- Area of Expertise
- Digital & Data Governance
Space exploration, capacity, competition, infrastructure and its role as a new market will prove to be defining issues for our planet over the next decade and beyond. How can we make space matter in Europe?
Currently, Europe’s Earth Observation satellites, unmatched and admired the world over, deliver terabytes of data to improve our lives, underpin our security and defence capabilities; support EU policy and help fight climate change. The opportunities space provides, on priorities such as climate change, security and digitalisation, have the ability to set Europe apart and to improve the lives of all Europeans. European successes, including the EU Galileo satellite navigation system operating globally since 2016; the seven Copernicus Sentinel satellites measuring the environment; the European Space Agency (ESA) and their missions such as the planned ExoMars 2022 Rover; and the European Commission’s new Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space, show that Europe has the capacity and skills – as well as the appetite – to play an important role in this area. Such leadership, however, can only be maintained through further investment in the EU space programme, and by boosting governance, cooperation and societal empowerment.
58 countries currently have spaced-based assets which greatly contribute to vital functions of the global economy and high-tech societies. However, space is becoming ever more congested and contested due to increasing numbers of launches of space-based enterprises and satellites. Competition comes not only from other governments and institutions, perhaps most notably the USA, China and Russia. The private sector is beginning to actively pursue this market – between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company, as well as the smaller start-ups and offshoots aiming to take part in this new market. Europe should be incentivising entrepreneurs, SMEs and other private sector ventures to energise and innovate within Europe.
This innovation must include better ways to manage the data received from space. From its central data hub, the ESA distributes 250 terabytes of space data daily, more than anywhere else in the world. This space data, if collected and used efficiently and effectively, should be targeted to improve all policy areas. On climate change for example, the monitoring of land, seas, and air quality, including CO2 levels and global temperature and emissions at the city scale, will be vital for addressing the four critical environmental policy issues: making Europe carbon-neutral by 2050, the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, a renewed EU Arctic Strategy, and sustainable agriculture. To capitalise on greater autonomy and sovereignty in space, to the benefit of all policy areas, will include spending far more on space technologies, fast computers, big data, cloud storage and artificial intelligence.
There is an opportunity, in space, to learn from mistakes we have made on earth, where government policy has struggled to keep up with innovations in the private sector, retro-fitting policy and regulation, and having difficulty in clearly deciding who governs and how. There must also be a conversation about how to protect citizens and their interests, whilst ensuring they reap the rewards. A more upfront consideration of the ethical and rights implications of any space programme would ensure greater confidence and enthusiasm from civil society organisations, community organisations and citizens themselves.
If these risks are identified and mitigated, the focus can be on the opportunities presented. For European citizens, the cost of space programme for 2021 will be €12 per person, according to the ESA, and the value is huge, including vast benefits for people and communities in terms of enterprise, jobs, information, accountability and greater transparency. It is up to the private, public and third sector to make people aware of the advantages and opportunities, ensuring buy-in and bottom-up pressure to invest in this opportunity.
Making space matter will require a whole economy, whole society approach to these issues, and this is the guiding principle of Friends of Europe’s Making Space Matter initiative. Our work provides opportunities for policymakers, the private sector, civil society representatives and citizens to engage in critical enquiry and thought-provoking debate on how to best respond to the opportunity space represents. Through this we can craft policy ideas and recommendations, proactively safeguarding Europeans whilst reaping the benefits of this vast resource – truly making space matter.