Space exploration is, perhaps, humankind’s longest dream. The night sky has always allowed our imagination to fly. It has taken our creative and innovative spirit to new places, even new galaxies. Today, the era of space commercialization is upon us showing how the stars have captivated us and driven us to achieve the unachievable.
It’s clear that the aerospace sector is unlike any other industry. Satellite has come to affect every aspect of our daily lives: it allows us to communicate – in an instant – on smartphones, over the internet, or use Galileo or GPS signals at sea, on earth or in the air. It impacts every aspect of our society: sustainable mobility, healthcare, and perhaps most importantly, it ensures our security.
The war in Ukraine is a stark reminder of just how important secure satellite relays have become to modern warfare. The ‘space race’ has always been competitive as witnessed during the Cold War era. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain, governments instinctively found other priorities over space. Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, as well as growing tensions between Western nations and China, has put space policy firmly back at the top of the international security agenda.
The ‘space race’ feels once again very real. This time, with many more global players involved. rivate companies and countries are investing billions in innovative new technologies and services.
Europe too has space firmly on its radar. Our institutions, member countries, agencies and companies need to raise our game to ensure we keep a seat at the global table. The recent agreement to establish a European secure connectivity program, IRIS², needs to be the accelerator of such a vision.
We know that ‘made in Europe’ works, and the results from effective European collaboration can be world-beating. Excellent examples in the aviation sector include Airbus, the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer defense systems specialist MBDA and there are many others.
If we are to achieve the same success in the space sector, then we need to recognize that no single European company is big enough to make a splash alone. However, if we pool our capabilities from across companies and combine it with public-sector initiatives, then we can take our fame to the final frontier.
There’s no new, magic formula to get ahead in today’s ‘space race’. Just like it’s always been in any other sector, investment drives success. The EU needs to dig deep if it’s to compete against the new pioneers with billions of dollars in funding.
However, instead of the European Union creating a new public system, the European institutions need to be a customer, a financial partner and a believer in the innovation capabilities of its home-grown talent. This should not be a return to the 1970s era of massive government intervention on vanity projects that cost the taxpayer billions. A public and private partnership is the way to go.
– between intervention and liberalization
It starts with collaboration between like-minded CEOs of European companies jointly wishing to compete on the world’s stage. Consolidating partnerships among players not unusual. This is necessary to defy the singularity of the European aerospace sector where competitors are also partners, customers and suppliers at the same time.
This is followed by liberalization, whereby the future European champion optimizes its European supply chain, creating larger work scopes for tier-1 partners, more accountability, more scalability, more entrepreneurial spirit.
This creates healthy market competition rather than a reliance on traditional geo-return in Europe’s space sector whereby all member countries receive the majority of their contributions back in the form of industrial contracts. In turn, this leads to innovation and provides for a great environment for start
–ups and SMEs to flourish and benefit from scale. It allows supply chains to gain efficiency and effectiveness to avoid the pitfalls experienced in former aerospace and defense programs.
Finally, reinforced by public , Europe can gain competitive strength at a global level.
We are looking for a nimble concept, and flexible formula adapted to Europe’s modern economy. We have done it before, we can do it again.
Back to the future
It is clear that governments and industry need to engage with one another on how to best cooperate in this unique sector. IRIS² is an opportunity to rejuvenate triedand-tested methods at a moment of global reset. Space is our next frontier. We need to think global and act local with courage and determination to define Europe’s leading position in the space business.