European Space Policy
Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the European Union need a space policy?

Space brings real economic as well as quality of life benefits to people in Europe and is the driving force behind a wide range of EU policies and their implementation. It is a key booster of competitiveness and growth. But Europe’s space industry is facing considerable challenges today. The traditional balance between commercial and public space services is shifting and heightened competition and commercialisation are leading to significant restructuring within the space sector. The present organisational and financial arrangements, which tend to lack flexibility, are also being questioned. Specifically, Europe spends only one sixth of what the United States spend on space research.

On the positive side, Europe has largely achieved self-sufficiency in space technology, based on decades of space research, becoming a leading commercial player, particularly in the production and deployment of launchers and space platforms. European satellites placed in orbit by European launchers provide businesses, public authorities and individuals with better telecommunications, more sustainable transport and mobility, environmental monitoring and faster response to natural disasters.

Space is a fertile breeding ground for cutting-edge research and innovation in the knowledge society and space applications are real growth- and competitiveness-boosters for European companies, providing new markets for European enterprises. For each Euro paid out for space research, there is a return of 3-4 Euros.

A more cohesive and consistent space policy will help to promote more efficient, beneficial and profitable space activities in Europe, avoiding delays like those experienced by GALILEO, the satellite positioning and navigation project which is now back on track to be up and running by 2008 and is expected to create some 145 000 jobs.

Two objectives have been central to the European space effort: developing a technological and industrial base to allow the full exploitation of applications, and a top-level focus on space science, contributing to a general understanding of our planet, the solar system and the universe itself. This strength will also help Europe participate as a major partner in large and important international space programs.

In the past, space research has been largely technologically oriented. Now, Europe is turning towards a policy orientation, in recognition that space is a real strategic asset. Space should be seen as a tool for the implementation of larger European Union goals. A strong space policy will help Europe to do this.

What should EU and ESA roles be in the space sector?

Up to now, Europe’s space policy has been managed exclusively at national and intergovernmental levels. The European Space Agency (ESA), with its unique knowledge base, has played a strong co-ordinating role in Europe”s successful efforts to consolidate its industrial base and to achieve technological independence, and is largely responsible for creating Europe”s world-leading launcher and platform capacities. This should be seen as a first great accomplishment, completing the first stage of Europe’s role in space.

However, responding to future challenges means taking a new, more comprehensive approach, integrating space hardware and space services and applications. To ensure maximum efficiency in decision-making and resource allocation, traditional roles have to be looked at very closely. This will allow Europe to enter the second stage, an era of more ambitious and longer-term space endeavours.

The Union”s role should be, first, to provide a common framework for the initiatives of both public and private sector players. This means better integrating space science within the European research effort, and the creation of appropriate political and regulatory conditions to open up the space sector and its commercial markets.

The EU and ESA will continue to do what they do best, but in a closer relationship. The Commission’s role will be one of policy making, co-ordination, consensus building and negotiation. It will drive the EU’s space policy, seeking the approval of Heads of Government and establishing legitimacy and support for its long-term visions in space. Meanwhile, ESA will continue to be the main powerhouse for scientific development and technological validation.

Which space-related programmes are likely to provide important benefits in the near future?

Two key projects under way are GALILEO, for satellite navigation – particularly essential to the transport sector, and GMES, the Global Monitoring of Environment and Security initiative. These projects will combine both space and terrestrial assets to answer specific and practical user needs, enhancing the implementation of key European policies and helping to develop new industrial capabilities. Both GALILEO and GMES illustrate how industrial and technological successes achieved by ESA can be fully exploited through complementary initiatives. Satellite communications applications are also a very important element, referred to recently at the Green Paper consultation workshop in London as the ‘third pillar’ of European space strategy.

What can the EU offer in the way of technical expertise?

The European Commission has developed solid expertise through its research programmes, notably in applications for sustainable development and the security of citizens. It has, for instance, developed effective satellite-based environmental screening systems, to detect and help prevent offshore oil spills and other hazards. Another example of EU-sponsored space projects concerns satellite mapping of remote regions, such as in Afghanistan, where EU aid and rescue teams were able to reach isolated villages in the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake, thanks to accurate satellite positioning and mapping services.

