New ESA Advisory Report Recommends Urgent Steps to Accelerate Europe’s Use of Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With warnings about an imminent climate crisis and decreasing competitiveness, an independent advisory group has recommended the European Space Agency (ESA) urgently transform the way it uses space by establishing accelerators in three key areas leveraging commercialization, user-driven approaches and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

“While space has the potential to enable effective and resilient solutions to tackle major societal challenges, it remains underutilised,” the advisory panel wrote. “The ESA Director General should investigate options for increasing the societal and economic impact of space, prioritising user-driven solutions and leveraging commercialisation, through a new concept of action, Accelerators, building on ESA’s programmatic capacities and acquired excellence.”

The independent High-Level Advisory Group on Accelerating the Use of Space in Europe was appointed by ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher. The group recommended the space agency focus on the following areas:

  • Accelerator 1 – Rapid and Resilient Crisis Response, enabling security stakeholders to ensure rapid provision of information, and quick response to climate-induced and other crises facing Europe;
  • Accelerator 2 – Space for a Green Future, using advanced space data, science & technology for sustainable life on Earth, and support society and decision makers to reach carbon neutrality by 2050;
  • Accelerator 3 – Protection of Space Assets, to ensure resilient availability and functioning of space infrastructure on which Europe’s economy and society relies for day-to-day life.

The advisory group said Europe is a facining an imminent series of challenges as a result of a deepening climate crisis.

“Unprecedented societal, economic, and security challenges face Europe. Among these, space is particularly relevant to the widespread consequences of climate change, and multitude of adverse knock-on effects on the natural environment and society,” the report said.

The advisory group said the space agency “needs to pursue a transformational agenda that embeds” the following elements:

  • Commercialisation: Further steps should be taken to stimulate the European space economy, fully leveraging the innovation excellence of industry.
  • User-driven Approach: Putting users at the core is a key condition for success to properly define the services to be delivered as well as the supporting operations.
  • Human Capital & STEM: Catalysing interest in STEM subjects amongst younger generations, investing in European Human Capital and transforming ESA to make it an attractive employer.

The advisory group warned that fierce international competition and a global competition for talent threaten to leave Europe behind as the space industry is transformed.

“Space faces a similar challenge to information technologies in the 1990s, where Europe failed to convert an abundance of raw talent into creating the world’s largest companies. In space this can only be avoided today if urgent action is taken to face the fierce competition from the United States and other parts of the world,” the report said.

The advisory group said Aschbacher should develop a series of proposals to implement the recommendations. The ESA Governing Council, composed of representatives of 22 European member nations and associate member Canada, would need to approve the changes.

The report’s executive summary and rationale and findings sections are reproduced below.

HIGH-LEVEL ADVISORY GROUP ON ACCELERATING
THE USE OF SPACE IN EUROPE

Final Report
October 2021

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In view of shaping new strategic directions, the ESA Director General has set up an independent, high-level group to advise him on ways to accelerate the use of space in Europe. The High-Level Advisory Group on Accelerating the Use of Space in Europe met at three occasions and agreed on the following recommendations.

While space has the potential to enable effective and resilient solutions to tackle major societal challenges, it remains underutilised. The ESA Director General should investigate options for increasing the societal and economic impact of space, prioritising user-driven solutions and leveraging commercialisation, through a new concept of action, Accelerators, building on ESA’s programmatic capacities and acquired excellence.

Accelerators should innovate and implement space-enabled solutions to wider societal aspirations and challenges by uniting various actors, including public and private, under a shared umbrella and blending cash, in-kind contributions and other public policy measures.

From a set of proposals put forward by the ESA Director General, three priority streams replying to urgent societal challenges have been identified for immediate action through Accelerators:

  • ACCELERATOR 1 – RAPID AND RESILIENT CRISIS RESPONSE, enabling security stakeholders to ensure rapid provision of information, and quick response to climate-induced and other crises facing Europe;
  • ACCELERATOR 2 – SPACE FOR A GREEN FUTURE, using advanced space data, science & technology for sustainable life on Earth, and support society and decision makers to reach carbon neutrality by 2050;
  • ACCELERATOR 3 – PROTECTION OF SPACE ASSETS, to ensure resilient availability and functioning of space infrastructure on which Europe’s economy and society relies for day-to-day life.

The Accelerators require a stepwise approach in order to build-up consensus with the ESA Member States and potential partners to define common objectives and aggregate resources.

