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February 2020

Will Europe Awaken?

Arthur Sauzay
Counsel, Allen & Overy

Arthur Sauzay est contributeur à l'Institut Montaigne sur les questions spatiales. Avocat counsel à Allen & Overy LLP à Paris, il est auteur de la note de l’Institut Montaigne parue en décembre 2017, Espace : l’Europe contre-attaque ?  et co-auteur de la note Espace : le réveil de l’Europe ?  parue en février 2020.

Sebastian Straube
Founder and CEO of Interstellar Ventures

Sebastian Straube is Founder and CEO of Interstellar Ventures, which is leveraging latest technology, business-, financing-, and engagement tools to support entrepreneurs dedicated to unlocking the business potential of the space industry. Beside running Interstellar Ventures, he is a business mentor in leading international technology startup acceleration programs like MIT Enterprise Forum Warsaw and Singularity University Ventures in Mountain View. In 2012, Sebastian was a Member of the Social Responsible Investments Working Group, which was established at the Polish Ministry of Commerce by the former Prime Minister of Poland and the current President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

How to get the European space industry off the ground?

In order to make its voice heard on the international stage, Europe must find its place among the major space powers: the United States and China in particular. Space has become a major geostrategic challenge, a political and economic playground where the power of persuasion and the power of coercion are at stake.  

Following the 2017 note entitled Space: Will Europe Strike Back?, Institut Montaigne has continued its study of risks and opportunities for Europe in relation to space affairs. In February 2019, it held a Franco-German seminar on space issues to explore new routes for additional European cooperation in that field.  

Drawn up by three European experts - one French, one Finnish and one German - this note takes stock of recent trends and issues in the space sector. It analyses Europe's current position in New Space, highlighting the potential and limits of the space policy pursued by the European Union in recent years and makes five public policy proposals aimed at making Europe a real space power.

A space sector in full transformation

A space not so far away

Space has become a central element of society. The multiplication of applications using satellite positioning systems (such as GPS or Galileo), the development of space imagery services for defence and industry and the central role of telecommunications all contribute to increasing our dependence on satellites, making it increasingly urgent to protect these strategic infrastructures.

New players in the space sector

On an economic level, Earth orbit is the new frontier of Big Data. Digital behemoths are investing billions of dollars to build satellite constellations to provide new connectivity services to the planet. In terms of amounts, the digital giants have thus become the first to invest in new space infrastructure.



(Source : Starlink VLEO Constellation, Mark Handley)

The New Star Wars

From a geopolitical point of view, the Sino-American rivalry now extends to space. The renewed ambition of the United States is beginning to bear fruit: public investments are on the rise (NASA's budget rose by $2 billion in 2018 and again in 2019 and the lunar mission projects under the Artemis programme are evidence of this renewed interest). Ambitions are just as strong on the Chinese side and are clearly part of the "New Silk Road" project.

Space: Will Europe Awaken? - Investisment in the space sector

Europe has so far enjoyed real leadership in the space sector. But faced with the transformations in the sector, is it still in the race?

Europe's role in space

European moment for space

Europe has succeeded in establishing itself in several key segments of New Space: it now has world-class European champions and an industrial fabric of which it can be proud. In a speech delivered on 22 January 2020, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Space Policy, reiterated his determination to make space a priority: "Space is at the intersection of technological leadership, industrial strategy and geostrategic considerations. 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". By bringing together the defence and space industries in the same Directorate-General, the European Union has at last taken account of the strategic dimension of the space sector.

Three major European programmes

Space: Will Europe Awaken? - What is Europe doing in space?


Three programmes developed by the European Union testify to the importance of space for Europe.

  • GOVSATCOM: launched by the Commission in December 2013, this system should enable government satellite communications as of 2020 and guarantee the security of satellite communication services to organisations and operators deemed strategic for the EU. Its development is ongoing, but remains dependent on the resources allocated to it in the next EU budget.
  • Galileo: this is a satellite positioning system (radionavigation) developed by the European Union and one of its main achievements. However, a breakdown in July 2019 revealed that the system was still in a learning phase.
  • Copernicus: this earth observation system is an undeniable scientific success, particularly for the study of climate change. It gives Europe real powers of persuasion in international relations, as demonstrated by Copernicus' coverage of the fires that ravaged Siberia and the Amazon in the summer of 2019. However, the European project for the development of a private ecosystem based on the exploitation of the data collected by this system remains insufficient to date.

Overhauling European space policy

To reap the benefits of these investments in space, Europe can no longer rest on its laurels. Above all, it must strengthen the financing of these programmes in the context of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027. European space governance, which remains partly inadequate, needs to be rethought, in particular as regards the role of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the articulation of its action with that of the Commission. The European space industry, which represents Europe's real strength in this field, must also be preserved and developed, through a new European industrial policy making space one of its priorities.

Our recommendations

To move toward these goals, concrete measures should be taken covering the various aspects of space affairs: strategic independence, technological leadership and geopolitical positioning.

Ensure Europe’s autonomy in Space Traffic Management by developing EU capabilities for detection (ground-based radars and telescopes as well as space-based solutions) and computing, jointly with ESA and Member States.

Such an approach, clearly focused on the development of strategic industrial capacities, would enable Europe to take its place at the forefront of a changing space economy, while contributing to renewing the European dream with a realistic and ambitious space project.   

Adopt an innovative approach in terms of public space procurement. We propose creating a commercial services procurement unit within the future EU agency for the space program. The EU should, when relevant, support the development of commercial services (in particular, imagery and telecommunications) by European companies, and do so by becoming an anchor customer rather than an owner of satellites.

Decide in 2020 on a European strategy regarding broadband constellations. These projects bear significant uncertainties, but they are set to become a deciding factor for the future development of space as well as for telecommunications and Big Data. Europe cannot afford to wait to see if they succeed. The EU Commission should take the lead in designing a policy which could include specific regulations as well as the analysis of the need to develop a European capability in this field.

Ensure Europe’s leadership in small satellites by providing free access to orbit for in-orbit technology validation. This aims at simultaneously developing launch capabilities for these satellites (small launchers, or rideshares using larger launchers), as well as supporting the development and commercial success of small satellite technologies.

Give the EU a political role in international space affairs, with an immediate focus on ensuring Europe has a role to play in, and benefits from, the ongoing push to develop activities in the space between Earth orbit and the Moon (so-called "cislunar space"). A potential concrete measure would be landing a probe on the surface of the Moon, by 2023, with a scientific and also commercial goal, which could include a demonstration of Moon resource utilization technology. This could send a strong symbolic message and push European established players as well as start-ups to take on the challenge.

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