Opening the fourth European Space Solutions Conference (ESSC) at the end of last May, Dutch astronaut André Kuipers told the 1500 business leaders, policy makers and space experts gathered in The Hague, Netherlands that; "Your work can help keep our planet in good shape."
The five-day conference was organised by the Dutch presidency of the EU Council, the European Commission and other leading EU space agencies.
Speaking in the same session, European internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs Commissioner, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, stressed the strategic importance of space to Europe, with 320,000 people employed in space related industries. Bieńkowska warned that the space industry globally 'is changing fast', with Europe facing increasing competition.
She believes that the largest influence on Europe's space industry actually comes from outside the sector; "We live in an increasingly data-driven economy and space data will be part of this trend." To help Europe's industry take advantage of 'space data', the Commission will present a new space strategy later this year.
Dutch ALDE group MEP Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen reacted, saying, "Bienkowska's space strategy should be ambitious, ensuring a larger role for the private sector in developing space services. The upstream industry should enable the downstream to become the mainstream."
Dutch minister of economic affairs Henk Kamp agreed with the Commissioner; "We are here today because space technology and data can help us[...] giving deeper insight into the problems we are facing and the opportunities that exist for change."
Yet there were numerous challenges to be overcome to help businesses take advantage of satellite data, such as; regulations that blocked innovations, lack of common specifications and concerns over security and privacy.
Dutch minister for environment Sharon Dijksma stressed her government was serious about the opportunities offered by 'space data'; "As EU presidency holder, the Netherlands has put forward proposals to free up legislation to allow innovations in the use of satellite data."
However, head of the European Global Navigations Satellite Systems Agency Carlo des Dorides told the conference that business also played an important role in the sector's success; "Space, combined with innovation and entrepreneurship, is an important part of the equation of producing jobs and growth."
The conference discussed how space technology can help Europe deal with challenges including security and defence.
According to the deputy executive of the European Defence Agency, Rini Goos, meeting the diverse and growing threats to Europe requires a "full spectrum of military capabilities," for which "space assets were essential."
For Goos, the key was to produce dual-use space technologies that were "conceived to be compatible with European security and defence policy needs."
Another speaker, Romanian EPP MEP Marian Jean Marinescu, said any EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) must include looking at enhancing space capabilities. He believed space technology was "an essential part of any member states' defence and security, and their sovereignty."