Thierry Breton on achieving an ambitious European Space Agenda

“With space, we are constantly testing the limit of the technological frontier for the benefit of mankind” – European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton

The 12th European Space Conference ‘New Decade Global Ambitions: Growth, Climate, Security & Defence’, hosted in Brussels on 21-22 January 2020, provided a key platform to delve into the future of the European space policy. At the end of the conference, Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton presented his closing speech, where Innovation News Network was in attendance.

To begin, Breton discussed the importance of constantly testing the limits of technological frontiers: “A few months ago, I would have never imagined to be here in front of you, delivering a speech on the priorities for Europe on space. I am particularly pleased […as] I’ve had many lives but always the same driver: passion. Especially the passion of sciences, of astrophysics, of quantum, of relativity because there is nothing more noble and exciting than to try to understand and push the boundaries of our knowledge. The passion also of technologies. I cannot think of space exploration without thinking of all the technological breakthroughs it carried over time and continues to carry. With space, we are constantly testing the limit of the technological frontier for the benefit of mankind.

“In the many lives I have lived so far, I was also lucky to be a board member of a National Space Agency, which gave me a glimpse of what it is like to be working on space. I am extremely glad but also humbled to speak in front of all of you. I was told that that the European Space community is actually rather small (though growing), and it is a bit like a family. I guess this includes all that families entail in terms of joy, successes, but also sometimes tensions. I will surely and hopefully discover this very fast. I certainly do not know everyone in this room but I am eager to meet with you and to start working with you so that together we can shape the space policy that Europe needs and deserves.

“If we look back for a moment, Europe achieved a lot in space over the past years. Europe is the second space power in the world. Together last year we invested roughly €9bn.  Through ESA and the national space agencies, we have an internationally recognised expertise. The highly visible successes of Rosetta and Bepicolombo are just reminders of what Europe can do in space exploration. On the EU side, Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus are established now as world-class references.

“They are operational on time and on budget and already deliver high quality services. Knowing their history, this was not a given when Europe started with these programmes, but today I am not afraid to say it – we have collectively built the best Earth Observation system in the world and the best satellite positioning system in the world. This should be a source of great pride for all of us. Not a single EU Member State could have done it alone. This is the result of our European cooperation and these are clear European successes.”

Objectives for Galileo

Breton then went on to discuss the success of European cooperation: “First Copernicus, ‘Europe’s eyes on Earth’, sets global standards by offering the most accurate data of Planet Earth 24/7 and this is recognised [and used/valued] worldwide. […] With Copernicus, the EU has one of the biggest data providers in the world with more than 12 Tera Bytes of high-quality full, free and open data every day. My objectives are clear: to maintain the EU’s autonomous capacity to observe the Earth and to position Copernicus at the edge of the technological frontier. I would especially like to integrate, within Copernicus, all the capacity that quantum technologies could bring to develop new services. I already asked two of my services, the Directorate-General for Defence and Space, and the one for the Digital Economy, to look at the potential synergies in this field.

“Second, Galileo. The past years have been dedicated to the deployment of Galileo, with the satellites, but also all the infrastructure and software. Galileo is now up and running for more than two years now. And while we are still in an initial service mode, the accuracy of Galileo goes beyond what was expected. This shows, despite the scepticism of some when we launched the idea of Galileo, that Europe has the know-how, the skills and the drive to launch and develop large and complex infrastructures. Galileo has more than one billion users worldwide and this number is growing every day. Today Galileo is in our smart phones, in the applications. It helps save lives through precise location when activating the 112 Emergency number or the E-call system in the car. We are working for its use in aviation and railway.

We just announced the launch of the return link function in the Search and Rescue service.

My objectives for Galileo are clear:

1) To continue deploying Galileo in order to reach the Full Operational Capability as soon as possible

2) To continue improving the precision of Galileo with a target of 20cm precision

3) To prepare already now the second generation of Galileo, in order to stay ahead in the technological race. The transition batch procurement is ongoing and

4) To ensure the smooth development of the encrypted signal (PRS)

The EU Space Programme

“With Galileo and Copernicus, the place of Europe in the global landscape of space activities is very strong. This should not be a reason to fall into complacency because, and this is my second message today, we cannot afford to capitalise only on our past achievements. We need to invest in the future and get organised to deliver more and differently. The world is changing in front of us. The US are investing four times more than we collectively do, and other regions are catching up fast.

