EU Space Week 2019: Sustainability and Space

13 December 2019
Space can contribute to a more sustainable future for Europe
Space can contribute to a more sustainable future for Europe

Helsinki was the cool venue for European Space Week 2019. From 3 to 5 December Europe’s leading space event brought together business leaders, policymakers, international experts and the space application user community to gain first-hand insights into the EU’s Space Programmes Copernicus, EGNOS and Galileo. They discussed how space solutions can contribute to a more sustainable future for Europe and the world. 

This year’s European Space Week focused on four central themes: how space solutions can help to strengthen the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action; the new space economy for sustainable growth; how to save space for future generations; and space solutions for a sustainable Arctic environment.

Opening the EU Space Week plenary under the banner ‘Sustainable Space, Sustainable Europe, Sustainable Future’ former Finnish President Tarja Halonen highlighted how “Space applications observe own blue planet, enable us to find our way, communicate and connect, more sustainably.”

Christophe Grudler, MEP stated: "Major investments by the EU have enabled progress that no Member State could have achieved on its own.” He highlighted the need to defend and grow the space allocation in the forthcoming European Union budget negotiations. “An ambitious budget will be the only way to ensure Europe's global leadership and strategic autonomy," he concluded.

Pierre Delsaux from the European Commission agreed saying: “We must continue to invest in space.” 

Space for climate action

The new European Commission will have a clear focus on climate action, but how can space solutions help? Pierre Delsaux highlighted a future Copernicus mission to monitor CO2 emissions, while GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides outlined the contributions of Galileo and EGNOS to improve resource and energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture through more accurate positioning by enabling the maxim: “Doing more with less.”

“At GSA’s core is the development of products and services,” he continued. “We are funding concrete projects delivering solutions to specific questions and organising events such as hackathons to inspire young developers. The limit to projects is human creativity.”

Sustainable space ecosystem

A new economic ecosystem has been created in Europe as more talent and investment see the space sector as a cool place to do business. Pekka Laurila of Iceye, a small satellite company in Finland building a new digital infrastructure to enable real time knowledge of where everything is at all times, acknowledged that their success has been enabled by others. “We are the product of an ecosystem; we are standing on the shoulders of giants including institutions funded by public money plus a high-quality education system,” Laurila said. 

Investor Uli Fricke, founder of Triangles, agreed that there was a viable and thriving commercial space market in Europe and “The funding ecosystem from start-up to IPO is the bottleneck for many companies.” The key factor for any young space business was to have a clear business model and value proposition. “Often you need to take the space angle out of the question, when talking to investors,” she added.

Pascal Claudel, Chief Operating Officer at the GSA highlighted the agency’s role in delivering services 24/7 to users and in fostering users across all market sectors. “We can support SMEs in this ecosystem across the whole EU,” he said. “And there is no need to have space experience to work in the space market nowadays.” But there was a need to work together and involve all EU Member States and public and private investors to grow and sustain the market.

Saving Space

Space – especially low Earth orbit – is becoming a congested space noted keynote speaker Professor Minna Palmroth of the University of Helsinki. And more satellites are being launched with a mega trend towards very large fleets of small commercial satellites. Space debris is becoming a priority issue and she also highlighted the lack of knowledge of space weather in the near-Earth environment. “We still do not fully understand the environment that we launch into,” she commented.

But how to clear the debris? Newer satellites will have limited lifetimes and include de-orbiting technology, while older satellites might require third party action. Could there be a market established for deorbiting space debris and is international legislation a way forward or is standardisation the right route? “The sustainable future in space requires every one of us to work together on this topic,” she concluded.

Sustainable Arctic

The final Space Week plenary examined how EU space solutions can protect the arctic environment and support sustainable growth as the climate changes. Jouni Pulliainen, Director of Space & EO, at the Finnish Meteorological Institute saw three main issues where space can help: gaps in monitoring the climatic changes that are happening, improved communications and more accurate navigation information. Session moderator Professor Heidi Kuusniemi of Vaasa University reinforced the growing importance of robust and reliable navigation services in the Arctic.

Improved synergies between space services could help boost their use in the Arctic said Dan Chirondojan, Director at the Commission’s Joint Research Centre that has conducted a study on space solutions and the region. Improved satellite navigation and communication would be needed to enable future remote control and autonomous vessels in the arctic said Karno Kenovuo, Co-founder and CEO of Awake.AI so evolution of EGNSS services in the region was important. Wider coverage of the Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) service would be very useful due to its enhanced performance.

Mauro Facchini of the European Commission agreed and indicated that the EGNOS Safety of Life service was currently supported to 72 degrees North but may be extended to 75 degrees North soon and could be deployed over the entire arctic by 2030.

Concluding the plenary sessions Finnish Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Katri Kulmuni thanked all participants in EU Space Week 2019 and stated that: “Space activities must be pursued in a sustainable and responsible manner,” but that the week’s debates had shown that “Space is truly a channel for sustainable growth.”

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA website (

Updated: Dec 13, 2019



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