The European Space Forum returned to Brussels in July 2023 as a premier gathering for key stakeholders and thought leaders in the space industry. The event, hosted by Forum Europe, was held over the course of two full days. Participants were brought into various space domain discussions through thematic sessions, enriching the dialogue around Europe’s space ambitions and challenges. With the recently released EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence serving as a backdrop, this year’s event focused on the theme of ‘Strength, security, resilience – Protecting Europe’s interests in and through space’.
Space as a strategic lever
The forum revolved around critical pillars of security and defence, sustainability, competition, innovation, and connectivity, all integral aspects as Europe strives to cement its position as a formidable and resilient leader in the global space market. The discussions centred on how Europe can effectively deliver on its space ambitions while safeguarding its interests and maintaining a competitive edge. The context of the EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence permeated all sessions as open dialogue with the audience allowed stakeholders to discuss security, policy, and the use of space as a great enabler.
Space in Defence: Lessons learned in Ukraine
Security and defence were one of the central topics addressed at the European Space Forum 2023. As space becomes increasingly contested, Europe recognizes the need to protect its assets for civilian and military purposes. Participants explored strategies to strengthen Europe’s space security, examining ways to enhance situational awareness, develop resilient space infrastructure, and foster international cooperation.
“Ukraine was an eye-opener for space and military applications”
Guillaume de La Brosse, Head of Unit for Innovation, Startups and Economics at DG DEFIS, explained that there are challenges when it comes to using space assets, such as Copernicus, in Ukraine, citing that the military must first define the parameters of the tools they needed for space-based assets to be compatible with the mission. However, when the needs are known, space data and applications prove to be quite adaptable.
Dialogue between the audience and the panel proved to be fruitful as discussions were had on the efficacy of the European Space program for military applications, concluding that the EU does well in its operation in the dual use of space for civilian and military purposes.
Pascal Legai, Senior Adviser to ESA DG and the Security Coordinator of ESA, on the other hand, reaffirmed ESA’s drive to stick to research and development. While defence is not part of ESA’s mandate, there is a substantial civil security aspect that ESA fully intends to abide by. For instance, using space data can and will contribute to situational awareness, allowing policy and decision-makers to make informed decisions.
The State of Innovation and Funding in Europe
Competition and innovation were key drivers throughout the event. Europe recognizes the need to remain competitive in the rapidly evolving global space market. The session’ Funding and investment in an uncertain world‘ provided an opportunity to explore cutting-edge technologies, novel business models, and investments and entrepreneurship in the space sector. Discussions centred on fostering innovation ecosystems, nurturing startups, and attracting investment to propel Europe’s space industry forward.
“Small budgets but meaningful results”
Yvan-Michel Ehkirch, Managing partner at Karista, expressed satisfaction with how newspace startups and scaleups have been shaping up in Europe. He states that there is more abundant funding now in the form of VCs focused on space looking at newspace applications, and digital VCs looking at space aspects of data. However, Ehkirch states that even with startups having a global outlook, institutions will still have to step up if Europe hopes to compete with larger space industries, such as the US.
While budgets for space projects are becoming more available across several European organisations, navigating funding instruments remains daunting—dotSPACE endeavours to simplify and support the challenging task of securing appropriate and pertinent funding opportunities. Our Open Calls portal serves as a valuable resource to propel your space technologies, satellite, or remote sensing projects forward. By curating a comprehensive catalogue of funding opportunities encompassing all verticals within the space industry, dotSPACE aims to assist in getting your initiatives off the ground.
From Sustainability to Sovereignty – Space as the Great Enabler
Sustainability emerged as another crucial pillar of the forum’s discussions. With the growing concern for space debris and environmental impact, the session ‘Harnessing the power of the European Space Sector to deliver a Green Future” offered a platform to address these challenges. Experts shared insights into sustainable space practices, the fit between space and the EU’s climate and sustainability goals, and mitigating the ecological footprint of space activities. By prioritizing sustainability, Europe seeks to lead by example and ensure the long-term viability of space exploration and utilization.
Agnieszka Lukaszczyk, representing Planet, underscores the crucial role of space in our collective pursuit of a green future, stating, “We cannot protect something that we cannot measure, and we cannot measure something we cannot define.” Her statement highlights the significance of European activity in space and the invaluable data it generates. By harnessing space technology and the wealth of information it provides, Europe gains the ability to measure and monitor various environmental factors accurately, enabling informed decision-making and adequate protection of our planet’s resources. The data obtained from European space initiatives empower policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders to define and implement sustainable practices, paving the way for a greener and more resilient future.
“In the digital age, European sovereignty relies on cyber and space”
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, who delivered a keynote speech on the second day of the European Space Forum, emphasized the profound impact of space on nearly every facet of life on Earth- including European sovereignty. Highlighting ESA’s commitment to Earth Observation, Aschbacher revealed that one-fourth of the agency’s budget is allocated specifically for this crucial endeavour. This significant investment underscores ESA’s recognition of Earth Observation’s immense value and potential in addressing global challenges, fostering sustainable development, and ensuring European sovereignty and self-reliance. Aschbacher’s remarks remind us of the pivotal role that space plays in our daily lives and reaffirm ESA’s dedication to leveraging space technology for the betterment of our planet and its inhabitants.
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher alongside Forum Europe Chairman Paul Adamson. Photo by Forum Europe
In dialogue with the audience, Aschbacher iterates that Europe is waking up- both public and private entities are shaping up to contribute to the advancement of the European space industry and, in turn, are incorporating space as a new vertical in their everyday business: “Space is in a golden age”.
With the discussions during European Space Forum 2023 as a jumping point, Europe is poised to deliver on its space strategy and secure its position as a strong and resilient leader in the global space market. The event facilitated meaningful discussions, enabling participants to exchange ideas, highlight challenges, and identify opportunities for collaboration.
European Space Forum 2023 concluded on a high note, recognising exemplary achievements in the space industry. The Innovation in Space Award, given to Exolaunch, and the Sustainability in Space Award, awarded to ENPULSION, highlighted the remarkable work already accomplished in these fields. These awards, determined through voting by a jury that included the conference participants, not only celebrate the accomplishments of these visionary companies but also serve as a shining example of what lies ahead. They inspire and encourage the entire space community to continue pushing the boundaries of innovation and sustainability, propelling Europe’s space ambitions forward and shaping the industry’s future.
As the European Space Forum concluded with enthusiasm and determination, the insights and outcomes generated will undoubtedly shape Europe’s future in space. Europe remains committed to protecting its interests, driving innovation, and fostering international partnerships to successfully navigate the evolving space landscape. The European Space Forum 2023 showcased Europe’s dedication to space exploration, technological advancement, and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. By harnessing the strength, security, resilience, and unity emphasized throughout the event, Europe is well-positioned to safeguard its interests in and through space while making significant contributions to the betterment of humanity.
To delve deeper into the key takeaways from the forum and gain valuable insights from esteemed speakers, we encourage you to look forward to the upcoming interviews that dotSPACE had with industry leaders, policymakers, and experts. These interviews, to be featured by dotSPACE, will provide an opportunity to hear firsthand about Europe’s space ambitions, technological advancements, collaborative initiatives, and the roadmap ahead.
Sign up for our newsletter to read more about this event and learn more about other space industry events.