- April 8, 2007
- Posted by: EARSC
- Category: EARSC News
Despite recent setbacks and a two-year delay in getting an agreement among members, the European Union appears ready to unveil what kind of collective space policy its 27 member nations should pursue.
Germany aims to show the first-time European space strategy before its six-month term as EU president expires in July.
Though mainly geared to supporting Europeís commercial space sector, the policy carries implications for the military use of space and whether national governments can forever continue with their separate military satellite programs, according to EU sources.
ìEconomic pressure is going to force the member states to move toward a common military satellite environment ó whatever that will be,î an EU official said. ìI just donít see the budgetary capability [of member states] to continue supporting their separate national programs. Itís hugely duplicative and costly.î
One EU military source said, ìWeíll take our intel from wherever we can get it, but it would be easier, operationally, if there was movementî in the direction of a common military satellite policy.
The European Union and its member states have had a bumpy ride in getting collective space programs and policies off the ground. For instance, in November 2004, a joint meeting of EU and European Space Agency (ESA) ministers agreed to define a common space strategy.
The European Commission duly issued a document six months later that outlined the main elements such a strategy should cover:
- A sector-specific industrial policy to develop critical technologies and a globally competitive space industry.
- International cooperation that meets the ìwider geopolitical objectivesî of European external relations policies and effective day-to-day operation of space systems.
- Policy instruments for investing in programs and ensuring their efficient management.
But bureaucratic in-fighting and changes of key personnel within EU institutions, combined with friction between the commission and ESA over managerial approaches to space initiatives, have delayed finalizing the strategy by nearly two years.
Thatís the behind-the-scenes problem, which has been kept largely out of the publicís view. ìEuropeís space sector may not have that many national programs or prime suppliers, but it involves a huge number of companies and national strategic interests,î the EU official said. ìThese things always take time to work out.î
Galileo Deadlines Loom
Less easy to keep out of the limelight has been the embarrassing political and industry bickering over the unionís ambitious goal of creating a global network of 30 navigation satellites and ground stations, known as Galileo.
Budgetary and political bickering among EU member states earlier this decade, combined with demands from industry for a viable business model, such as assurances of government demand for Galileo services, have already pushed back the projectís original operational date from 2008 to 2012.
More recently, conflict over work share within the industrial consortium that will build and manage Galileo threatens to delay it further. Galileoís 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) development phase, co-financed by ESA and the commission, is more than a year behind schedule as a result.
The consortiumís eight members are AENA, Alcatel, EADS, Finmeccanica, Hispasat, Inmarsat, TeleOp and Thales.
The situation finally forced EU and national authorities to step in and slap the companies to attention. Backed by Berlin and other national capitals, Jacques Barrot, European commissioner for transport policy, issued a public ultimatum to the consortium. In a March 15 letter, he demanded that the consortium form, as required, the Galileo Operating Co. and appoint a chief executive no later than May 10. He also gave the companies until September ìat the latestî to sign a contract with the joint EU-ESA authority. Industry is now scrambling.
ìWe knew this was coming, and Iím pretty sure weíll make the May 10 deadline,î an industry executive from one of the consortium countries said April 2. Whether the September deadline will be met remains to be seen. ìIndustry still has a lot of stuff to work out among them and feathers have been ruffled,î said the executive. ìNever underestimate our capacity to quarrel over work share. But I think if the commission and ESA see weíve made progress in setting up the company, maybe theyíll be a bit flexibleî about the September deadline.