In October 2016, the European Commission published its latest strategy on space and in January this year, heads of Commission departments, key industry organisations, and MEPs met to discuss European space policy.
Jean-Loic Galle, President of Eurospace, echoed the sentiments of many when he thanked the Commission, "not only for the conclusions reached, but also for the inclusive and effective consultation process." In reaching out to industry, the Commission achieved broad consensus.
Looking forward, and recognising the global and competitive nature of space, the panels all agreed that the importance of space in everyday lives was a message which needs to reach a larger audience. Six percent of all EU GDP is reliant on satellite navigation technology alone. The problem is selling the story. The James Web Space Telescope is a comparatively 'easy sell', an international collaboration, which will be launched on a European rocket from a European space port and expected to push back the frontiers of human understanding of the universe. These kinds of science and exploration missions tend to capture the collective imagination. Galileo, on the other hand, which provides a civil-controlled European version of GPS, is a much harder sell. This is because people are used to using GPS for free – but don't yet know about the new services and advantages that Galileo offers.
The need to reach future generations so they can benefit from such capabilities was also raised. Indeed, the UK just a few days later, followed in the footsteps of European competitions like ESNC and 'Farming by Satellite Prize' by launching its own space themed competition for young people. Although there was talk of 'digital' in this context, it's likely that in reality we need to be thinking 'beyond digital' – perhaps looking at how artificial intelligence interfaces with space assets?
There was talk of 'smart protectionism', 'competitiveness' and 'European jobs'. These sentiments reach out to populist feelings expressed by recent votes, but surely Space, of all industries, should be reaching out to global partners? How many satellites reach service without ever crossing international borders? It was disappointing that only ESA mentioned partnership beyond Europe.
With its eclectic membership, and uniquely funded space agency, Europe is perhaps the best positioned of all spacefaring peoples to enable and benefit from international collaboration. Brexit will surely only reinforce this. Add to this a suite of world class global services to exploit in Galileo, Copernicus, Commercial telecommunications and Commercial launch capabilities. Is now the time to reach out to people beyond Europe's borders?
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