On July 21 when the European Commission slashed its Space budget for the next seven years, it did not come as a surprise to a section of industry players, experts and Space watchers, who could foresee the development, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
In April this year, a sizable group of individuals and institutions launched a petition to ask the EU Member States not to decrease the budget, as the Space Program was essential for the future of the fight against Climate Change, pollution, ocean research, disaster management, etc.
“Over the last two decades, the European Union had built its Space Program and Copernicus to provide vital information to millions of citizens across the world —to scientists, emergency responders, civil servants, entrepreneurs, etc. Every single day, it helps protect biodiversity in Earth’s most vulnerable areas. It monitors and forecasts air quality globally,” read the petition.
Agreeing to a maximum of €13.2 billion ($15.2 billion), the European Commission’s Space budged did not lose focus from the continuing Galileo and Copernicus satellite programs. The budget cut for Space came after a series of negotiations over four days in Brussels. On the table was a budget of over €1.8 trillion, meant for the entire European Union, and designed to minimize the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The budget will come into effect on January 1, but only after it is approved by the European Parliament. In 2018-19, the European Commission had asked the Member States to finance a Space budget of €16 billion. As the coronavirus pandemic peaked, in May, the Commission issued a revised budget proposal of €15.2 billion. The cut reflected the intent of certain states like Finland, which also felt the pinch due to the loss of British funding after the UK left the bloc in January, Luigi Scatteia, Head of PwC’s Space Practice, told SpaceNews.
A second cut leading to the budget slipping to €13.2 billion was surprising, Scatteia was quoted as saying. “Clearly it was to be expected that a reduction in spending would impact space as well, but to me it’s a little bit more than I was expecting.” The current budget allocates €8 billion for the Galileo global navigation satellite system, and €4.81 billion for Copernicus environmental monitoring satellites.
The remaining €392 million are likely to be split between GovSatCom, an initiative meant to provide secure satellite communications for Member States, and on European Space Situational Awareness (SSA) investments.
In January this year, European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager made an impassioned plea for Europe’s space program to be properly funded. “We have to make sure that money is there to support work on new ideas and new technologies – technologies in space, but also new products or services that make use of satellite data,” the Danish official was quoted as saying, in his keynote speech at the 12th European Space Conference in Brussels.