European Union External Action

Space: Europe shaping the final frontier

23/01/2018 - 08:49

Space is known as the final frontier, and it is for Europe too. With the opening of the 10th Conference on Space Policy, European space leaders gather on 23-24 January at the prestigious palais d'Egmont, home of the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It will be the opportunity for EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to sign with the Director of the European Space Agency (ESA), Johann Woerner, an ambitious agreement on the Cooperation between EU SatCen and ESA related to Data Access, the security dimension of Copernicus and Image Information Mining.

european space agency, ESA, galilieo, Copernicus, EGNOS, space, EU SatCen
© ESA - Manuel Pedoussaut


This 10th edition of the Conference is a "show of force" for the European space community: more than twenty years after the clumsy baby footsteps of the "European Space Policy" so much has been achieved. 

Europe is now the second largest global space player. Space is a key technological and economical enabler for the European continent: between 2014 and 2020, the EU alone will invest over EUR 12 billion in space activities. The European space economy, including manufacturing and services, employs over 230 000 professionals and its value was estimated at EUR 50 billion in 2014. Some of the European space industrial companies like AIRBUS, Thales, Leonardo, are among the world leaders in a very disputed competition with the American giants dominance.

The EU owns several space systems with Copernicus for Earth observation, EGNOS, a future Space Surveillance system, and Galileo for satellite navigation and geo-positioning. With 18 satellites currently in orbit and over 30 planned in the next 10-15 years, the EU is the largest institutional customer for launch services in Europe with the Ariane launcher family. Through the exceptional work and efforts done by ESA and its Member States Space Agencies, the "old continent" is present across the Solar System: on Mars with the ExoMars missions, on a comet with the Rosetta probe, on a discovery journey with Giaia to Survey one thousand billion stars in our Galaxy and local galactic neighbourhood in order to build the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way and answer questions about its origin and evolution. In orbit, with our 20 years participation to the International Space Station (ISS), allowing European astronauts to have a constant access to the largest orbital complex and laboratory ever built, and also showing the European industrial genuine capabilities with the development of the "Automated Transfert Vehicle" resupply cargo ship. A technological marvel able to operate autonomously in space and dock with the ISS. If our European sovergnety and strategic is central in the European Space Policy, space is a key enabler for international cooperation efforts at their best. A large part of our space programmes are in cooperation with the major space fairing nations such as the United States, India, Japan, Russia, China or developing countries who will ensure their sustainable development through the European space technologies and services like Galileo or Copernicus. The Union is also deeply involved in the International Space Exploration Forum, initiated by the European in 2011, establishing a high level dialogue on space exploration. The next edition will take place in Tokyo in Mach 2018, fostering on the next issues who could bring back humans to the Moon and sail to Mars during the first half of the century.


Copernicus, developing countries
Did you know that European Space technologies are a key factor for socio-economic development in developing countries? Without satellites orbiting Earth, there can be no performant telecommunications, no navigation and positioning, and finally no quick emergency response or urban pacification. For developing countries, the EU's Copernicus earth observation and services support a broad range of environmental and security applications, including climate change monitoring, sustainable development, transport and mobility, regional and local planning, maritime surveillance, agriculture and health. At the same time Galileo satellites give accurate positioning for everyone. For people living in remote villages, it is now possible to have access to information, education, health, and economic opportunities. Space technologies are propelling sustainable development. As a global actor, Europe has a responsibility to promote stable conditions for human and economic development, human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms. In this context, a main objective of the EU is to assist third countries in a situation of crisis or emerging crisis and to prevent global and trans-regional threats having a destabilising effect. With European space technologies, yes we can!

If the list of "success stories" goes on and on, the European space leaders won't only congratulate themselves during their meeting, they will also debate in order to find the imperative consensus for facing challenges on a fast changing international environment. At first, the raise of the "New Space" commercial champions and innovators like the emblematic Space X is directly challenging our main back yard launcher champion Ariane Group. This shaking competition of a new kind is especially hard for the "old space" born during the cold war and not used to face with the world of the venture capital and innovation from the Silicon Valley. Second, the increasing number of space fairing nations, space debris collisions risks, space weaponization, the bad behaviour by rogue states and entities is forcing the Europeans to take actions to adapt and energize their space policy.

As a response to these stakes, In October 2016, the EU released the Communication "Space Strategy for Europe", which outlines our space objectives for years to come. This document underlines the huge potential of space for the EU and includes important foreign policy and security aspects. The strategy is an important step towards a unified space policy of the EU, ESA and the EU Member States.



Industrial competitiveness, entrepreneurship, strategic autonomy, social development, environmental sustainability, science and exploration are at the heart of European space ambitions and the questions that will be raised during this Space Conference. It could seem too ambitious, in a crisis environment, Perhaps, but Europeans are always ambitious when it comes to reach the next frontier.