Europe can become an innovative space technology hub, says Thierry Breton

But EU also faces ‘enormous challenges’ and risks losing ground in the space sector, warns internal market commissioner.
European Space Agency

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

15 Jan 2021

Europe can become a space entrepreneurship hub, according to EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton.

He told a conference the aim was a key part of the EU future space strategy.

But Breton also warned of “enormous challenges”, saying the EU faced “serious risk of losing ground” in the space domain.

As part of EU efforts to find “alternative” funding schemes to boost its space efforts, he announced the launch of a new EU-funded entrepreneurship initiative, called “CASSINI.”

This, he told the conference, represents a €1bn investment in boosting start-ups and space innovation.

“It will cover actions on the whole innovation cycle, from business idea to industrialisation, building on the €100m space equity pilot we launched last year,” said Breton.

The project will operate in conjunction with the European Investment Fund and European Investment Bank, he said.

“Doing space has become cheaper. This is good news, but it also calls on all of us to adapt, public authorities as well as industries. I see the future of the European space industry as one that is not a mere copy past of the US” EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton

“With CASSINI,” said Breton, “we want to stimulate more funds to actively invest in space companies in Europe and to get other industries to invest into space technologies.

“We want to organise a true European space incubator, relying on the strengths of all but putting them into a coherent and integrated network.”

Addressing the two-day European Space Conference, the 13th to be held, he said, “We have in Europe the creativity, the start-ups, the entrepreneurs, the research and innovation capacity.”

He added, “But we do not have a coherent approach, rather a scattered and inefficient one.

“We are duplicating efforts by not being coordinated and wasting resources by not being organised. We are missing disruptive technologies by not working together.”

In a keynote speech to the showpiece industry event, which concluded on Thursday, Breton said the space sector was going through a “fast and profound” industrialisation process of the same magnitude that the car industry experienced.

He said, “Doing space has become cheaper. This is good news, but it also calls on all of us to adapt, public authorities as well as industries. I see the future of the European space industry as one that is not a mere copy past of the US.”

His comments chime with those by Andrew-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup which runs the development of the Ariane series of rockets who, speaking on the eve of the online conference, said that 2021 is the year Europe needs to show it is serious about building and defending its position behind the U.S as the world’s second space power.

Breton, in his speech, broadly agreed, saying, “Now is the time to seek alternative business models and funding schemes.”

He said the main priorities for EU space policy this year include development of Copernicus and Galileo, its “flagship programmes for a “digital and green transition”; Europe's strategic autonomy in space and the development of “secure connectivity.”

He said the EU, with the European Space Agency, also planned a large scale European "in-orbit technology validation programme” to “provide regular access to space to the most promising technologies to test them.”

Outlining space policy, he noted that some €13.2bn had been allocated for the EU space programme in the bloc’s next long term budget, “the largest budget ever at EU level for space.”

“We have also agreed on the new EU space programme, the first of its kind for Europe.”

“2021 will be a defining year for our space strategy and for Europe on the global space stage. We have enormous challenges to face, with serious risk of losing ground" EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton

He told the audience of EU ministers, commissioners and industry experts, “Let me be crystal clear on one point: European space policy will continue to rely on ESA and its unique technical, engineering and science expertise. If we are to be successful, I will need ESA by my side.”

Looking to the future, the French-born official predicted, “2021 will be a defining year for our space strategy and for Europe on the global space stage. We have enormous challenges to face, with serious risk of losing ground."

Calling for is a "fundamental overhaul of the way we do space in Europe," he added, "we will continue on developing our strengths and past successes but we need to invent new ones.”

Also addressing the conference, EU High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell spoke of the importance of space in amplifying the EU's common foreign and security policy, including in the defence domain.

This, said the former MEP, will enable the EU to protect the security of the Union and of its citizens both on earth as well as in space.

Borrell said the EU will continue working to prevent an arms race while promoting a “responsible behaviour and peaceful use of outer space.”

In another keynote speech, Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, noted that funding and extensive support in research and innovation are “essential" for the EU to become a global leader in space.

The incoming Horizon Europe programme will further enable innovation in the space sector, said Gabriel.

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