Commission wants EU space strategy to boost growth in data-hungry private sector

Maroš Šefčovič and Elżbieta Bieńkowska [European Commission]

The European Commission wants to step up European companies’ role in the space industry by making it easier to access data from satellites, which the executive hopes will help increasingly data-dependent areas like car manufacturing and agriculture.

A new Commission strategy aims to improve conditions for private companies to use data from EU-funded satellites.

The Commission has put aside €12 billion until 2020 to fund space projects. Galileo, an earth observation programme, already produces data that’s used to predict natural disasters. Data from the EU-funded spacecraft Copernicus could be used by companies to provide internet in remote places and use satellites to develop better navigation technology for driverless cars.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska told reporters today (26 October) that those programmes are “two of the most advanced satellite systems in the world”. EU-based companies make up the second largest space industry together, after the United States.

In its most recent annual report, the US-based Space Foundation estimated that private companies produced 3.7% more space products in 2015 than in 2014, while the worldwide space economy generated around $323 billion.

Europe’s space industry is valued at between €46 to €54 billion, making up 21% of the sector worldwide, according to Commission estimates.

Brexit will change UK role in Europe's space programmes, ESA says

Britain will stay in the European Space Agency when it leaves the EU, but will have to renegotiate terms to continue participating in certain projects, the ESA said Wednesday (14 September).

European firms compete with American manufacturers that get big business from US government agencies, including NASA and the department of defence.

The new EU plan aims to make it more attractive for companies to work with data from space. Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič called the United States’ space sector “dynamic” and added that he wants the bloc to retain its space experts who could be offered jobs in other parts of the world. India and China are also investing more in their space industries.

“Europe’s position in the world cannot be taken for granted,” Šefčovič said.

The European Commission will launch thirty satellites in the next ten to twenty years as part of the EU’s bid to produce more data from space for private companies to use, Šefčovič said. The EU currently has eighteen satellites in orbit.

Bieńkowska told reporters she wants to make it easy for European startup companies to access the data.

“We want to develop a real European market for space-based applications and services. The key is to improve the access to space data especially for startups,” she said.

Lenard Koschwitz, director of European affairs for the association Alliance for Startups, said startups can turn a profit with data from space only if they’re able to analyse it. But the Commission is elsewhere squashing firms’ efforts to use data. A copyright bill that the Commission proposed in September could restrict how companies analyse data.

“Satellite data helps to send a drone from point a to b but if you combine it with other data sets such as weather or the nearest vessel around this will help to safe more lives through data analytics,” Koschwitz said.

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