A Space Special

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This week is a special outer space edition of the Transport Brief. Sector heads gathered in Helsinki for the EU’s Space Week, where delegates discussed the coming decade and what’s new in the world of rockets, satellites and astronauts.

It was a jubilant mood in the Finnish capital, given that the European Space Agency was recently awarded a beefed-up budget for the next five years by its member states. The new €14.4 billion warchest will go towards new spacecraft, satellites and even putting Europeans on the moon for the first time.

Chief among those new developments will be the expansion of the Copernicus Earth-observation satellite system, which is due to get four more variations over the next five years.

Along with new spacecraft that can monitor sea levels and atmospheric conditions will be a satellite purely dedicated to checking CO2 emissions, which has already been called crucial to climate action efforts.

Commission official Pierre Delsaux called the Sentinel-7 mission “fundamental” while ESA head Johann-Dietrich Wörner said it is important to know exactly where CO2 emissions are coming from. It seems like the EU is gearing up to name and shame countries that are not doing their bit under the Paris Agreement.

Copernicus is not the only satellite system getting an upgrade, its global-positioning cousin, Galileo, is also due to reach maximum precision next year when the final set of satellites is put into orbit.

But space policy doesn’t have a totally bright future: the EU’s financial contribution to outer space matters is in flux, as member states aim to cut the next long-term budget. Space and defence could see its share cut by more than a billion euros.

Whether attempts to put a ‘Euro-naut’ on the moon will be stymied by a smaller budget will have to wait though, as the financial talks will extend long into next year. For now, the ESA is happy to have secured its bumper budget for the time being.

In practice, satellites have some interesting applications. EURACTIV was invited aboard the Finnish coastguard’s flagship to see firsthand how eyes in the sky help it patrol Finland 1,250km-long coastline.

Although crew members said that satellites are not particularly useful for day-to-day operations (radar covers most needs), they are of use in planned missions and in responding to environmental disasters like oil spills.

In fact, the coastguard has responded to a number of oil spills in Finnish waters in recent years and done so with the help of satellite images. The Gulf of Finland is a major oil transport highway: 180 million tonnes per year.

Quick detection by satellite, confirmation by aerial observation and deployment of the coastguard are key to cleaning up spills and minimising damage, as well as collecting evidence to pin the crime on the right perpetrator.

It’s also an area that is promoting cooperation in the neighbourhood. Finland, Estonia and Russia work together to prevent or react to incidents and although the number of potential oil spill detections went up last year, the overall number actually decreased.

Here are some of the other stories from the world of transport:

🚗 Driven

The Commission approved more than €3 billion in state aid for a long list of battery projects in seven different countries, as the EU looks to tap into increased demand for electrification.

VP Maroš Šefčovič warned that regulatory changes and new green standards might lead to bans on imported batteries that do not meet the new criteria. 

German car giant Daimler announced a goal to have more than 50% of its Mercedes-Benz car sales be electric by 2030, as it leaps onto the EV bandwagon. BMW and Volkswagen have all started to make big statements about its future car lineups.

What do you do with electric car batteries once they’ve outlived their usefulness though? This study looks into how windfarms can make use of retired power packs.


A message from BP: Whilst experts predict a sharp decline in car ownership in the future, most European consumers don’t. Go deeper in this new independent report and learn about the views of both experts and consumers when it comes to the future of transport.

✈️ Sky-high

An official from the International Air Transport Association believes that incentives are needed to provoke a shift away from polluting kerosene fuels towards greener alternatives. Multipliers in legislation could be the solution.

Airbus scored yet another win against long-time rival Boeing. US airline United ordered 50 new airplanes from the European manufacturer, which should enter service in 2024.

The CEO of Indonesia’s national carrier has been fired after an alleged incident in which a Harley Davidson motorcycle was smuggled into the country on board one of the airline’s new aircraft.

🚢 The Shipping News

The maritime sector faces upheaval as it looks more and more certain that the Commission will formally propose rolling out the emissions trading scheme to cover shipping. The job could be completed next year although EU officials insist it will be a complex ask.

An agreement was finally ratified on linking Switzerland’s carbon market to the ETS. It is due to come into force on 1 January but will not become operational until around May. As part of the deal, the Swiss model will include aviation in its market.

New analysis by green NGO Transport & Environment claims that the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is among the EU’s top ten polluters, along with eight power plants and low-budget airline, Ryanair.

🚄 What else I’m reading (on rail)

  • Why airlines want you to go by train [CNN]
  • Europe’s night trains return [Bloomberg]
  • How Eurostar halved aviation demand [Airlines Rating]

Next stops

The Commission unleashes its long-awaited Green Deal on Wednesday at midday. Expect plenty of transport initiatives and check the site for all the main developments.

Week commencing 16 December is the final plenary session of the year in Strasbourg. Draft agenda here.

This will be the final Transport Brief of 2019, thanks for reading. We’ll return in the new year and in the meantime look out for some ‘In 2020…’ stories.

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