Space holds huge promises for European society. Data from satellites can be used to provide services that can dramatically improve European citizens' everyday lives. The European Commission's new space strategy goes a long way in charting the future course for the civil use of space in Europe, says the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in a recently adopted opinion, but should go even further to reap the full advantages of space for European society.
"Space is not just rocket science, but plenty of benefits for all Europeans" says the rapporteur of the EESC opinion Mindaugas Maciulevičius (LT – Various Interests Group). From crop monitoring and precision agriculture to natural disaster prevention, from geo-positioning to combating terrorism to migrant flow management: these are some of the actual and potential uses that Europe can make of the data sent back to earth by its satellites orbiting around the Earth. But to make the most of this immense wealth of data – we are talking about some 70 petabytes, i.e. one million gigabytes, a day – the Commission needs to step up efforts and put in place big data centres which can pre-process it and make it available to companies, SMEs and other players who can develop innovative applications and services out of it.
"Space is no longer the preserve of big corporations such as Airbus. There is plenty of opportunities for SMEs to develop new materials and new techniques. SMEs are particularly good at developing creative applications and services. They can work miracles with limited resources", says Mr Maciulevičius. Examples can already be seen in various Member States: satellite data is used to detect and prevent forest fires in La Palma (Spain) and to predict crop yields in the Czech Republic. In Central Italy, data from Sentinel helped identify earth displacement in the regions concerned within hours of the earthquake in 2016 while in Finland data has been applied to monitoring forest regeneration. All this translates into revenues and savings for all. "In fact, every euro invested in space can generate from 10 to 100 euros in return and is therefore fully worthwhile", points out Mr Maciulevičius.
In its opinion the EESC also stresses the need to secure an adequate budget if the UE is to be serious about space – a budget that can compete with those of the major players in the space arena. At present, this is not the case. Though Europe's budget for space activities is the second largest in the world in absolute terms, it is only the sixth as a percentage of GDP. China and Russia also allocate huge budgets to space, but the figures are only partly revealed and it is very difficult to know how much money is spent unofficially. The EESC also warns that the EU's space strategy will only be successful if both the public and private sectors invest in space. "We are asking the Commission to be more actively involved in organising and gathering together all the capital it can get from private banks and funds. These are somewhat risky investments, but the EIB could also help secure them", said the opinion rapporteur.
The EESC also points to education as a key component of Europe's spatial strategy. Space activities mean highly skilled jobs. Europe must train /retrain European workers and young people to meet the market demand for space-related skills, particularly as regards the use of data. At the same time, it needs to raise awareness of the potential of space in society at large. "All consumers – not just specialists - need to be aware of the benefits satellite data can bring and start using them", concluded the rapporteur.
For more information on the use of satellite data in Europe see: