A New Era for European Space: Turning Vision into Action
On 25-26 January 2022, leading figures from the world of space and government across Europe – and beyond – gathered for the 14th European Space Conference. The annual event, based in Brussels and sponsored by RHEA Group, was a hybrid conference this year due to COVID, but still attracted numerous distinguished speakers and panellists, including Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (above).
The 14th European Space Conference took place a month after the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and just one day after it reached its final orbital position. The buoyant mood around James Webb – which was repeatedly mentioned at the conference as a success story for the European space sector, due to its near-perfect launch trajectory and velocity thanks to Ariane-5 – seemed to be pervasive at the conference, even during calls for urgent action in many of the areas being discussed.
Everyone needs New Space
A number of themes ran through the conference, including the need for cooperation, speed, European autonomy and an end to the distinction between ‘New Space’ and, by inference, ‘Old Space’.
We should be looking forward to “Next Space” instead, said one speaker, while André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of Ariane Group and President of Eurospace, noted that “the only thing that counts is that industry delivers efficient and cost-effective products and services”, adding that the sector should be the catalyst for green and digital transformation, and that should now be considered ‘New Space’.
Data is the real revolution
Data is the real revolution happening in the space arena, emphasized many speakers, even though rocket launches and big missions such as James Webb make the headlines. Multiple sources of data are vital for key programmes such as Destination Earth, the digital twin of the Earth that will contribute hugely to climate change monitoring and management, and for applications such as crisis management. Yet more needs to be done to solve the complexity presented by the growing ecosystem of public and private organizations providing the data.
Cooperating to ensure safety and security
Space safety and security were high on the list of topics being discussed, including the new European secure connectivity constellation. As Ekaterini Kavvada, Director for Innovation and Outreach at DG DEFIS, noted, the world is now driven by data and space is now part of the data distribution network. Thomas Skordas, Acting Deputy Director-General of DG CONNECT, emphasized that this new system must be forward-looking and be able to support future security needs.
Cybersecurity was a focus in a number of sessions, with quantum communications and programmes such as the European Quantum Communication Initiative (EuroQCI) under the spotlight. “Only by taking the end-to-end aspect of cybersecurity can you be sure of identifying the weaknesses, which can be systems or human. It’s an operational race against the attackers. We must anticipate the quantum era, while being humble,” said RHEA’s Chief Strategy Officer Pascal Rogiest.
“We must also be sure that people are reacting fiercely to cybersecurity threats. The economy and value of space assets are tremendous. Equity investment is huge. This all attracts hackers. Cybersecurity should be seen as an investment, not as a cost.”
“We are up to the challenge. Let’s work together to make things happen – with this entrepreneurial spirit. We have a lot of young people entering the sector and in the future we will need tens of thousands of students to join the sector. We need to continue to inspire.”
IAF President, Pascale Ehrenfreund
As we are now hugely reliant on space data and services on a day-to-day basis, keeping Europe’s space domain operational was fervently discussed. Experts all agreed that urgent action is needed to tackle aspects such as space debris and it may not be possible to await regulation.
The blurring of lines between civil and defence systems was also raised: “Systems that were civilian originally are increasingly becoming used by military and vice versa, but with civilian rules. This reinforces national silos. How do we act as Europe? We need to work differently to work more effectively,” explained Michel Bosco, President of RHEA Groupe France.
After 2 years’ working around the restrictions caused by the COVID pandemic, the sense at the conference was that the European space sector is excited to be moving forward with so many ambitious projects. Programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus have made Europe a world leader, but nevertheless the European space sector has to keep the momentum going in order to retain that position. In a rallying call, Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director-General, said: “2022 will be the year of action. There are many programmes on the horizon that we need to make a reality, including our Accelerators and Inspirators.”
As ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst pointed out, the sector needs to have the vision, courage and conviction to initiate major new programmes such as the International Space Station, without fear of failure, to stop dependency on other sovereignties and private suppliers.
Find out more
Discover more about issues discussed at the 14th European Space Conference in RHEA’s OpenSpace magazine:
- OpenSpace 29 – Secure ubiquitous connectivity, Digital twins and Destination Earth, ESA’s security strategy and vision, EuroQCI and LuxQCI
- OpenSpace 28 – Copernicus and climate change