The European space sector is increasingly challenged by international competition in commercial markets. The Space Strategy for Europe proposes four goals for the EU to remain an industry leader, writes Jean-Loic Galle
Jean-Loic Galle is President of Eurospace, the trade association of the European space manufacturing industry and President & CEO of Thales Alenia Space.
Today more than ever, in the current context of transition towards a data-driven society, space-based technologies have become an indispensable tool to deliver concrete applications at the service of the well-being of European citizens, to achieve numerous public policies and to contribute to economic growth.
Beyond, space is overall a predominant vector of independence and, even, of sovereignty for our continent – a dimension never questioned in the other main space powers, the US, Russia and China.
From this standpoint, the Space Strategy for Europe is a cornerstone. For the first time, the European Commission is clearly recognizing that space deserves a dedicated, all-encompassing EU strategy.
This reaffirmed ambition is more than timely. The space sector worldwide is going through rapid evolution and transformation, in particular in the US, with the emergence of private actors coming from the Silicon Valley and the ICT sector – such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson – who invest strongly in space. While benefiting from the abundance of private capital (business angels, venture capital) and strong public investment from US public authorities – NASA and the Department of Defence – the so-called “new space” targets radical optimisation of the supply chain, pursues cost-killing objectives whenever possible, and implies a new role and greater responsibility for industry.
In this rapidly evolving environment, our industrial community has put forward three main priorities:
Support for competitiveness: The situation in Europe is quite unique, since our domestic industry cannot rely on a high, continuous and guaranteed level of public investment and markets to ensure its competitiveness, contrary to the situation in the US, in Russia or in China. Our industry does perform well (50% of the open commercial markets captured worldwide, about 20% of the launched mass put in orbit, with just 4% of the global space workforce). But maintaining these successes requires strong and continuous support in R&D.
Ensuring non-dependence should be another crucial priority. Given the role of space as an “enabler” of economic growth but also as a key factor for decision-making and operations in an increasingly challenging security environment, Europe must ensure an independent, capacity to conceive, develop, launch, operate and exploit space systems.
Promoting the utilisation of space at the service of EU public policies: Further synergies between space and other sectors could clearly be established (i.e. digital policies and connectivity, climate change monitoring, maritime and border surveillance). In times of budgetary constraints and financial pressure, this synergetic approach is an indispensable prerequisite to underline the wide and transversal added value of space-based technologies at the service of economic growth, territorial development and societal progress in the European Union.
The European Commission adopted a very inclusive stance during the public consultation process, which allowed our community to discuss the competitiveness, technological, legal, supply chain challenges we are facing in our daily business. This allowed a higher level of convergence and mutual understanding and a very exciting outcome.
Some measures proposed by the European Commission in its Strategy present a really innovative and proactive dimension. For instance, developing a genuine “EU space economic diplomacy” that can support Industry efforts in its export markets is a very welcome initiative.
Then, using innovative procurement schemes in the funding of R&T priorities at EU level (Joint Technology Initiative-like forms of partnership) is an excellent opportunity to better involve industry in the definition of the R&T priorities when competitiveness is at stake, allowing an optimal spending of EU taxpayer money in this field.
Finally, promoting access to finance for space in the context of the Investment Plan for Europe and of the European Fund for Strategic Investment can encourage the private sector to be more risk-prone and innovative, thanks to the guarantees and securitisation offered by these programs.
All in all, the ambitions announced in the Space Strategy send two important signals: Space is of strategic importance for Europe, and Europe must act collectively to address its responsibilities in space. No single member state can do this alone. The EU, alongside its member states and ESA member states, must act together, with the support of industry, to promote and preserve the use of space.
It is now up to the European Parliament to take the baton and keep elaborating this new narrative for tomorrow’s EU space policy, for economic growth, for the efficiency of public policies, for the benefit of European citizens, and to strengthen Europe’s role as a global actor.