The European Union is determined to develop a constellation of quantum communications inaccessible to hackers and to become, together with the United States and China, one of the three global space powers. This was the view of the Commissioner for Industry and the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, who outlined the main space priorities contained in the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021-2027.
With a budget of 13,200 million euros, described as a "solid financial endowment", Thierry Breton defended Europe's leadership in space at the 13th European Space Conference, which is being held on January 12 and 13 in Brussels, with the aim of achieving the much-repeated but never achieved strategic autonomy.
The cream of the old continent's space industry and a large group of MEPs have been informed of the projects and have had the opportunity to discuss the new space programme in Brussels, which seeks to anticipate the challenges and avoid possible strategic dependencies that may arise over the next 20 to 30 years.
The EU Commissioner responsible for the Space and Defence Industry confirmed that he intends to present a proposal to make a public-private constellation of quantum satellites a reality. Its aim is to provide encrypted and secure communications to European authorities and agencies and also to the governments of member countries. This is an initiative which is still in its initial study phase and which is not yet assessed from an economic point of view, but which will undoubtedly be worth billions.
Another ambition of Thierry Breton is to position Europe at the world centre of space enterprise. With the cooperation of the European Investment Bank and the collaboration of private risk capital funds, the European Commissioner is going to launch the CASSINI initiative this year, a 1,000-million-euro fund to set up an incubator to boost the activities of emerging companies and space innovation.
As Minister for the Economy, Finance and Industry (2005-2007) under Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin during Jacques Chirac's term as President of the French Republic, Breton wanted to be very clear in stressing that Brussels' space policy "will continue to rely on the European Space Agency (ESA) and its technical expertise, both in the field of engineering and planetary science". An intergovernmental body outside the EU, "we need ESA at our side if we are to succeed in our strategy for space".
Aware that there is no space policy without autonomous access to the Earth's orbit and beyond, he said he was aiming for "an alliance of European launchers". His aim is to define a reusable rocket, a vector already possessed by the United States and on which Russia and China are working at high speed. Breton said he wanted to bring together ESA and industry directors, senior officials from EU countries and members of the European Parliament so that together they could "agree on a roadmap defining a next generation of European non-disposable rockets", unlike what is happening now with the Ariane 5 and the Vega.
In his own words, his objective is to "go beyond national interests", in a clear reference to France and Italy, the two countries that lead the manufacture of launch vehicles in Europe. Breton also stressed the importance of consolidating the Galileo navigation and positioning constellation, a competitor of the American GPS, the Russian GLONASS and the Chinese Beidou, with a new generation of satellites. A similar renewal will apply to the Copernicus space network, whose Sentinel platforms are dedicated to the observation, security and monitoring of the Earth's environment.
A politician with great communication skills, a born leader and former head of multinationals such as France Telecom, Bull and Atos, Thierry Breton is in tune with the views of the President of the European Union, Germany's Ursula von der Leyen - Angela Meckel's former defence minister - and the President of the European Council, Belgium's Charles Michel. The latter took part in the event and confirmed that "space has a direct impact on our geopolitical goal of strategic autonomy." "A robust European space sector is essential to a robust Europe", he concluded.
Another senior official who has taken the floor at the meeting is the Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Spain's Josep Borrell. He did not hesitate to stress once again that the European space sector is a "facilitator" of the EU's strategic autonomy, that space is fast becoming "a political arena" that hovers over geopolitical competition on earth and the need to continue working to "promote peaceful use, responsible behaviour and to prevent and avoid the positioning of weapons systems" in outer space.
In keeping with the arguments of their predecessors, the Spanish industrial side includes senior managers of the multinational technology companies GMV and Indra, Jesús Serrano and Ignacio Mataix, the latter heading the Transport and Defence sectors of the Spanish technology multinational.
As a company specialising in the ground component of the space sector - particularly in the development of radars and satellite control centres - Mataix has focused on highlighting the growing worldwide demand for connectivity to access, store, process, distribute and make available data "to obtain knowledge".
Data is set to become a "key element in terms of digital sovereignty", according to Mataix, who agrees with Thierry Breton that "Europe needs new secure, reliable and interoperable communications via satellite" to meet the needs of Brussels and its Member States.
The Spanish director also stressed the close link between space, defence and security, which means that both the activities and most of the infrastructures in orbit are "of strategic interest". This makes satellites and structures in orbit "sensitive and must be protected", and Jesús Serrano and Ignacio Mataix therefore agree with the European Commissioner in recommending "rationalising the management of space traffic", which is increasing year after year.
The Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, the Bulgarian Mariya Gabriel, did not hesitate to be present at the meeting to highlight Brussels' desire to provide extensive financial support for research and innovation, which are essential for Europe to become a world leader in space.