The 12th European Space Conference in Brussels showed 1,100 attendees the growth plans, climate ambitions. Furthermore, there was a clear focus on security and defense in European space tech.
Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus are established as world-class references. After all, they are operational and deliver high quality services. The European Commission has proposed a 16 billion euros EU Space Programme for 2021-2027. As a result, in one piece of legislation all EU space activities are now collected: the EU Space Act. As of now, the legal text is almost agreed upon. On top of this, the launch of the Ariane 6 and the Vega C is partially meant to ensure Europe’s autonomous access to space. As a client of Ariane 6, the European Commission got an update. ESA, the European Space Agency, pre-booked four other Ariane 6 launches to anticipate the future needs of Galileo.
Strategic and collaborative focus
The speakers’ list showed quite a mix of people. There were European Commission (EC) delegates and a variety of speakers from ministerial level. Also, there were high-level space specialists out of ESA private companies. In his speech, Vice-President of the EC Josep Borrell addressed the strategic nature of ‘space’. After summarizing recent initiatives by Russia, China, India and the USA, he emphasized collaboration. “It enabled people, including their enemies, to work together. It is a collaborative approach.” Borrell also addressed some challenges: “There are three C’s in space: it’s congested, contested and competitive”. Margarethe Vestager, the EC’s executive Vice-President, said: “Space has a deep influence in our daily lives. And, we have not reached the full potential of European Space yet. Europe’s space assets allow us to work in a strategic and autonomous way. There is a huge set of opportunities.”
Climate, Green Deal, Africa
Jan Wörner, Director General of the ESA and Jean-Loïc Galle, President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space, both stated that the Green Deal in the EU is ‘unthinkable’ without space. Despite several cracks in EU’s stronghold, Wörner insisted that “We are working together, joining forces between ESA, EU and the European industry. Together we are stronger, we are the United Space In Europe”.
The focus session on space partnership between Europe and Africa successfully balanced the European perspective with other peoples’ interests. Realizing that Africa will never reach the level of physical broadband connections as in the western world, promising initiatives arose. ‘Wireless’ satellite telecommunication is one example of the huge potential for earth’s biggest continent.
Luxembourg, focus on growth
Luxembourg, one of the most, if not the most ambitious player in the EU region, opened the second day of the 12th European Space Conference. Talking about growth on a national level, space is now 2 percent of the national GDP in Luxembourg, Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider stated. Schneider also announced an investment between 200 to 500 million Euros for new space, carried out by the state Luxembourg and several private investors. Orbital Ventures (or simply ‘The Fund’) sets out to ‘helping space companies settle’.
During the 12th European Space Conference, three European start-ups presented themselves. First, Aerospacelab is building small satellites in the range of 25 to 50 kg. Their sensors collect high resolution optical data multiple times per day on selected target areas. Tasking and archive imagery products will be available soon, with an optional extra layer of AI and machine learning to speed up your findings. Second, Exotrail is a young company which specializes in propulsion. Electric propulsion optimises launch strategy, adds flexibility in the launcher choice, is meant to reduce overall launch cost and optimize the range of operational orbits available. It also increases resolution, revisit rate, coverage, link performance and lifespan. Third, Satlantis is a newspace specialist who provides proven high performance payload technologies. They design them as to enable the development of high spatial and temporal resolution services for earth observation and teledetection.
Focus on Galileo
As for the growth of European space sector, lots of attention was given to navigation system Galileo. Most poignantly was perhaps Thierry Breton. He said: “My objectives for Galileo are clear. First, to continue deploying Galileo in order to reach the full operational capability as soon as possible. Second, to continue improving the precision of Galileo with a target of 20 centimeter precision. Third, to prepare already now the second generation of Galileo, in order to stay ahead in the technological race. The transition batch procurement is ongoing. Fourth, to ensure the smooth development of the encrypted signal (PRS), because Galileo is also a strategic asset, designed to be used for military and civil security purpose. As a true chief whip, Thierry Breton also took some time at the 12th European Space Conference to lecture all Galileo/ GNSS professionals responsible for the recent outage.
Security of Galileo
Although servicing more than one billion users since 2016, satellite system Galileo is officially still in its ‘testing phase’. So, when an outage occurred in that faithful week in 2019, the dependency on some of the unique features within Galileo came to the fore. As such, it did not affect ‘regular’ users, as they could still rely on GPS signals. However, it was the advanced return link service that went black. Despite this, in Brussels, Jean-Loïc Galle said it’s: “without a doubt a demonstration of Galileo’s success. It is a revolution in emergency management as it makes it possible to help users in distress”. In EC logic: if nobody had noticed it’s failure, the system was perhaps not that important in the first place. Anyhow, while Galileo proved itself as a viable backup of American GPS, now the need for a backup of Galileo’s extended services has risen.
Security & Defense
In Europe, space security focuses on debris, risky asteroids and the effects of space weather. Consequently, as a precursor of a European Space Traffic Management system, Europe’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) system should avoid collision and debris on key satellites. Galileo has a defence dimension, Copernicus can serve security missions. ESA will strengthen this trend in the future.
During a dedicated forum, Robert Mazzolin, Chief Cyber Security Strategist of Rhea Group awakened the audience to the fact that both America and China ‘outspend’ Europe in tech. By saying so, he put EU autonomy in artificial intelligence, quantum technology, the cloud, 5G, and cyber security in perspective.