Europe flying high at 2018 EU Space Week

Published: 
13 December 2018
Elzbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, addresses the European Space Week opening plenary.
Elzbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, addresses the European Space Week opening plenary.

Europe's flagship space programmes, Galileo and Copernicus, serve as powerful tools for tackling today's economic, social, and environmental challenges, creating real opportunities for money making and job creation. This year's EU Space Week, which took place in the beautiful port city of Marseille, provided ample opportunities for reflection and exchange of ideas as the European space sector continues to move forward.

The 2018 EU Space Week opening plenary brought together an impressive array of key figures from the public sector and industry to deliver valuable insights into where the European space sector stands and where it is going.

The message from the European Commission was clear and simple: “Space is essential for our economy," said Elzbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. "We are not investing in space for the sake of space, but because of the benefits it brings to our citizens and society.”

The Commissioner's comments came with EU Parliament and Member States in the midst of negotiations concerning the next EU space budget. The current proposal sees about EUR 16 billion being invested during the period 2021-2027 to further strengthen Europe's leadership position in space. The new space programme, with a budget 50% higher than that of the previous seven year period, will solidify the EU's role as a world space player, successfully competing with both state and private-sector actors.

“Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus are world-class European success stories,” Bieńkowska said. “We have fought hard to keep them funded and we can see the results.”

Tangible outcomes

The European space sector employs over 231,000 professionals, with an estimated value of EUR 53-62 billion in 2017. Europe manufactures an astonishing one third of all the world's satellites. Galileo programme successes enumerated by Bieńkowska include recent satellite launches, bringing the system nearer and nearer to full operational capacity. And, she said, Galileo Initial Services, launched in December 2016, have surpassed all expectations in terms of performance. The coming months and years will see new Galileo services coming on line, including the secure Public Regulated Service (PRS), the Search and Rescue service (SAR) and a free high-accuracy service, among others.

Galileo is certainly leading the way in the area of dual-frequency signal delivery, now with more dual-frequency operational satellites in orbit than any other GNSS system. And market uptake of Galileo receivers has been impressive, with 500 million Galileo-enabled smartphones now on the market, thanks largely to the efforts of the European GNSS Agency (GSA). Marseille native and President of the French Space Agency (CNES) Jean-Yves Le Gall called Galileo a “fine testimony” to European teamwork.

For European GNSS Agency (GSA) Executive Director Carlo des Dorides, the success of Galileo has had a lot to do with forward thinking and constant contact with user communities. "We did a lot of preparatory work to ensure market uptake," he said. "We had to get to know the people we were talking to, such as the chip set and receiver manufacturers. And we had financial tools in place to help facilitate their decision making." There is still work to be done, Bieńkowska said, arguing, for example, for a change of mind-set needed to keep young European space entrepreneurs in Europe, through greater private investment and venture capitalism.

Cooperation and competition were the key words for European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Wörner. He said competition is good, but he added: “To remain strong and autonomous, Europe also needs to focus on cooperation. We need to continue to come together, to join forces.” Wörner also reminded gathered participants of the important role of space in stimulating and inspiring young people.

Inspiring words

Another source of inspiration for the gathered delegates was Simonetta Di Pippo, the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). She spoke of unlocking the full potential of the global talent pool under the UN's boldest sustainable development agenda ever. "We are seeing an expanding portfolio of opportunities and invaluable partnerships are being created," she said, "bringing more and more countries into the space community."

Read this: European GNSS and Earth Observation: A promising convergence for sustainable development

Pierre Delsaux, Deputy Director General for DG GROW, European Commission, referenced the recent decision by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approving the use of Galileo In the United States. "This is a clear sign of the increasing global acceptance of European space leadership."

Aiming his comments directly at the gathered European space community, Delsaux said: "These systems, Galileo and Copernicus, are infrastructure tools for innovation and growth on Earth. We, the European institutions, are not in charge of innovation. Our role is to deliver the tools, to set the legal environment, to remove barriers. But innovation is done by you, the people on the ground. I am truly proud of the work you are doing."

Responding to Bieńkowska comments on the lack of enthusiasm shown by European venture capital, Delsaux said: "We have capacity, we have venture capital, but in Europe the money is sleeping in bank accounts. We must change our mentality. The US dares to do innovation. We should do more.”

Business perspectives

In addition to the policy-related presentations, the opening plenary also featured round-table discussions with representatives of businesses that are turning space-based data from Galileo and Copernicus into valuable services on the ground.

Michael Bültmann, Managing Director of HERE Deutschland, talked about how his company is putting space data to work: “Every industry needs location data to maximize value. Intelligent use of high-quality location data gives us the real-time information and insights that not only unlock the power of burgeoning technologies, such as autonomous vehicle navigation, but enable greater accuracy and efficiency across sectors."

From pinpointing and tracking assets, Bültmann said, to managing fleets, improving traffic flow and creating better urban infrastructure, satellite technologies are now playing an increasingly important role in improving the quality of all manner of data and thereby enhancing a wide range of business opportunities.

In today's increasingly unpredictable geopolitical context, space activities are a strategic game changer. Space is a question of science, exploration and international cooperation and, through critical programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus, space plays a very practical role in terms of boosting innovation, economic growth and security.

With over a thousand participants the 2018 edition of EU Space Week provided an ideal forum for leaders, as well as key user communities, to network, talk about projects and perspectives, and to recognise the best of Europe's GNSS researchers and entrepreneurs.

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Updated: Dec 13, 2018