PARIS — The European Union’s executive commission on Oct. 26 unveiled a new space strategy that promises public investment to stimulate the creation of space start-up companies.
The Brussels, Belgium-based commission, which acts on behalf of the 28 European Union members — still including Britain for a couple of years — is already the biggest single customer for Europe’s Arianespace launch-service provider and for Europe’s satellite manufacturers.
The EU plans to launch some 30 satellites in the coming decade for the Galileo navigation and Copernicus environment-monitoring programs, which are the major beneficiaries of the commission’s space budget of 12 billion euros ($13.5 billion) between 2014 and 2020.
With both Galileo and Copernicus on track and launching satellites, the commission is turning its attention to building a sustainable space economy, using language reminiscent of the privot made by Britain several years ago.
Europe’s space sector “needs more entrepreneurs and more private investment if it is to stay ahead of the curve,” EU Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SME Commissioner Elzbieta Biendowska said in a statement announcing the new policy.
“My message therefore to industry, startups and investors is hat space matters and we are in space for the long haul.”
The new strategy specifically mentions the Investment Plan for Europe and an upcoming vehicle called the Venture Capital Fund of Funds as sources of financial support for space ventures.
“EU funding will be more strongly geared towards space entrepreneurs starting and scaling up across the Single Market,” the commission said. “Additionally, the commission will promote more private investment for such startups.”
European government and industry officials for years have envied the U.S. venture capital world’s ability to promote new companies at what in Europe appears to be record speed.
The most recent manifestation has been the willingness of Silicon Valley billionaires — with SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos the best-known examples — to invest in the space sector despite the lack of near-term return.
Such a thing is unheard of in Europe, with the notable exception of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson of Britain, whose space transportation company nonetheless set up shop in the United States, not in Europe.
Space situational awareness to receive more support
The commission said its space strategy aims to develop a “comprehensive EU Space Situational Awareness Service to protect critical space infrastructure from space debris, space weather and cyber attacks.”
The current Space Situational Awareness Program funded by the commission has more ambition than funding. How it will transform itself into something more comprehensive, and whether the EU member governments — especially France, Germany and Italy — will support it remains unclear.
The commission’s current budget runs through 2020 and has no obvious pool of uncommitted funds that could be diverted to a more-substantial Space Situational Awareness effort.
EU military telecom satellite program remains a goal
The commission also restated its support for a GovSatCom program that in principle would collate the military satellite telecommunications requirements of EU nations, a long-held ambition that has never been realized because of competing national sovereignty issues.
The EU’s European Defence Action Plan, expected to be published late this year, is expected to address the GovSatCom program. Currently five EU member nations — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — have their own independent military satellite telecommunications satellites in orbit.
In addition to these assets, the government of Luxembourg and satellite fleet operator SES are jointly building a military telecommunications satellite intended for use by NATO allies.