“The space sector is undergoing massive changes worldwide. It goes through an important industrialisation process, the result of which is that “doing space” is cheaper and more accessible. A new reality emerges and the European space sector, whether public or private, must adapt and react to it. We are not in a “business as usual” environment anymore. This is an opportunity, provided we grasp it fast and have the means to our ambitions. The Commission has proposed a €16bn EU Space Programme for 2021-2027. This is a breakthrough to have in one piece of legislation all our EU space activities. This is our EU Space Act and today, the legal text is almost agreed. I will personally fight for the space budget, with the European Parliament and the Member States because investing in space is about investing in technological sovereignty. You can therefore count on me but the ball is in the camp of the Member States and the European Parliament. We need to collectively convince them of the added value of investing EU money into space. And for this, I count on you.”

The Space Programme

“Through the Space Programme, my intentions are”:

1) To ensure the continuity of the development of Galileo and Copernicus – like any large infrastructure, they need to be maintained and upgraded;

2) I want these projects to evolve in order to develop new services, for instance in security, fighting climate change and optimising our use of raw materials, using the full potential of new technologies as quantum; and

3) I believe it is imperative that the EU space sector adapts to the new realities, geopolitical, strategic, industrial and technological.

“On this third point, there are several dimensions I would like to develop. The first element is that Space is an enabler of security and defence. This has been a taboo at European level for a long time but I believe it is time now to break this taboo. Yes, Galileo has a defence dimension. Yes, Copernicus can serve security missions And yes, this trend will be strengthened in the future.

This is why we will progressively launch two new initiatives:

  • A Space Situational Awareness (SSA) system to avoid collision and debris on key satellites, and we should see this project as the precursor of a European Space Traffic Management system; and
  • A Governmental Satellite Communication (GovSatCom) initiative to provide Member States with reliable and secure satellite communication to support police, border protection, diplomatic corps or civil protection during crises.

“The synergies with the European Defence Fund on these two initiatives will of course be central. The second element is of strategic nature: there is no credible space policy without an independent access to space. Europe has always demonstrated its excellence when it comes to launchers. Ariane 6 and Vega C will ensure Europe’s autonomous access to space in the years to come. It is central to support the development of these launchers. The Commission was the first institutional client of Ariane 6. And we just pre-booked four other Ariane 6 to anticipate the future needs of Galielo. At EU level, and thanks to the provision agreed in the Space Programme, we will be able to use the EU budget to support the European launcher industry. We are ready to aggregate our institutional demand, to support ground infrastructures and the deployment of new technologies. However, in light of the development of the US launchers – which are largely subsidised – it is equally important to already prepare the next generation of European launchers, so that we do not miss the reusability technology or any other disruptive technologies.

“My third element is governance. To develop this strategy and vision, we need to work efficiently all together. As an outsider, and even more since I arrived, I have the impression that in Europe we tend to spend a lot of time discussing who does what – especially between all the public actors – rather than actually doing it. Let me be loud and clear: this is not possible anymore. If we are to be successful and invest efficiently our citizens’ taxpayer money, we have to stop the infights and work as a team: Commission, National Space Agencies, ESA, GSA, industry.  Governance is central to any successful strategy and project, political or industrial. I am passionate about governance, I have been teaching it at Harvard. When Governance is not clear, mistakes happen or issues appear, and no later than July last year, we had a glimpse of the consequence on the Galileo system. We cannot afford this. So I started to look into it, and my intention is to be very bold in fixing any governance issues we may still have.

“When a system is operational, the governance needs to be adapted accordingly. Development considerations have to factor in this new reality. Moreover, when the interests of the EU are at stake, the governance needs to be without compromise. Yes, Brexit will have an impact on the way we can work together and this should and will have to be accounted for by all actors, including institutional actors. We have one year to achieve an agreement on the new governance structure. You can count on my strong resolve in this, in a spirit of partnership but with clear goals.”

Towards a European New Space approach

Following this, Breton went on to address the changing European space eco-system: “In front of the fast evolving space landscape, with the emergence of new private actors in the US or new state actors, I am convinced that Europe has everything it takes to lead the technological race and to continue ensuring a strong space leadership. We have the know-how, we have the skills, we have the experience, we have the industry. We just need a political common will, backed by credible budgetary means. However, we also need to look critically at the way we are organised, when it comes for instance to the support to space innovation, space entrepreneurship and start-ups. In short: the space leaders of tomorrow, and this is where I am convinced, we need to develop a European approach to “New Space”. An approach that is not a replicate of the US and which does not oppose large companies with startups. However, rather an approach which sets Europe as a launch pad for space innovative breakthroughs.

