In recent years, space technologies have proven indispensable in several aspects of our lives, from farmers monitoring the soil quality to travellers visiting a new city or even crisis situation management.
In this field, the European Union has shown a capacity to be a front-runner when it comes to the deployment of innovative space technologies, with Copernicus (the leading provider of Earth observation data), EGNOS (navigation services to aviation, maritime and land-based users over Europe) or Galileo (Europe’s global satellite navigation system). Thanks to its strong space industry, the EU is one of the leaders in space technologies and data.
But Europe faces stronger competitors and its ability to secure an independent access to space is constantly being challenged, so much so that we are now embarked in a new “race for space”, alongside the US, China, Russia and India. To win this race, and to maintain a strong and innovative space industry that allows Europe to adapt to this new reality, I see two priorities:
First, the EU needs to commit to expanding its investment capacity in the space sector.
Yes, the European space industry is one of the most successful in the world. Yes, one third of the world’s satellites are manufactured and produced in Europe. Yes, the Ariane launchers are still some of the most reliable rockets available.
And yet, in the 21st century, when space is the new confrontation ground, Europe often falls short. The reality is that Europe’s budget for space is light years away from the US’s spending, with China’s budget is rising quickly. This is why we need a more ambitious European space budget, not a less ambitious one. Unfortunately, the latest budget proposal presented by the European Council does not take this new reality into account.
Secondly, we should be less naive.
Why is it that a number of Copernicus satellites are still launched with Russian Rokot rockets? This is one in many discrepancies that go against European interests. If we want to forge a lasting European space industry, we need to be able to support it with guaranteed purchase orders. Similarly to what the US are doing, we need a “European preference” for public tenders in institutional space missions.
Defending our industrial base means using it. This is key to the development of Europe’s strategic autonomy.
Being less naive also means channelling more investments in military space technology. Europe excels in civil space technologies, but lacks a real space defence strategy. We lack capacities for threat detection and countermeasures to protect our satellites. We lack robust and secure communications satellites. It is time for the EU to develop a real programme for military satellites. Our strategic autonomy depends on it.
As such, Europe has an opportunity to shine in the field of satellite constellations, particularly with quantum satellites. European technology is well ahead in this field, and we must take advantage of it. This could help fill in blank spots, while providing a higher level of security for European governments, companies and citizens.
I am happy to see that space is high on the agenda of the European Commission. Com- missioner Thierry Breton recently stated that « access to space ranks as one of the top priorities for the years to come». The determination of the Commission is welcomed and I hope we will quickly be able to strengthen Europe’s space industry, and by the same token, its strategic autonomy.
But let us not forget that without an adequate budget, and without a realistic and pragmatic approach, the EU space policy bears the risk of losing its shine.