Building a Space Programme fit for the future

What does the future hold for European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA)?

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The European GNSS Agency (GSA) has recently evolved into its new role as the European Union Space Programme Agency (EUSPA), with an extended mandate covering the development of downstream markets for the Copernicus Earth observation programme and coordination of user-related aspects of the Governmental Satellite Communications (GOVSATCOM) programme, in addition to operational management of the Galileo and EGNOS programmes. Following this important milestone, EUSPA Executive Director Rodrigo da Costa looks back at the evolution of the Agency, takes stock of its current situation and sets out his vision for the future.

With GPS and other global systems already available to European users, why was it necessary for Europe to invest in building its own space programme?

GPS and the other Global Satellite Navigation Systems (GNSS) are military programmes at their core and, while access to these systems is unrestricted in normal circumstances, if the past year has taught us anything, it is that we always need to be prepared for extraordinary situations. Unlike other GNSS, Galileo, and indeed the Earth observation programme Copernicus and the other components of the EU Space Programme, are under civilian management; one of their key purposes is to benefit the lives of European citizens and to support innovation-driven growth in the European economy.

However, Europe’s Space Programme is about more than just innovation and service provision, even though these are central elements; under the management of the European Commission, the EU Space Programme gives Europe strategic autonomy in space and makes the EU a global space power, on an equal footing with other international players. The EU Space Programme also makes a significant contribution to the security and safety of European citizens, enabling applications to support search and rescue in case of accidents or natural disasters, track vessels at sea and many other applications. This safety and security contribution will increase in the future with the launch of the GOVSATCOM secure communications programme.

Besides securing the European Union autonomy and sovereignty, having its own Space Programme allows the EU, and its Member States, to conduct and benefit from space-enabled research and innovation. EU Space Research and Innovation is already delivering concrete benefits to the European economy and to European citizens. Citizens are benefitting from the countless services and applications enabled by Galileo’s precise navigation and positioning information and Copernicus Earth observation data, and the EU economy is benefitting from users’ enthusiastic uptake of these space-based services.

Thanks to its contribution to the EU economy and to the services and applications that it enables, from atmospheric monitoring to search and rescue, the EU Space Programme has become indispensable to the lives of Europeans.

How has the system evolved over the years, what were the main challenges encountered?

The first Galileo test satellite was launched in 2005 and, since then, a phenomenal amount of work has been carried out to build the constellation, which currently has 22 operational satellites for navigation in orbit. This work in space has been accompanied by work on the ground, to put the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure robust and secure service provision to our users. At the same time, EGNOS has been operating since 2005, augmenting GPS and enabling applications in a range of sectors – from precision agriculture to aviation. In parallel, work has been ongoing on the Copernicus Earth observation programme since 1998, leading to the launch of fully operational services in 2014.

With the launch of any system on a global scale, it is to be expected that challenges will be encountered along the way. This is true of the Space Programme too – we have encountered difficulties but we have overcome and learned from them and emerged stronger as a result. Almost 20 years ago, when the Galileo programme was still on the drawing board, questions were raised about the need for such a programme, particularly in light of the level of spending involved. As time has passed, these questions have faded as the strategic importance of Europe having its own independent, civilian GNSS system, along with a highly performant Earth observation programme, have become increasingly clear.

Prior to the launch of Galileo initial services in 2016, and in the four years since then, the EUSPA team has been working tirelessly with the European Commission, the European Space Agency and its upstream industry to develop and produce state of the art ground and space systems, with the midstream industry to operate and provide 24/7 Galileo services, and with chip manufacturers and application and service developers to develop and grow the market and promote the adoption of space-based services in all relevant segments. This work has shown some impressive results, and currently over 2 billion users benefit from Galileo’s added accuracy in Galileo-enabled devices. To reach this number in just four years is a remarkable achievement.

In terms of value to EU taxpayers and the EU economy, has this investment in space paid off?

Europe’s investment in space has paid off beyond our expectations and it continues to pay off every day, in terms of its contribution to the EU economy and services delivered to EU citizens. Global downstream market revenues from GNSS devices and services are expected to reach €325 billion in 2029. Meanwhile, revenues from Earth observation downstream market amounted to €1.38 billion in 2020. The EU Space Programme allows Europe to lay claim to its fair share of this thriving global market for space-based services.

