Ministers, Ambassadors and top EU officials gathered in Prague on September 6 to celebrate the opening of the GSA’s new offices.
It was, as Czech Transport Minister Pavel Dobeš said, an “historic moment” as he formally opened the new headquarters in Prague of the European GNSS Agency (GSA), the agency to be charged with the future programme management and exploitation of the European Union's Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), Galileo and EGNOS.
Dobeš said the launch of the GSA’s Prague offices would not only enhance Czech prestige in the EU as a technologically advanced country, but would also boost local business. “And the beautiful environment we have created here will make it as easy as possible for the GSA staff,” he added.
Some 200 attendees, including ambassadors, Ministers, government officials and business leaders, participated in the official inauguration ceremony of the GSA’s new state-of-the-art offices in Prague’s Holešovice district, a stone’s throw from the Vltava river and the city’s historic centre.
European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, said the headquarters “confirmed and consolidated” the links between the Czech Republic, the European Union and space. “The GSA will ensure our satellite navigation systems are up and running,” he said. “We are working now in the sky today, but tomorrow we have to think of applications for the satellite services, in transport, public health, security and other areas.”
Tajani, who is also EU Industry and Entrepreneurship Commissioner, said Europe’s socio-economic benefits from the GNSS were projected to be €90 billion by 2017. “This is a good day for me,” he said. “Space policy is a priority. It is our third industrial revolution, and our satellites are the best in the world. Galileo is important not only for space policy and science, but for the services and jobs that it brings.”
Carlo des Dorides, the Executive Director of the GSA, noted that Prague derives from the Slavic word 'praga', for threshold. “I think this is appropriate for the GSA and Galileo, as it represents the beginning of a key step for both,” he said. “It is a special day, and I am very proud.”
The inauguration also gathered Czech Trade and Industry Minister, Martin Kuba and the Chair of the GSA Administrative Board, Sabine Dannelke. Prague Mayor, Bohuslav Svoboda noted that the GSA would help Prague’s efforts to become a centre of science and development. “If it is said that all roads lead to Rome, I hope this will mean all satellite navigation systems go through Prague,” Svoboda said.
Czechs and space
The six storey, 15,000 square metre GSA building was originally build in 1993 but completely repurposed over two years to include new security facilities, new IT and communication systems, and new meeting rooms. The GSA also transferred and hired new staff – some 45,with the numbers expected to rise to 180 within a few years. After quickly mobilising the necessary political, administrative and financial resources, the refit was all completed on time and on budget, even prompting other nascent European agencies to inquire how it was done so fast.
The opening completes a six-year Czech endeavour to move the GSA headquarters from Brussels to Prague. A UNESCO world heritage site, Prague won out as 11 cities vied to host the GSA seat. The Czech Republic has a long tradition of space research and industry: it cooperated in the launch of the 23 Interkosmos satellites; Czech MEP, Vladimír Remek, became the first non-Soviet cosmonaut – and first EU astronaut - when he made a spacewalk in 1978; while more recently, the Czech-made MIMOSA atmosphere monitoring satellite was launched in 2003.