How will the EU integrate the public-private duality of the space sector, combining a public political strategy on the one hand and major industrial interests on the other?

Right now, the European aerospace industry is consolidating, setting up major companies to meet the challenge of US giants. Such efforts require the continuous support of public authorities, and also a specific kind of political backing. Essentially, the public sector has to become a space user and not just a space sponsor.

The EU is proposing a formula of mixed partnerships whereby the public sector and the whole industrial chain of manufacturers and users come together in operational projects. But these partnerships go far beyond making financial commitments. They are connected with the implementation of economic, political and regulatory frameworks, which make it easier for industrial and financial partners to reap a return on their investments. Private investment should be mobilised as and when opportunities for profit can be identified.

GALILEO will be the first major European partnership of this type. Similar strategies are also possible in the case of GMES, applied to information systems and services based on satellite observation.

What role does Space play in security and defence?

Space-based systems can respond to many emerging security needs, with both civilian and defence aspects encompassed under the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The current action being undertaken by the EU’s new Rapid Reaction Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a good example of a ground-based security operation being aided by strategic space technologies.

The EU/ESA Joint Task Force will look, inter alia, in the ‘dual use’ of space systems. GALILEO and GMES, for example, as civilian projects under civilian control, are seen as key to developing transport and environment policies. But they are also highly relevant to the CFSP, especially in reference to the Petersberg tasks, which include military missions involving humanitarian aid, evacuation, peacekeeping and crisis resolution. Space is dual by nature. We will pay an increasingly high price if we keep civil and military applications artificially separated.

Key space-based capabilities include monitoring and intelligence gathering, highly relevant when reacting to natural disasters, or in times of crisis. Space systems can also provide a robust communications infrastructure, capable of operating even when conventional means are disrupted.

The EU’s CFSP will only be really credible if it is supported by an autonomous intelligence capability, which includes space assets. The European Advisory Group on Aerospace, made up of high-level personalities from the political and industrial world, has presented a document on the current situation in the aerospace field. This ‘STAR 21’ report, recommends that the Union develop a satellite-based defence and security capacity on a European scale.

How are space activities being supported under current European research programmes?

The European Commission sees space strategy as a very concrete example of the concept of the European Research Area, which is now inspiring the Union”s whole scientific and technological strategy. For the first time, space research is being supported within the Commission’s Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, under the ‘Aeronautics and Space’ priority theme.

How much money does Europe spend on Space?

ESA has a budget of €3 billion per year, but this is only half of the annual expenditure in Europe of €5.5-6 billion. The rest comes from investment by national agencies such as CNES, ASI, DLR, etc., which are made in addition to their ESA contributions. Under the Framework Programme the European Commission will spend about €250 million on Space research.

Why the Space Green Paper?

The aim of this Green Paper is to initiate a debate on the medium- and long-term future use of space for Europe. A clear and ambitious space policy, backed by all of Europe’s political weight, is necessary to ensure the continued excellence of Europe in the space field. This means co-operation among all of the relevant players. But even before that key European space players need to gather their thoughts, to exchange ideas and to set priorities. This is what the Green Paper is all about.

To this end, the European Commission and the ESA have sponsored joint workshops in several European capitals, focussing on specific themes and target audiences and involving all of the European space stakeholders. The consultation is now drawing to a close. The results shall be used for drafting an action plan, which the Commission will present in co-operation with the ESA in the form of a ‘White Paper’ later in 2003.

To what extent will extra-European co-operation play a role in future European space activities?

Space activities in the 21st century have become a truly global venture. No single country can develop major new space technologies on its own, and worldwide co-operation is now the norm rather than the exception. Within this context, Europe has been and wants to remain a strong partner in large international programmes.

The Green Paper specifically raises the question of international co-operation and throughout consultations the Commission has tried to define a clear set of guidelines on how, when and with whom Europe should collaborate. Europe has strong ties to the US, but it is increasingly moving towards close collaboration with its eastern neighbours, including Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, and many other former Soviet block countries. Europe might also co-operate with other up-and-coming space players such as China, India and Japan.