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Many aspects of our society - from telecommunications to television, weather forecasting to global financial systems – rely on space systems or space-based technologies.

The European space policy focuses on:

  • the Earth observation system Copernicus and satellite navigation systems Galileo/EGNOS
  • space exploration
  • helping European companies get involved in the space industry.

Copernicus – monitoring the environment

Copernicus is a set of complex systems that gather data about the earth through satellites and sensors on the ground, in the sky and at sea. This provides policy-makers, businesses and people with up-to-date and reliable information about how the planet and its climate are changing.

Artist’s image of the Sentinel-2 satellite above the Earth

This Copernicus satellite – known as Sentinel-2, will provide high-resolution images of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas.

This information is used for many purposes, including:

  • urban planning
  • sustainable development
  • protecting nature
  • agriculture and forestry
  • health
  • emergency management
  • transport
  • tourism.

Copernicus is coordinated and managed by the European Commission. Satellite infrastructure is the responsibility of the European Space Agency, and the sensors are developed by the European Environment Agency and individual EU countries.

Galileo - global positioning service

Galileo is Europe's programme for a global satellite navigation system. Unlike its American and Russian counterparts, Galileo is, and will remain, under civil (not military) control.

The Earth surrounded by orbiting satellites © ESA–J. Huart

Europe’s satellite navigation system, Galileo provides highly accurate global positioning data for civilian use.

Once it is fully operational (well before 2020, although the initial services will be delivered in 2014), 30 satellites will be providing global positioning data. Its state-of-the-art technologies and built-in interoperability with other GNSS systems (like the American GPS), will provide much more precise positioning than anything that is currently available.

The potential applications of Galileo are multiple. Examples include:

  • traffic and transport management
  • rescue operations
  • agriculture
  • civil protection
  • time stamping and time synchronisation.

It is expected that the EU’s investments in Galileo will be repaid in terms of new market opportunities and jobs in the receivers and applications sector.

Partners in the Galileo programme are:

  • European Space Agency - design, development, procurement and validation. ESA co-funded the definition, development and in-orbit validation phases of the Galileo programme
  • European Commission – management and full-funding of the phase leading to full operational capability
  • European GNSS Agency (GSA) - operation once the system is ready

EGNOS

The European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System is a system that augments the quality of existing satellite navigation systems (like the American GPS), improving their accuracy from about 10 metres to about 2 metres. It also sends alerts in case of system failures.

It was Europe's first venture into the field of satellite navigation. EGNOS is already in service at many European airports, making possible precision approaches with horizontal and vertical guidance, for a fraction of the price of an Instrument Landing System (ILS).

Space exploration

The European Commission has proposed working more closely with the international space station, and establishing an international platform to identify areas of space exploration open to international cooperation.

Research

EU-funded space research projects are exploring ways to ensure sustainable development – for example by monitoring the implementation of Kyoto protocol measures – and increasing security through technologies for border checks and crisis management.

Strength in numbers

The sheer scale of space projects makes it impossible for most countries to attempt them alone. Different countries have to pool their technological and financial capacities. The EU holds ‘space dialogues’ with strategic partners such as the US and Russia with a view to increasing cooperation, and also works very closely with the European Space Agency.

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