12th European Space Conference – Report
January 29, 2020

12th European Space Conference – Report

Palais d’Egmont, Brussels, 21-22 Jan 2020

Ann-Carine Vandaele, Vice-President of the Europlanet Society reports on the 12th Annual European Space Conference.

During two days, representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, national governments, the European space agencies, the scientific world and industries met in Brussels to discuss space-related subjects, covering areas like space for prosperity and sustainability, science and innovation, digitisation and connectivity, Space for society and economy. The plenary discussions and high level constructive debates were followed by a thousand participants representing stakeholders from the space sector and beyond.

J. Borrell, Vice-President of the European Commission, gave an enlightening speech on space as the new geopolitical frontier, considering that several countries around the world now have created space defence agencies. Mr. Borrell urged Europe to take actions to strengthen the collaborative aspects of space and to secure European access to space. He introduced also the “3Cs” related to space: 

  • Congested (i.e. more and more people dealing with space, not only space agencies but also private companies; the number of satellites is growing with larger constellations with smaller life time; the augmented risk with the increasing space debris)
  • Contested (legal space is not yet official)
  • Competitive (i.e. the digital economy, broad security, research competitiveness). In the following days most of the discussions and debates developed these issues further, providing insights and points of view from different stakeholders.

Another idea largely shared through the speakers was cooperation and collaboration, culminating with the motto “United Space in Europe” of J.D. Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency. Indeed the sole answer to the rising number of conflicts, to climate changes, is to unite forces – research, industry, policy makers – to raise the general public awareness and to propose new ways of using and sharing space resources. The talk of M. Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the EC was remarkable, insisting on the need for Europe to be proud of its achievements of which the citizens are not always aware, although space is now impacting more and more their every day life.

Artificial intelligence and big data were mentioned a lot, linked to the accrued number of data which request different and new ways for their interpretation. Security was also a major topic addressed during the two days: security and safety for the citizens, data and communication; but also secured access to space for Europe, which needs to be independent of the other main space actors like China and the US.

Another new aspect which was discussed at length, concerned the legal framework related to space which is still quite ill-defined. It is noteworthy that Luxembourg is the first European country that has voted a specific law to allow industrial organisations to possess, use and commercialise any space resources. This is a change of paradigm in the definition of space missions: today resources have to be processed on Earth and brought to space to support missions, so why not use the resources space can offer us?

The difficulty of having all European partners acting as one has been recognised by many, with a clear wish to be more transparent and faster in the decision making, and more efficient in investing in risky and disruptive projects.

A full programme can be found at: https://www.spaceconference.eu/programme.html