Looking further ahead and considering the potential for breakthrough developments in science and technology, the High-Level Advisory Group recommends the ESA Director General initiates preparatory steps towards a sample return mission from icy moons of giant planets.

The High-Level Advisory Group also recommends the ESA Director General investigates the technical, political, programmatic, and economic aspects of developing Europe-made human space transportation solutions.

To successfully deliver on these ambitions and tackle new challenges, ESA needs to pursue a transformational agenda that embeds:

  • Commercialisation: Further steps should be taken to stimulate the European space economy, fully leveraging the innovation excellence of industry.
  • User-driven approach: Putting users at the core is a key condition for success to properly define the services to be delivered as well as the supporting operations.
  • Human Capital & STEM: Catalysing interest in STEM subjects amongst younger generations, investing in European Human Capital and transforming ESA to make it an attractive employer.

With a proven track record of successful European Cooperation in space, Accelerators provide an opportunity to combine strengths and resources of various actors in response to the most urgent societal challenges for Europe.

In international space cooperation, where ESA serves as Europe’s gateway to the world, initiating partnerships to tackle global challenges will position Europe in a leadership role.

The High-Level Advisory Group recommends to the ESA Director General to immediately take action and formulate proposals to initiate the Accelerators and implement a Transformational Agenda, with ESA Member States and other partners, on the provided recommendations.

RATIONALE AND FINDINGS

Urgency to act: During his address to the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in 2021, the UN Secretary General called on the world to wake up as “we are on the edge of an abyss, moving in the wrong direction and “our world has never been more threatened” while facing “the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes.”

Imminent societal challenges: Unprecedented societal, economic, and security challenges face Europe. Among these, space is particularly relevant to the widespread consequences of climate change, and multitude of adverse knock-on effects on the natural environment and society.

Users not yet at the core of space solutions: Initiatives addressing societal challenges need to be user-driven, and formal steps should be taken to ensure that user needs are key in driving programme development.

Space is underutilised: Space-based capabilities can make the difference in effectively tackling many of these issues, but are underutilised, falling short of their full socio-economic and strategic potential.

The cost of not taking action: Decision-making processes must take account of the potential costs of not addressing societal challenges in justifying space solutions.

Space – the integrator: Space needs to be embedded in wider policymaking ambitions and considered as a key tool, used in a transverse manner. In this respect Europe needs a “Putting-Space-To-Work policy” to leverage unique capabilities offered by space.

European excellence and strategy under pressure: New policies and actors have emerged, increasingly pressing institutions across the whole of Europe to reassess their long-term strategic approach (see Annex A). Space faces a similar challenge to information technologies in the 1990s, where Europe failed to convert an abundance of raw talent into creating the world’s largest companies. In space this can only be avoided today if urgent action is taken to face the fierce competition from the United States and other parts of the world.

Embracing Commercialisation: Europe needs to more strongly embrace the commercialisation of space taking place world-wide, taking full advantage of service-oriented procurement and new contracting schemes to develop new sectors of the economy, stimulate innovation, and serve public and societal needs more effectively.

Driving enthusiasm and inspiration: Pioneering space missions and solutions to global challenges reinforce the role of space as an ambassador of excellence, sparking inspiration through scientific and engineering achievements, demonstrating the essential role these disciplines will play for our common future.

The race for talent: The space sector needs to attract the best and brightest talent by clearly presenting the transformative impact that space has upon society and catalyse the development of STEM skills in parallel to managerial and political expertise.

Expanding to new partners: Building on its wide experience of cooperation, ESA shall address new partners and innovative applications using an integrated approach to communications and stakeholder engagement, to build credibility and confidence, making use of all relevant channels to engage with decision and policymakers as well as the general public.

A new concept of action: By focusing on users and targeting wider European policy ambitions, a completely new model of conception, funding and execution is needed, aggregating public and private resources, in full synergy with ESA’s activities and programmes.

With a view to shaping new strategic directions, the ESA Director General has set up an independent, high-level group to advise him on ways to accelerate the use of space in Europe. The High-level Advisory Group advises the ESA Director General to consider the above findings in the further steps towards elaboration of his proposals to ESA Member States.

Consistent with the ESA Agenda 2025, the Agency should adapt and initiate the necessary transformation to provide Europe with effective tools to face future challenges where space has a major role to play. This implies user-driven missions implemented through new categories of programmes and adequate investment in its Human Resource strategy to attract the best talent.