Europe’s Space Programme

As we start the new decade, a number of topics are stimulating the discussions in the space community and in Brussels. One of the first events of each year is the space policy conference in Brussels; this years’ is the 12th. One word is dominating the sessions’: defence. I noted last year that this topic was rapidly rising up the European Union agenda. This year it is not just spoken but is also written into titles of sessions and the topics from many speakers. It is of course reflected in the new Commission organisation which for the very first time has a Directorate-General (equivalent to a ministry) with space in the title and with defence as well.

The new DG-DEFIS, for Defence Industry and Space, is just taking shape. The director-general is Timo Pesonen (Finnish) working under the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton. Changes to the organigramme have been announced and the set-up starts to take shape. The change has certainly led to a hiatus, to a period with a lot of uncertainty. This should all be dissipated as the new structure finds its feet.

The other major topic of the conference reflects a priority for the new Commission, the Green Deal. Space and Earth Observation will be a significant contributor to implementing the Green Deal and we shall devote a lot of effort to ensure that the contribution that EO services can make is recognised and integrated wherever needed. We are working on a new position paper looking at the next phase of Copernicus and I am sure this will feature quite strongly even if, at the moment, space does not feature strongly in the Green Deal documents.

Just before the Christmas, the ESA ministerial held in Seville, led to a record budget for ESA voted by its member states. The support for ESA investment into the Copernicus programme through the development of new Sentinel satellites was over-subscribed indicating very good support from Member States for Copernicus as well as the overall space programme. Hence it was a surprise when the EU council voted to reduce the budget for the space programme under the next Financial Framework.

For those less familiar with the set-up in Europe, the ESA budget will pay for the technology development of new satellites and sensors, whilst the EU budget pays for the operational spacecraft, part of the ground segment, data from the contributing missions and the services. Everyone has been taken by surprise by the unexpected decision to cut the EU budget by 20% but we shall follow the evolution very closely and intervene where we can put the arguments why this budget should be restored to its full level.

EARSC has also started the year well. The Board of Directors met on 22nd/23rd which included meetings with 3 important guests. Carlo Des Dorides who heads up the GSA (Global GNSS satellite systems Agency) which will become the EU Space Programmes Agency on 1st January 2021, spoke about how the agency will evolve to embrace some responsibility for the market develop for Copernicus and the positive relationship he sees with EARSC in the future. Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observations at ESA spoke about his plans following the very successful ESA Ministerial, whilst Philippe Brunet, Principal advisor at DG International Development explained his new role and what it could mean.

I write this before the Chinese new year and so it leaves me open to wish everyone a Happy, healthy and successful 2020 and I hope to see many of you in various events throughout the year (you can follow on this blog and our website).

Author: EARSC

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