market ready for their innovations.

For the downstream sector, we plan to foster a new space ecosystem, as thousands of companies rely on free Copernicus data and Galileo satellite navigation signals to innovate, develop new products and services and start new business concepts.

To achieve this, we propose dedicated measures to promote space entrepreneurship and support space start-ups capable of creating new jobs and boosting growth.

We want to provide access to training, processing and testing facilities. We will help establish innovation partnerships to develop products and financial instruments to support start-ups.

We have also begun preparatory work on an initiative for a space equity pilot project looking at the early stage and growth needs of start-ups.

Space activities are also now explicitly included in InvestEU (the proposed successor to the current EU investment plan).

In future, we need to open the space sector up to new industries and business models.

We need to develop space hubs, bringing together actors from the space and digital sectors at regional and national levels, as well as providing support for entrepreneurs and companies that want to use and develop space-based applications.

We need all stakeholders to work together so that the technological solutions from our space services make the greatest impact across all sectors.

Our current pressing challenge is to maximise our collective return.

To do this, we must be open to new approaches and new business models that leverage Europe’s position and industry in the global space sector.

With its critical mass and the promise of long-term continuity and predictability, the EU space programme can play the role of “enabler” for sustained growth.

In return for public investment, we need to see industrial commitment, initiatives that can jump start innovation, substantial private investments and real team effort.

The future success of our space programmes will be industry’s success; together we can make it a win-win for Europe’s businesses, Europe’s economy and Europe’s citizens.

About the author

Lowri Evans is Director-General of DG GROW at the European Commission

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