Investment in space sector is 'not an extravagance but a necessity'

Written by Jerzy Buzek on 2 February 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Promoting the European space market will do wonders both for EU competitiveness and the imagination of teenagers everywhere, writes Jerzy Buzek.

When I was 15, Poland's first – and to date, biggest – space observatory was built in my home region. Each visit in this new Silesian planetarium was a real feast for my teenage imagination, even if back in 1955 imagining that man would travel to space seemed as utopian as the thought that a Pole would be writing these words as a committee chair in the European parliament. In the following decades, we explored much more of outer space. Today, space programmes remain crucial for many areas of our economy, our environment and our security.

EU space policy deserves a long-term vision, built together and followed by all stakeholders. We should bear in mind that the space sector is not a standard industrial sector; it is of great strategic importance. Institutional customers play a very important role – the market is not completely open. However, like all other sectors, it is changing fast – new technologies and new players mean greater competition.

"Space infrastructure – in terms of innovative telecommunications, observation or navigation, for example – even if it is built for civil purposes, has the capacity to serve European surveillance, security and defence projects"

A key challenge in the coming years will be the implementation of the Galileo and Copernicus programmes, as well as the space surveillance and tracking support framework. Galileo will give us our own navigation and positioning system, and it will play a growing role in many sectors such as energy, transport, fisheries, civil engineering, emergency services and more. Copernicus will provide continuous data on pollution and global warming. The space surveillance and tracking (SST) framework will help us tackle the dangers of space debris and avert disruption risks.

We must promote a greater European space market, both institutionally and privately. Not only will it generate wealth and jobs, it will also support space manufacturing and help maintain political and financial commitment to space programmes. Following the commission's legislative proposal for creating an internal market in commercial earth observation data, parliament is beginning work on this file. Non-legislative ways to strengthen the market should also be used, so that European space programmes serve EU public policy, and so that space policy is mainstreamed in as many policy areas as possible – in telecoms, transport, agriculture, to name but a few.

There is also a need for high levels of investment in research and development and innovation. There needs to be greater coordination between the EU, the European space agency and the member states. Parliament called for a joint 'research roadmap' in an excellent report on space industrial policy published in 2013. The EU should also focus on critical technologies. We should assess how to support access to space and develop a European launcher. Additionally, we must review the rules on procurement, in order to better take into account the specificities of the space sector.

Space infrastructure – in terms of innovative telecommunications, observation or navigation, for example – even if it is built for civil purposes, has the capacity to serve European surveillance, security and defence projects. Let us therefore remember that investments in this sector are not an extravagance but a necessity. Finally, our space programme can boost not only Europe's industrial competitiveness and safety of the world's citizens, but also the imagination of many generations of teenagers who will be coming to observatories to explore, learn and marvel.

 

About the author

Jerzy Buzek (EPPPL) is chair of parliament's industry, research and energy committee

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