Augusto Gonzalez, Head of the EC Directorate-General Enterprise and Industry’s Space Policy Unit


With the launch of Galileo satellites underway, Europe finally looks set to re-establish its position as a significant power in space activity. In this timely interview, International Innovation discovers what endeavours are planned for the years ahead and the benefits they will reap for EU citizens


Could you offer an insight into the formation of the European Space Policy (ESP) and what it sets out to achieve?

The EU’s involvement in space activities is relatively new. The European Space Agency (ESA) has quite successfully designed and led space programmes at European scale in space research, development and exploration over the past 40 years. We have witnessed some amazing successes which contributed to making Europe one of the large space powers in the world. However, at the beginning of this Century it has emerged that Europe must make more effective use of space technologies and space applications in the implementation of a wide range of its policies and to live up its global responsibilities. To achieve this, the EU and ESA signed an agreement in 2004 which set an overarching framework for cooperation in space. The agreement also provided for the preparation of a joint space policy adopted in 2007 as well as the creation of a joint platform for political guidance which is called the Space Council. The Lisbon Treaty reinforced the EU’s role in space by providing it with a clear competence in space policy which it shares with its Member States.

In April this year, the Commission put forward a Communication which describes the key elements of the EU’s strategy in space and its objectives: to promote technological and scientific progress, foster innovation and industrial competitiveness, ensure that the European citizens fully benefits from European space applications and strengthen Europe’s role in space at international level.

What is your role and main responsibility as Head of Unit for Space Policy and Coordination at DG Enterprise and Industry?

The space policy and coordination unit is responsible for shaping and implementing the EU’s space policy as defined in the Lisbon Treaty. To this end, it works closely with Commission services responsible for the Galileo and GMES programmes, as well as services that deal with space research, along with all services dealing with space policy-related activities, or which rely on space technology for the implementation of their policies. Furthermore, we are responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the cooperation framework agreement between the EU and ESA. The Unit also ensures the coordination of the EU’s international relations in space by embedding it in the agenda of the EU’s broader external relations policies and instruments. Last but not least, the Unit works on shaping an industrial policy for space with the aim to create framework conditions for sustainable and balanced growth of the space industry in Europe.

Which institutions are included in the ESP and how do they contribute to its existence?

The ESP involves a multitude of actors. However, the close cooperation between the EU, ESA and the Member States as principal actors, is vital for the ESP’s successful implementation. With the Lisbon Treaty, the EU adds a political and strategic dimension to space activities in Europe by using space technology and systems as a tool to support its policies in areas such as climate change, agriculture, transport, and development, but also security-related policies. For the implementation of its space programmes and projects, the EU relies on the experience and expertise of ESA. And finally, space activities at European level should build on Member States’ existing resources and knowledge. Our aim is to strengthen cooperation and coordination between these principal actors in order to exploit to a maximum our respective strengths.

Are the launches of the Galileo satellites now on course after the setbacks it has faced? What are some of the services it will provide, particularly for citizens?

The launch of the first two Galileo satellites took place on 21 October, the next two will be in 2012. We have signed a contract for the order of 10 Galileo satellites which will be launched in 2013/14, allowing us to gradually make available the initial Galileo Services from 2014 onwards. I am therefore confident about the future of Galileo as well as the benefits this first truly European programme will bring to our citizens.

From 2014 onwards, European citizens in particular will benefit directly from the free-of-charge Galileo open service which will be available in most GPS-based navigation equipment. Galileo means more satellites will be made available, which will ensure better signal coverage and continuity, which is particularly useful in areas with shadows from buildings, trees or other types of obstruction to the sky.

The Galileo commercial services are still under definition but may offer high-precision and authentication. In addition, Galileo will offer a search and rescue service and a safety of life services. These new services will contribute to increased safety and cost-efficient in all modes of transport. Galileo will contribute to more cost efficient telecom networks. Ultimately, citizens will benefit from the broad socioeconomic effects of Galileo. The most recent available figures show that in 2009 6-9 per cent of EU GDP depends either directly or indirectly on satellite navigation applications.

Could you provide an example of how Earth Observation from space supports sound environmental management and protection policy?

