European Union


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

However, the sheer scale of space projects makes it impossible for most countries to attempt them alone. So European countries have pooled their technological and financial resources to manage space policy through the European Commission – in cooperation with the European Space Agency (an intergovernmental agency run by 22 European countries).

European space policy has 4 main strands:

  • Copernicus Earth observation system
  • Galileo/EGNOS satellite programmes
  • space exploration
  • space research

Copernicus – Earth observation

Copernicus is the most ambitious civil Earth observation programme ever.

It 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.

Copernicus will give policy-makers, businesses and the public up-to-date and reliable information about how the planet and its climate are changing. This data will help to predict future climate trends.

Copernicus data has many other applications, including:

  • urban planning
  • protecting nature
  • agriculture & forestry
  • health
  • disaster response
  • transport
  • tourism.

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

The satellite weather data agency EUMETSAT will also provide operational support to the Copernicus marine, atmosphere and climate change services.

Galileo – satellite navigation

Galileo is the EU’s global navigation satellite system. It is Europe’s version of the American Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s Glonass.

Galileo is the first civilian-run satellite navigation system. It will be compatible with the American and Russian systems, but independent from them.

With real-time positioning of 1 metre or less, it will be much more accurate than GPS.

There will be 30 satellites in the network (including 6 active spares), which will be completed by 2020. The first Galileo services will become available in 2016.

The potential applications of Galileo are many and varied, including:

  • traffic & transport management
  • rescue operations
  • farming
  • civil protection
  • time stamping & time synchronisation.

EU investment in Galileo should create new market opportunities and jobs in the satellite signal receivers and satellite-based applications sectors.

Partners in the Galileo programme:

  • European Commission – manages and fully funds programme
  • European Space Agency - design, development, procurement and validation. ESA part-funded the definition, development and in-orbit validation phases of the Galileo programme
  • European GNSS Agency (GSA) – in charge of operations once the system is completed

EGNOS – satellite augmentation system

EGNOS is a European satellite-based system that improves GPS accuracy to within 2 metres (95%) instead of the 10 metres typically provided by GPS. It also warns users of problems with GPS signals. It was the precursor to the Galileo programme.

EGNOS uses 3 satellites to correct GPS errors and provide more precise positioning data.

Unlike Galileo, EGNOS is pan-European (not global) and is dependent on GPS.

It is a joint project of the European Commission, the European Space Agency, and Eurocontrol (the European air traffic control organisation).

Examples of EGNOS applications:

  • aviation – better navigation, enables more efficient routes
  • search & rescue – easier for helicopters to land in poor conditions
  • traffic control – improving emergency response times
  • rail – tracking precise location of trains
  • precision agriculture – virtual fencing, cow fertility detection

Space exploration

Space exploration is a driver of technological innovation and scientific discovery in fields such as recycling, health, bio-technology, energy management and environmental monitoring.

Space programmes are very costly, so international cooperation is vital.

The EU is actively involved in international discussions on cooperating in space exploration, especially with the USA, Russia and China.

It participates in the International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF), a series of ministerial-level meetings on international coordination and cooperation in space exploration.


The EU is keen to develop a competitive, independent and global European space industry.

Strengthening the European space sector by boosting space research and innovation is vital if Europe is to maintain and safeguard access to and operations in space.

Funding for space research projects is available through Horizon 2020, under the Leadership in Enabling & Industrial Technologies (LEIT) work programme (€13.5 billion).

Funding areas:

  • applications in Satellite Navigation – Galileo
  • Earth observation
  • protection of European assets in and from space
  • competitiveness of the European Space Sector: technology & science
  • SME instrument (special help for small & medium-sized businesses).
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