Europe cannot watch space from a distance

Author (Person) ,
Series Title
Series Details 10.05.07
Publication Date 10/05/2007
Content Type

Two MEPs discuss space and the EU.

Fiona Hall

People often ask why the European Union needs an independent space programme and why do we need to have a European satellite navigation system, Galileo. These questions need to be turned on their head: how can we afford not have these things?

There are three key reasons why we absolutely need a European space programme and an independent satellite navigation system. First of all there is a strategic reason. So much of our daily lives are dependent on satellites, everyday things such as television, news and sport, but also navigation systems and financial services. These things happen instantly now and they are a key part of our economic system.

Leaving aside security issues, civil and domestic demands mean that satellite is of crucial importance. We would not dream of failing to have a policy which secures our energy supplies, which is of similar importance. We absolutely have to secure our strategic interest in satellite communication.

There is also an industrial argument for an independent European space policy. We are lead producers of space technology, 40% of the satellites launched today are produced by European companies. It is a highly competitive and high-value industry. If we do not preserve our autonomous access to space and our ability to launch satellites then we are going to lose out.

It is not just the US and Russia who are active in this area. China and India are moving forward apace, it is difficult to see how European industry can keep at the forefront of the industry if we do not have our own access to space and if we were dependent on everyone else. At the moment we are in the lead and we have to make sure that lead is maintained.

Third, efforts to prevent climate change are highly dependent on space technology. The capacity we have to fight global warming through satellite communications is huge, including the ability to monitor the earth. Seeing desertification and the melting of the ice caps can give us better insight into the processes that are changing our planet. It is also important in managing sectors of great economic importance, monitoring of fishing and illegal logging, which is enormously important given that it is taking place in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia where there is not the capacity on the ground to be able to monitor these things. Now we can use satellite technology to monitor tree cover and to see what exactly is being taken out of the forests. But here we also need to work with our partners in the international community. What we have at the moment is various fragmented observation systems. We need the proposed global monitoring for the environment and security (GMES) system which would link up observation systems around the globe.

Given the evident need for Europeans to have access to space and space technology it is very disconcerting to see disputes over funding for the EU’s satellite navigation system Galileo.

There have been problems with the public private partnership (PPP) which underpins the project. There are huge lessons to be learned for future PPPs.

When we talk about keeping a technological edge, delay is not a good thing. We need to be careful to avoid a situation that by the time the system is up and running no one is interest in buying services because they are no longer cutting edge.

The Galileo PPP was supposed to offer a new approach to funding projects, whereby firms competed and the best consortium won the bid. Instead, it has turned into the traditional approach, like the way in which the European Space Agency is run whereby various countries put money in and they expect a just return. There is an argument for doing it that way and it works in certain circumstances. But if you are talking about a public private partnership then you are really talking about a commercial arrangement and I am not sure you can mix that with the idea of divvying the benefits of the agreement up on the basis of an agreed arrangement.

  • UK Liberal MEP Fiona Hall is a member of the Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy.

Karl von Wogau

It is vitally important that the EU moves forward as far as its space policy is concerned because space and autonomous access to space have become very important elements of independence and sovereignty.

None of the member states has the possibility to ensure their space independence and sovereignty. None of the member states has the ability to ‘do’ space alone. It is only through the European Union that, for example, the Ariane launcher system exists. Ariane is the means by which we have independent access to space.

It is a fact that our telecomm-unications systems, our information systems and the media are dependent on space assets. These assets must be secure.

It is of vital importance that the EU ensure that no weaponisation of space takes place. The shooting down of satellites could easily destroy the fabric of society, that is a danger we must guard against.

It also needs to be made clear that the systems that we are building up do have security aspects. The necessity to protect our external borders and critical infrastructure is of crucial importance. And it should be clear that the systems we are developing have security dimensions in the largest sense of security - from helping the armed forces to monitoring natural disasters.

On concrete projects such as the satellite navigation system Galileo or global monitoring for the environment and security (GMES) it is becoming more and more obvious that these things have security uses, indeed the EU’s member states are moving in that direction.

A strategy paper agreed by the European Commission and the European Space Agency clearly says that these systems have potential and important security uses. That is a good step.

Space has a role to play in security and this has to be acknowledged. It would have been extremely useful to have additional information derived from space technology in missions of the armed forces under EU command, for example the peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If we send troops to Kinshasa it is very important to have round the clock and real time information about the weather and what is happening in the streets of Kinshasa. This is information that we did not have. It is also really important for the armed forces that protected telecommunications exist, so troops of different nationalities can communicate well with each other. It is not yet the case.

If someone decides to build a missile defence system, be it the United States or NATO, it should cover space. If you want to build a successful missile-defence shield you have to see the missile as soon as possible and the best way to do that is to do it from space.

But security is not just about the armed forces, it also needs to take account of natural disasters so that when the next tsunami comes we will be able to see what is happening, what has happened and we use this information to get an idea of the damage done and the best way to respond.

If we look at the world, it is evident that the major powers are all developing autonomous access to space - China, Russia and the US, of course, but also the EU.

In fact this capacity already exists. We have Ariane and we have a launch centre, so the question ‘do we do it or not?’ could have been asked many years ago.

As far as the problems surrounding the funding of Galileo are concerned, it is very important that more is done because we cannot afford the cost estimates to go up every second year. Europe is building an ambitious space programme, but this should be happening much more rapidly.

  • German centre-right MEP Karl von Wogau is chairman of the Parliament’s subcommittee on security and defence and a member of the delegation for relations with NATO’s parliamentary assembly.

Two MEPs discuss space and the EU.

Source Link
Record URL