Space can help secure a better, safer and greener future for all


Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Josef Aschbacher
Josef Aschbacher

Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA)

Europe is facing massive political, economic and societal challenges, exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine War and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Against this backdrop, Friends of Europe’s State of Europe event is dedicated to a Renewed Social Contract for a new social era – a timely and highly relevant theme, as an inclusive, collaborative approach will help European stakeholders overcome current crises.

The space domain, and particularly the European Space Agency (ESA), is ready to play its part. Space has become an indispensable – and often unnoticed – element of everyday life. Modern societies would not function without space. Most people know about established applications of space knowledge, like Earth observation, navigation and communication for purposes like environmental monitoring, climate change management, weather forecasting, disaster response, internet access, TV broadcasting or smart traffic. But space is also crucial for energy provision, financial transactions and many other vital functions of our society. ESA is permanently working to ensure that essential services are secured and that resources, such as access to space and orbits, remain available and managed efficiently.

At the same time, the context around us has shifted in ways that could not have been anticipated one year ago, presenting both challenges and new opportunities. In this situation, space remains a key element to maintain and protect our current standard of living. Apart from offering critical infrastructures and services, space offers enormous economic potential, given that the global space revenue could reach as much as US$1tn by the end of the next decade. Space missions also stimulate technological innovation, widen the scientific knowledge base and create industrial know-how, attracting young talent and avoiding brain drain. This constitutes a leading edge for worldwide competition. Money spent on space is money well invested.

Space is a rapidly growing economic sector and Europe cannot afford to miss out on it

At the upcoming ESA Ministerial Council in November, ministers will decide on a set of proposals to help Europe address current challenges and emerge stronger from current crises. It will be a time for critical decisions and an opportunity to step up European space activities in order to match Europe’s global economic and political strength. Space is a rapidly growing economic sector and Europe cannot afford to miss out on it. The time to act is now. Together, ESA’s member, associate and cooperating states must strengthen Europe’s space sector and ensure that it continues to serve European citizens.

The financial volume of the proposed ESA package is about 25% higher than in 2019. However, the increase in the public space budgets of the United States, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and several other countries is of a similar magnitude or even higher, not to mention the 95% increase in private funding for space between 2020 and 2021 alone. The ESA proposal focuses on the topics of climate and sustainability, including space debris removal, as well as commercialisation. Marking a step towards enhancing and supporting a vibrant commercial space sector, €2bn is foreseen in support of new growth markets.

The key principles of leadership, responsibility and autonomy guide the package, which prioritises: maintaining existing leadership and expanding to strategic areas with commercial growth potential; showing and enhancing responsibility by putting a strong focus on sustainability in space and on Earth; and building up autonomy by increasing European resilience, independence and competitiveness.

Even in the dark days we are facing, we can look to a brighter future

The package also includes seed funding for so-called ‘accelerators’, which are designed to speed up the use of space for various pressing needs. The ‘space for a green future’ accelerator will be a priority at the upcoming ministerial meeting. It will provide decision-makers, industry and society with essential tools and solutions to reach the objectives of the green transition. The accelerator will feature a digital twin of Earth to perform predictive scenario analysis, while Green Transition Information Factories will provide tools to monitor compliance and the results of their efforts at local and global scales. New quantum sensors will enable measurements of essential Earth processes at unprecedented precision. The accelerator constitutes a decisive step to act and directly contribute to the decarbonisation challenge. It will deliver space solutions for smart green transportation with reduced CO2 emissions and support the smart management of energy grids.

Even in the dark days we are facing, we can look to a brighter future. ESA’s proposals for the next three years are thoughtful, considered and pragmatic. They are the result of careful evaluation, but they are also driven by our ambition to reinforce ESA’s position as a global space leader on par with the US and China by 2035. ESA must be united and strong to be a reliable partner for the EU and international projects. By investing wisely now, ESA member states can provide for the future needs of citizens in Europe and worldwide.

It is an encouraging signal that ESA’s efforts and all elements of the proposed package for the upcoming ministerial meeting are fully in line with a Renewed Social Contract for a new social era. Space offers the possibility for citizens to reach out to each other, engage in common efforts to unleash its full potential and thus contribute to a better, safer and greener future for all.

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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