The Space Programme is also creating EU jobs, both downstream and upstream; it is driving research, development and innovation, and providing applications and services that meet the needs of diverse communities of users. The Space Programme also supports the European Union in achieving its priority polices – from the Green Deal, where Galileo, Copernicus and EGNOS are enabling high-precision applications and services that increase efficiency and help make Europe greener, to the digitalisation of the EU economy, where the Space Programme plays a key role in keeping Europe connected.

Moreover, thanks to the Space Programme the EU is more is resilient to crises. One example of this is the Galileo Green Lane application, which eased the management of traffic congestion at EU borders during the lockdowns put in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic last year, and helped keep critical goods flowing. Thanks to these and the many other applications and services it enables, the Space Programme is providing Europe with a very healthy return on its investment.

What does the evolution from the GSA to EUSPA mean in concrete terms for the system and its users?

Evolution is the keyword here. EUSPA is not a totally new agency – it builds upon the extensive experience of the European GNSS Agency (GSA) in developing and operating the Galileo and EGNOS programmes, in service provision and security, and in market development and consultation and engagement with our various user communities.

With the expansion of our mandate to cover the commercial utilization of Copernicus and user-related aspects of the GOVSATCOM programme, and security related aspects – including accreditation – of other components of the space programme (Copernicus, GOVSATCOM, SSA, etc), these components will now also be able to benefit from this extensive experience. While the creation of EUSPA is an evolution, it nevertheless marks a new beginning for the Space Programme, providing a fresh perspective and a renewed impetus to deliver on the limitless promise of space for Europe and its citizens.

The creation of EUSPA also offers new opportunities to leverage synergies between the various elements of the Space Programme, particularly navigation, Earth observation and secure telecommunications, to deliver the services that Europe needs to face the challenges of the future. On their own, these programmes already play a key role supporting Europe’s digital and green transformation, but leveraging their synergies will allow us to generate innovative solutions that have a higher societal impact. In addition, bringing responsibility for the various elements of the Space Programme under the EUSPA umbrella will result in gains in terms of efficiency and security of the EU’s space assets.

Following this important milestone for your Agency, what is your vision for the future? How do you see EUSPA in five or 10 years time?

Although our mission at EUSPA may have expanded, our core objective is unchanged. EUSPA will continue to link EU investment in space to the needs of user communities – and I mean communities in plural, because the range of users is already very wide today and will continue growing. The Agency will continue to deliver the high level of service that our traditional users have come to rely on, and our new user communities for Copernicus and GOVSATCOM will also be able to benefit from this commitment to the delivery of high-quality services.

Our teams of professionals at our various sites, from our Headquarters in the Czech Republic, the EGNOS centres in France and Spain to the European GNSS Service Centre in Spain and the Galileo Reference Centre in the Netherlands, will ensure the ongoing high quality, robustness and reliability of EUSPA’s service provision. So too will the Galileo Security Monitoring Centres in France and in Spain, and the Galileo Control Centres in Germany and Italy. Likewise, the Security Accreditation Board will continue its work to ensure a robust and uniform level of security for the entire EU Space Programme.

There are some exciting milestones in store for the Agency – the Full Operational Capability for Galileo, the launch of the Galileo High Accuracy Service and Authentication Service, just to name a few. We are also working towards the launch of the new GOVSATCOM programme, which will provide secure and cost-efficient communications to security and safety critical missions and operations managed by the European Union and its Member States. In addition to these tasks, the Agency may also be entrusted with tasks related to the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme, and to the Quantum Communication Initiative (QCI), and the broader Secure Connectivity Initiative.

As we look to the future, I see a closer cooperation with our partners at the European Commission and in the European Space Agency to make sure that the Space Programme is aligned with EU priorities, supports EU policy, and continues to deliver secure and performant services to our users. EUSPA stands ready to face the challenges ahead. We will work with the EU Space community to ensure that EU investment in space continues to deliver the services and applications needed by Europe’s citizens and businesses. Together we can build a European Union Space Programme that is fit for the future.

On 16 October 2020, Rodrigo da Costa took up his duties as Executive Director of the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA), formerly the European GNSS Agency (GSA). Prior to this, he was the Galileo Services Programme Manager from March 2017. Before joining the GSA, Rodrigo da Costa held several senior project management, business development, and institutional key account management positions in the space industry, in the areas of human space flight, exploration, launchers and R&D. Rodrigo da Costa holds a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the “Instituto Superior Tecnico” in Lisbon, a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Delft, and an MBA from the EuroMBA consortium of Business Schools.

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