GMES addresses a wide range of environmental policies and several of the planned GMES services touch upon climate-related and environmental issues. These services will provide a variety of information necessary for monitoring the state of the marine, atmosphere and land environments on a systematic and continuous basis. This type of information is essential for the formulation of EU policies in this domain and the monitoring of their effectiveness. For example, GMES provides support to climate change studies by monitoring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane and their fluxes as well as aerosols.

Furthermore, climate change monitoring can help us to get a better understanding of certain developments and their impacts. The degradation of air quality, the rise of the global sea level or melting snow and ice may have consequences for a range of policies, our economic activity at large and our daily lives. Air quality models, for instance, can assist local policy makers to determine the efficacy of urban emission reduction measures. Snow and ice monitoring services are useful for activities such as marine transportation, water resources management, flood forecasts, hydropower management, and safety of offshore operations, hunting and fishing.

What are the challenges of coordinating a united space programme for Europe, given the diversity of its members and their respective national priorities?

The EU shares its competence in space with its Member States. With this in mind, the European space policy does not aim at a single united space programme for Europe. Our objective is rather to ensure that all space policy protagonists in Europe agree on a common set of objectives, and that programmes and activities of the EU, ESA and their respective Member States complement each other in accordance with the agreed objectives. Such complementary European effort should build on each actor’s strengths and capacities, and take into account diversities and national priorities. However, it requires a better coordination of the various actors’ activities which is one of the actions the Commission proposes in its Communication on the EU space strategy.

In what way are you supporting and promoting innovative collaborations and networking within the field of aerospace and satellite navigation?

The EU Action Plan for GNSS Applications was adopted in June 2010. Part of this plan is three calls within the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), with a total budget of €103 million, mainly for GNSS applications. In these EU projects, companies and research centres from all over the EU collaborate in developing new applications and services. Examples of ongoing projects are the HEDGE project which focuses on the use of satellite navigation in helicopters, and the GIANT 2 project dealing with general and business aviation.

Further to this, how important is international cooperation, particularly with countries such as the U.S. and Russia who have been at the forefront of space exploration for many decades?

By its nature, space is a global endeavour, and therefore international cooperation is an essential element of the ESP. Outer space, like the high seas, does not belong to any one party. International cooperation is indispensable to organise its utilisation, its exploration as well as its protection. Furthermore, space activities often require a substantial financial effort which goes beyond the resources of a single space faring nation. The International Space Station, for example, could not be operated without the joint financial support of a number of space nations, including Europe. Other initiatives such as those related to protecting space infrastructure against space debris require cooperation at international level to be more effective. Also, international cooperation in space research as pursued in the framework of the EU’s Research Framework Programme allows us to learn from others and strengthen our knowledge base.

Of course, U.S. and Russia play a primary role in our international cooperation activities. In 2006, the Commission established regular political dialogues with both countries. These Space Dialogues bring together policy makers and the respective space agencies. The issues discussed are very broad ranging, including cooperation in satellite navigation, satellite communication, Earth Observation, and security-related issues. More recently, such a space dialogue was also established with South Africa. Beyond that, the EU is cooperating in space matters with many other partners such as Japan, China, and the African Union, to name just a few. The development of closer relations is currently being explored with Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

What areas will you be focusing on or seeking to branch into in the future? How do you see ESP developing in the coming years?

I would like to restrict myself to three topics that the ESP needs to focus on in the future. First, the security dimension of space policy becomes increasingly important. Space systems can make significant contributions to security-related policies, and help to make our activities in areas such as emergency response in cases of natural disasters, border surveillance, or crisis management more effective. The Commission, in collaboration with other institutional actors, is looking into what support Galileo or GMES can provide in this domain. Furthermore, the space infrastructures we put in place need to be protected against increasing hazards of space debris or space weather phenomena. Europe needs its own space situational awareness (SSA) system to ensure the availability of reliable information to European satellite operators. Second, the development of the European space services industry will need political attention in the future. Investing in the setting up of space systems and infrastructures at European level for the benefit of all Europeans will not suffice. In parallel, we need to think of ways to demonstrate how these infrastructures and systems can be used, and we need to support the emergence of a services industry building on these systems. The third topic is space exploration. Despite the economic crisis, Europe cannot afford being absent in this field. Rather, increasing economic constraints should encourage European space powers to work towards a joint strategy and vision for space exploration and to better prioritise areas for collaboration with international partners. The European Commission is ready to support this effort at the political level.