The European Space Agency has lined up several projects in the next few years, from its wind satellite aiming to go up in 2017 to a 2020 ExoMars expedition to follow up on the missing Schiaparelli probe that likely botched its landing last week. The group pursues mostly neutral research and development missions with loose ties to the European Union, but both groups signed an agreement today outlining future ambitions and plans to protect and enrich mutual interests. The Space Strategy for Europe declaration is a mix of commercial coverage and deployment of defensive assets — aspirations to keep the continent’s governments and industry competitive in space technology.
The pro-business moves in the agreement’s outline include urging the continent’s private and public sector to use more space data generated by the EU’s Galileo satellite network, which started going up in 2011. This is the greatest resource generated by European space tech, along with the information generated by the array of Copernicus spacecraft, so it’s a no-brainer to push more native industry into using the data. To boost development of new marketable tech, the European Commission is also dedicating some EU funding to prop up cosmic entrepreneurs and work to secure private funding for them.
As for the existing space industry, the Commission sees their plan to deploy 30 satellites over the next 10-15 years as an opportunity to support the European-built Ariadne 6 and Vega C rockets. But the report notes that they will act as a “smart customer” and aggregate launches, suggesting that they’ll adhere to market offers.
The agreement’s defensive plans aim to ensure that assets launched by companies and governments are protected. This includes developing the EU Space Situational Awareness Service to protect orbital infrastructure from passive hazards like debris and cosmic weather, as well as shielding them from deliberate cyberattacks. As part of the upcoming European Defence Action Plan, the Commission will also begin a GovSatCom initiative to ensure reliable, secure and cheap satellite communication between EU members and national authorities.
While the declaration concludes that Europe’s space industry is strong, building a third of the world’s satellites and accounting for about 21% of the value of the global space sector, it makes no qualms about the reason the EU and ESA are signing: Competition. While ambitious American private sector luminaries like Elon Musk steal headlines, it’s other nations quietly revving up their space programs that concern Europe. China just launched its second experimental space station keeping it on track for a full one in 2020, while India just successfully tested its first tiny reusable space shuttle. For the EU and ESA, the clock is ticking.
Source: European Commission press room