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Explainer: What is the European Union Agency for the Space Programme?

EUSPA was officially launched this year as part of the EU’s €14.8 billion space programme.
Sep 13th 2021, 7:00 PM 5,244 3

THE NEW EUROPEAN Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) launched its #myEUspace competition this month. 

The competition, which was unveiled on 1 September to much fanfare, asks innovators and entrepreneurs to develop and commercialise new products that use EU space data and services. 

Teams will submit ideas that fall into one of six categories: smart mobility, mobile applications, environmental challenges, surveying products, satellite use in farming and quantum technologies. 

Applications are open until 15 November, with over 50 awards and a prize of €1,000,000 to be awarded next year. 

But aside from organising competitions for new products that use space data, what is EUSPA, and what is their role in contributing towards Europe’s space projects?

What is EUSPA and what do they do? 

EUSPA was officially launched in May as part of the EU’s new €14.8 billion space programme for the years 2021 to 2027, the biggest budget ever allocated by the EU to fund space projects. 

It was formed in line with the new EU Space Regulation, where it was decided that the scope of the former European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) would be expanded to include new responsibilities.

The GSA, formed in 2004, managed the EU’s Galileo satellite system for 15 years. EUSPA is set to build on the past work of the GSA to create partnerships that will help to develop EU space services both in Europe and around the world.

EUSPA is a separate agency to the European Space Agency (ESA). The ESA is an intergovernmental agency that focuses on the technical elements of science, research and exploration of the universe, while EUSPA is an EU agency focused on managing, operating and marketing the satellites in orbit.

Based in Prague, EUSPA now manages the operations and service provision of the Galileo and EGNOS satellite navigation programmes, as well as the EU’s Earth observation programme Copernicus, bringing all of the European space projects under one organisation. 

It is also responsible for managing the security of all components of the EU space programme, including ensuring that the systems in operation are compliant with the general security requirements established on the basis of the threat and risk analysis. 

Satellite systems 

EUSPA has a broad portfolio of work under its belt. 

Galileo is the European global satellite-based navigation system. Launched in 2016, it allows users to know exactly where they are in the world by providing extremely accurate global positioning information. 

Described as a “game changer” for autonomous driving and commercial drones, it provides safe and secure satellite navigation services worldwide for improved positioning, navigation and timing information, with a location accuracy of 20cm

While the European Commission is ultimately responsible for the Galileo programme, EUSPA is responsible for deploying the system, overseeing how its infrastructure is used and ensuring that its services are delivered as planned.

EUSPA also manages the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), used to improve the performance of global navigation satellite systems.

Since being declared operational in 2009, the EGNOS Open Service has been augmenting satellite navigation signal (GPS), enabling their use in safety-critical applications such as the aviation sector. It is now operational in over 360 airports and helipads in 23 countries. 

EGNOS increases the accuracy of satellite positioning signals and provides a crucial ‘integrity message‘ that informs users in the event of signal problems.

In addition to the aviation sector, EGNOS extends the scope of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) applications in a number of other sectors, including road, rail, maritime, surveying and mapping, location-based services and agriculture.

Earth observation and security

EUSPA are also in charge of the Copernicus programme, the biggest provider of Earth observation data in the world.

Copernicus consists of a complex set of systems that collect data from Earth observation satellites and in-situ sensors like ground stations, as well as airborne and sea-borne sensors.

The programme helps to train Artificial Intelligence (AI) and enable big data analytics in many areas, producing more than 16TB of high-quality full and open Earth observation data each day.

The information provided by the Copernicus services can be used for a wide range of applications in a variety of sectors, including urban area management, sustainable development and nature protection, agriculture, health and transport. 

In addition to these programmes, the EUSPA now coordinates the EU’s governmental satellite communications programme, GOVSATCOM. 

The programme was set up in response to new, emerging security threats.

According to EUSPA, the programme’s main aim is to provide “secure and cost-efficient communications capabilities to security and safety critical missions and operations managed by the European Union and its member states, including national security actors and EU Agencies and institutions”. 

The GOVSATCOM service can be used for crisis management purposes. This includes civilian and military missions and operations, natural and man-made disasters, humanitarian crisis and civil protection. 

It can also be used for surveillance purposes, such as border and maritime surveillance, and for key infrastructure management, including EU space infrastructures such as Galileo and EGNOS.

Space and the Green Deal

As well as managing these numerous programmes, EUSPA are also supporting the implementation of EU priorities, such as the Green Deal and digital transition.

Both Galileo and EGNOS are contributing towards reducing pollution individually. 

Through providing accurate positioning to road users, the use of Galileo in cars can reduce journey times by more than 10%, helping to contribute to curbing harmful emissions and reducing pollution.

The aviation sector is the second biggest source of transport greenhouse gas emissions after road transport, creating around 13.9% of the overall emissions from transport.

By enabling aircrafts to land safely under challenging weather conditions such as fog, EGNOS helps to reduce the frequency of aborted landings and, therefore emissions. According to EUSPA, an estimated 80,000 flight delays and 20,000 diversions will be avoided in the EU by 2025 through the use of EGNOS. 

EUSPA are also tapping into synergies between these components of the EU Space Programme in order to further the green transition.

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For example, farmers can now combine information on crop health and soil moisture provided by Copernicus with positioning services from Galileo and EGNOS to use water, fertilizers and other resources where they are most needed.

It is estimated that until 2025, the combination of these services can help save 1.5 million tonnes of fertiliser and 4,500 tonnes of pesticides in Europe. 

Space synergies can also be used to improve livestock farming. Spanish company Ixorigue is using satellite and other technology to improve livestock management in difficult geographical environments, such as mountainous terrain.

A collar tracks the movement and activity of the animals, checking their geolocation periodically and transferring the information back to a Cloud platform. The data is then analysed and processed, making it possible to determine certain behaviour patterns and possible problems in the animals.

This achieves better geo-localisation of the animals, as well as determining the best grazing areas and the state of the pasture available to the cattle, making it less of a challenge for farmers.

Another project that utilizes space synergies for the benefit of more sustainable agriculture is the FaST digital service platform. Using data from both Galileo and Copernicus, the platform aims to provide EU farmers, member state agencies, farm advisors and developers of digital solutions with capabilities for agriculture, environment and sustainability. 

According to EUSPA, the FaST platform will help lay the foundations of a comprehensive digital ecosystem for sustainable farm and land management in Europe, supporting farmers in their administrative decision-making processes for both farm profitability and environmental sustainability.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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