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Speech by Commissioner Thierry Breton at the 13th European Space Conference

Dear Ministers and representative of Member States, Dear Sophie Wilmes, Dear Manuel Heitor, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Dear friends from the space sector, Ladies and Gentlemen,

2020 has been an extraordinarily turbulent year, with the worst worldwide health crisis in the last century. We had to adapt to these new realities in our personal and professional lives. And the crisis hit every sectors, the aerospace industry included.

But Europe – it is my strong belief – has shown that it can take the necessary decisions to ensure our collective resilience.

If 2020 was the year of solidarity, 2021 will be the year of trust. Trust in our ability to emerge stronger from this crisis, act on the lessons learnt and put forward a new vision.

It is in this spirit, that I want today to explain how I see the future of our space policy, one year after being in office.

Over the past year, we have made extremely important progress for the future of Europe’s space policy.

First, we have secured an important budget - €13.2bn. This is the largest budget ever at EU level for Space. It comes also in complement to the investments that will be done in ESA and in the Member States.

Second, we have agreed on the new EU space programme, the first of its kind for Europe. This will give us the capacity to act on the European space policy in all its dimension. Implementation modalities are still under discussion, but I am confident we can find a way forward in the coming weeks, so to ensure continuity in the programmes while securing a modern, agile and efficient governance.

Let me be crystal clear on one point: the European Space policy will continue to rely on ESA and its unique technical, engineering and science expertise. ESA will continue to be the European Agency for Space matters. So if we are to be successful in our European strategy for space, I will need ESA by my side.

I take this opportunity to thank Jan Worner for the work he does for Europe & Space. And I am looking forward to start working with Josef Aschbacher in a spirit of trust and joint ambition for Europe & Space.

My strategy for Space in the years to come lies in 4 main dimensions:

Galileo & Copernicus - Consolidation

First on consolidating Galileo & Copernicus.

As Europe, we had the foresight, 20 years ago, to put in place Galileo and then later one Copernicus. These were major decisions, driven by a sense of leadership in space but also a political willingness to ensure autonomous satellites positioning and earth observation. 

Today, Galileo and Copernicus are established infrastructures, the best in the world and recognised as such, and also instrumental to the green and digital transition.

However, it is not the time to be complacent and congratulate ourselves on our achievements. We need to think ahead, for the next 10 to 20 years. Galileo and Copernicus must evolve. Otherwise, they will fast become obsolete.

This is why I decided to frontload the launch of the second generation of Galileo satellites, with a first launch in 2024. There was no time to lose on past technologies as we needed to project Europe into the next technological races. Yes it might entail more risks, but this is the new reality of space business. In Europe, we must learn to take more risks, to anticipate them, to mitigate them.

I am glad that the industry understood this message, took up the challenge and put forward high quality proposals. Following the technical evaluation, the decision has been taken. It will be announced by the end of the month.

With this new generation, Galileo will operate real technological breakthroughs with high innovative satellites and technologies such as digitally configurable antennas, inter- satellites links, new atomic clocks technologies or full electric propulsion systems. The Second Generation of Galileo will have significantly improved services capabilities, notably in the field of secured navigation and resilience against emerging threats.

When it comes to Copernicus, we are today designing new missions. ESA has awarded 6 new precursor missions, all of which have huge potential, such as the CO2 monitoring mission or the polar observation mission.

The budgetary realities will however put some constraints on our ability to pursue, in a development phase, all these missions at the same time. It is too early to decide, but we will have to look at it carefully, on the basis of the readiness and performance of the percussing phase, the relevance for the general interest as well as the programmatic direction we want to give to Copernicus.

Besides these new missions, Copernicus will need to adapt to the new competition in the dynamic field of earth observation. We cannot proceed with business as usual. This is true for the satellites we launch, for the data we produce and the services we provide. This will be one of my priority for the year to come.

Connectivity: secure digital connections for the future

Second, besides consolidating the existing, we need also to anticipate the future challenges and potential strategic dependencies over the next 20 to 30 years. The power to connect will be essential, also in 2050.  

I consider that Europe needs to develop rapidly an space based connectivity initiative as a third infrastructure besides Galileo & Copernicus 

With this infrastructure, we will: 

  • put an end to dead zones, giving access to high speed broadband to everyone;

  • become autonomous and avoid dependence on the non-EU initiatives under development, like we did with Galileo;

  • project Europe into the quantum era, ensuring quantum encrypted communication;

  • keep the continent connected whatever happens, including massive attacks on the internet, which are no fiction anymore, especially with the emergence of the quantum computing capacities.

My objective is to go fast. And therefore it would be appropriate that the Commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council so we can move concretely.

To be ready, we launched a few weeks ago a study on a secure space-based connectivity system. The selected consortium consisting of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers will study the possible design & development of this project.

This will provide insights on the technical dimension, but also the governance structure, the financing, the missions, the exact scope. I expect their first feedback in April this year.

My message is clear: This is not a “business as usual” space project. It is broader. It will have to rely on the industry from different sectors. We need to think outside the box, including in terms of financing, where we will have to mobilise all possible sources: EU budget, Member States, ESA and the private sectors.