“A Europe which is organised so as not to miss the next disruptive technology. Europe should for instance invest massively in quantum technologies. This is a matter of technological sovereignty. Quantum could have important applications in the space domain: like in encryption or in the mapping from space of the underground landscape. The initial work on a European quantum communication infrastructure is promising. In the same vein, I want Europe to take the full benefit of the upcoming data waves. Data will change our society and industry. And it will change space applications. Already with Copernicus, we are producing large amounts of data, but they are under used.

“I want to foster a better integration of space assets, with Artificial intelligence (for image analysis and archiving), with cloud solutions (for storage and distribution of data), with High Performance Computing for generating models and simulations of our planet based on Earth Observation. This is the Planet Earth concept I intend to launch to gather European scientists and European excellence to develop a very high precision digital model of the Earth – A Digital twin model of Earth. We know that space is to become THE infrastructure for telecommunication, data, Internet of Things (IoT), broadband. And what we see is that these infrastructures will most likely be run mostly by the private sector.

“Make no mistake: this is a race where the winners take it all, as in the end there will only be a few world infrastructures. So the question of the control of these infrastructure is central. Are we comfortable in Europe that key infrastructures for IoT connection or operating system of connected cars will be non-European? Europe has always taken the lead on telecommunication networks. On 5G we are the front runners when it comes to patents. So, I want Europe to keep its position, also on the post 5G. This is why I asked my DGs to already work on the 6G, which in my view should integrate the potential of space.

From a general point of view, our main issue in Europe is that we have a scattered and inefficient approach. We are duplicating efforts by not being coordinated, we are wasting resources by not being organised. We are missing disruptive technologies by not working together, we are losing our unicorns and our best ideas that move elsewhere to grow.

“My message is clear. These companies and ideas: I want them to stay and grow in Europe! This is also a question of mindset change of the European space sector, whether it is the private space sector, or the non-space private sector. Contrary to the US, we are not seeing enough European industrial leaders in other sectors to invest into space solutions. The public authorities’ approach also has to change. We need to accept to take more risk, also in our public procurement strategy. What would help our start-ups is to develop an “anchorcustomer” strategy so that they are able to benefit earlier from contracts with ESA or with the EU. This is what NASA does, and we should be able to do it in Europe too.

We also need to learn in Europe to do things much faster and at very low cost: testing, failing, re-testing, re-failing so that we can shorten drastically the development cycle and to accelerate innovation, we need to think outside of the box. Every year Europe could buy a launcher and award its capacity to highly innovative projects. This is disruptive, and this has the potential to turn Europe into an attractive hub for space innovation, but innovation will not happen without the proper model of financing. We have capital in Europe, we just need to find ways to mobilise it around longer-term projects like space.”

Collectively reaching the next level of co-operation and success

To conclude his address, and close the 12th European Space Conference, Breton shared his hopes and objectives for the next five years: “I strongly believe that in the medium term, Europe will need a large European Space Equity Fund which would attract private equity investment towards our space unicorns and in this race to innovation, I am convinced that the military needs will drive disruption. Let me take one example: on Earth point-to-point space flights, which would allow fast transportation of military equipment across the globe. Such a prospect would in turn have a strong impact on the aviation sector because we have to be clear: in space like in many sectors in Europe, we have to drastically reduce Europe’s technological dependence. I believe we should collectively map the strategic technologies and critical components on which we are dependant. So that we can use this to design a clear industrial policy based on strategic value chains. This is a domain where the European Defence Fund could also help.

“Building on what has been done, I would like that collectively we reach the next level of cooperation and success. This means a European space sector which fully grasps the digital revolution which is underway with data, quantum and others. This means a Europe which considers space as a strategic asset, central to its technological sovereignty and its security, and a Europe which has the means of its ambition, in particular the financial means. My objective is that there is a before and an after the von der Leyen Commission when it comes to space ambition and I say it one more time: Europe is not lagging behind in space technology and assets.

“Space is at the intersection of technological leadership, industrial strategy and geostrategic considerations. This is why I always had a strong interest in space. And this is why, as your new European Commissioner in charge of space, you will be able to count on me to push an ambitious European Space Agenda and deliver on it.”

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