The world in which we live, and the role that space plays in this world, is changing fast. Smartphones are now ubiquitous, not just in Europe and the rest of the developed world, but in developing countries also. And where the smartphone goes, the internet goes too, even if the way in which it is delivered may differ.
This so-called ‘connected society’ has two core components - communication and content. As the Executive Director of the European GNSS agency (GSA), I am naturally more focused on the former, but the latter is just as important, and the two go hand in hand.
It is also clear that the needs of the connected society cannot be met by one system alone, but by many systems within the Internet of Things, in which space represents just one dimension.
Just as there are a number of dimensions, there will be a number of systems, as part of a ‘system of systems’ concept, providing location and sensing for the content, and communication for the transmission of this content.
The space dimension of this ‘system of systems’ and future connectivity is built on three core pillars.
First, global navigation satellite systems, or GNSS, which of course include Galileo, for position and timing. Second, earth observation, including Copernicus, for sensing; and third, satellite communication, or SatCom, for global communications.
For SatCom in particular, we see 5G as a component needed for fast deployment and to reach truly global coverage, and also to provide back-up and to cover gaps in terrestrial networks, for example in remote areas and on airplanes.
We see an active and increasing role for the European Union in the development, deployment, operation and service provision of each of these space infrastructures.
In particular, we can see that the Galileo programme has been a trailblazer, not just in providing Europe with its own GNSS, but also in enabling Europe to gain key experience in how to build, operate and organise services from large and complex space infrastructures. The GSA, with its experience of EGNOS and Galileo, is at the forefront of this endeavour.
I also believe that the focus we currently place on individual systems will lessen over time and that infrastructures will gradually converge to the extent that their di¬fferences will be invisible to the end user.
We will also see a shift to where the focus on the benefits and revenues from these activities will move from the systems themselves to the applications based on these systems, including applications based on combined systems.
The GSA’s experience of downstream applications in the GNSS fi eld will increasingly be leveraged, including in earth observation and SatCom, for example.
Let me conclude by saying that space systems such as Galileo and Copernicus are ultimately just public infrastructures, in the same way that a motorway is a public infrastructure.
Galileo will support other infrastructure with positioning and timing and by providing a component of the input of space and European space programmes.
Moving from a concept of launching satellites on rockets to actually delivering user-orientated services may not sound particularly exciting.
However, by so doing we can be confident that we are providing a key input towards creating a more prosperous and socially-inclusive Europe, which has an element of excitement all of its own.