Technically, I would like that this project is designed as a multi-orbital initiative, combining LEO infrastructures with others, including GEO. It will complement our existing infrastructures, creating synergies. For instance, it will enhance the Galileo signal (making it able to withstand various potential interferences), provide to Copernicus data relay capacity for real-time missions, or host extra payload space-based sensors to perform Space Surveillance and Tracking directly from space.

Strategic autonomy in launchers and Space Traffic Management (STM)

Third, I wish to promote our strategic autonomy and the imperative need we have to act upon our existing and future strategic dependencies.  

Enhancing Europe’s strategic autonomy in space, is not an option. This is not about closing the door to our partners. It is about developing and maintaining our infrastructures, technologies, skills, competences, and reducing critical dependencies on third countries, so we can rely on our own if necessary.

And the first element is launcher. There are no space policy without autonomous access to space.

Now that the Space Programme is adopted, we are ready to aggregate our institutional demand (Galileo, Copernicus, future secure connectivity, IOD, IOV) over the whole seven-year period.

For the first time, we will also be able to use the EU budget to support the European launcher industry in the full chain: from earliest research on new propulsion technologies to long-term contracts for the launches of our EU satellites.

But considering the global market and the offensive positioning of our competitors, it is not the time for complacency. Yes, we have fantastic EU launchers, competitive of the global stage.

But the standards for launchers are currently being redefined outside of Europe. We must ask ourselves: will our current approach successfully get us to 2050, considering the disruptions in the sector that we all observe? I strongly doubt it, and I believe we need a more offensive and aggressive strategy.

Europe cannot afford to be divided on this strategic questions. We need to be able to go beyond the national interests. There is therefore an urgent need to break the taboos of this debate, to seat and discuss all together and define a new set up for Europe to design a true and genuine European strategy for launchers.

As the first institutional customer, but also being in charge of space policy at large and space industrial competitiveness specifically, the Commission is ready to and will play its role.

In that perspective, and in the same way we did with GAIA X for the Cloud, we need to go beyond the cooperation between a limited number of countries – albeit necessary – and europeanise this reflection. I will therefore gather in the next months all the actors to initiate a European Launcher alliance so to be able to jointly define, with ESA, the Member States, the European Parliament, the industry, a common roadmap for the next generation of launchers and technologies relevant to ensure an autonomous access to space.

The other element of Europe’s strategic autonomy is how we operate in space thanks to a Space Traffic Management system.

An increasingly congested space is threatening the viability and security of space infrastructures and operations. A million pieces of debris are in orbit around the earth - and the number is constantly increasing! It is expected that in the next years to come, more than 30 000 additional satellites will be launched. This is why we already have the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) framework.

But we need to go further by developing a robust EU STM policy and related capabilities – starting actively in 2021.

This is a necessary step to become a credible partner in a balanced cooperation framework with the US yet to be established. It is indeed paramount that we do not end up in a situation where all technological standards for operation in space are set beyond our input/control.

Europe as space entrepreneurship Hub

As a last element of the space strategy for 2021, I wish to position Europe as THE hub of space entrepreneurship in the world.

We have in Europe the creativity, the start-ups, the entrepreneurs, the research and innovation capacity. But we do not have a coherent approach, rather a scattered and inefficient one

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.

Yet, the space sector is going through a fast and profound industrialisation process of the same magnitude that the one the automotive industry went through. Doing space has become cheaper. This is good news, but it also calls on all of us to adapt, public authorities as well as industries.

I see the future of the European space industry as a combination of strong institutional leadership and European approach to New Space, one that is not a mere copy past of the US.

Now is the time to seek alternative business models and funding schemes. I will therefore launch this year a new Space entrepreneurship initiative: CASSINI.

CASSINI will put in place – together with the EIB/EIF - a €1bn European Space Fund to boost start-ups and space innovation. It will cover actions on the whole innovation cycle, from business idea to industrialisation, building on the €100m Space Equity Pilot we launched last year.

With CASSINI, we want to stimulate more VC funds to actively invest in space companies in Europe; but also to get other industries to invest into space technologies and solutions. We want also to organise a true European space incubator, relying on the strengths of all the actors but putting them into a coherent and integrated network.

I am also determined to enable the EU to act as a major anchor customer or first client (first contract approach), where appropriate, for large and small projects.

Finally, I intend to put forward a large scale European in-orbit technology validation programme – joining force with ESA – to provide regular access to space to the most promising technologies to test them. This is will be a strong accelerator to innovation in Europe, and a driver to the necessary change of mindset.

Concluding remarks

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, 2021 will be a defining year for our space strategy and for the position of Europe on the global space stage. We have enormous challenges to face, with serious risk of losing ground. We need to be able to find the resources to reinvent ourselves, to break taboos and the established cooperation.

Yes, what I call for is a rather fundamental overhaul of the way we do space in Europe. Of course we will continue on developing our strengths and past successes. But we need to invent new ones.

And for this, I wish to work closely with all of you: Member States, Parliament, industry. And of course with the ESA – who will have a central role in this endeavour.   

Let us build on what we have, make it future-proof, and think strategically.

Thank you.