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Space: Still an important Matter of National Prestige?

During the Cold War, space technology and manned space missions were seen as a matter of national prestige

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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So, this ambitious Earth Observation programme involves 60 companies across 20 European countries plus Canada and the USA, led by Airbus Defence and Space as the prime contractor company. And that’s not all. In a statement NASA said, “given the similar mission concept of the US Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), ESA and NASA entered into a collaborative agreement… The Sentinel-2 constellation also provides great opportunities for fusion with Landsat 8 and the Landsat constellation, and US researchers look forward to continuing work with European colleagues on characterizing both sensing systems.”
So, this ambitious Earth Observation programme involves 60 companies across 20 European countries plus Canada and the USA, led by Airbus Defence and Space as the prime contractor company. And that’s not all. In a statement NASA said, “given the similar mission concept of the US Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), ESA and NASA entered into a collaborative agreement… The Sentinel-2 constellation also provides great opportunities for fusion with Landsat 8 and the Landsat constellation, and US researchers look forward to continuing work with European colleagues on characterizing both sensing systems.”

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by Margarita Chrysaki*

However, the recent evolution of satellite data infrastructure, which has focused on Earth observation, satellite navigation, telecommunications and civil security seems to redefine the use of Space for both political development and the market place. What was once the primary tool to gain national prestige now turns out to be more important as a matter of infrastructure. And there are two reasons why that is.

1. Space is no longer a One-Man Show. Individual countries and space agencies engage primarily in multilateral collaborations on space projects, due to the complex and extremely costly infrastructure for activities in Space. Applying this type of collaborative space policy saves money and increases the scientific yield. Hence, achieving success in Space results from the dialogue established among many countries and industries, rather than on the actions of one country.

The most recent example was the launch of the satellite Sentinel 2-B, which lifted off on a Vega** rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 7 March 2017. This satellite belongs to a new family of missions called Sentinels, which are specifically used for the operational needs of the European Commission's Copernicus programme, which is funded by the ESA Member States and the European Union. Together with its twin, Sentinel 2- A launched in 2015, the Sentinel 2-B will fly from the same polar orbit, 180 degrees apart and get a full global acquisition at least once every five days. The satellites' Optical Multi-Spectral Imager ensures that every spot on Earth can be covered in high resolution. It’s a mission dedicated to sustainable developments for the constant monitoring of Earth and coasts, forestry and humanitarian relief in disaster events.

So, this ambitious Earth Observation programme involves 60 companies across 20 European countries plus Canada and the USA, led by Airbus Defence and Space as the prime contractor company. And that’s not all. In a statement NASA said, “given the similar mission concept of the US Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), ESA and NASA entered into a collaborative agreement… The Sentinel-2 constellation also provides great opportunities for fusion with Landsat 8 and the Landsat constellation, and US researchers look forward to continuing work with European colleagues on characterizing both sensing systems.”

2. Data is the gold from Space. The focus on the current space strategy had shifted to what we call Earth-centric activities, like Earth Observation missions. These missions provide us with data that are quite important not only to gain a better understanding of our planet but also to create added-value on all levels of the Earth Observation value chain. 

Earth observation programmes’ Director, Josef Aschbacher stated that: ‘Based on some external studies of what is the value of Sentinel 2-b or the Copernicus programme in general, showed that one euro invested for the Copernicus brings 10 euros back to the economy as better information leads to better decision making’. Also, these high quality data, complemented with ground data will fill in any gaps on information and assist monitoring systems for management purposes.

Today Space is mostly seen as a question for infrastructure because it impacts on our daily lives. It’s about serving us as humans, providing huge economic benefits and protecting the environment. Also, in view of the increasingly growing collaboration between many countries in implementing expensive space projects, the feeling of national prestige that was closely associated with space technology and missions is now is gradually disappearing.

* Margarita Chrysaki is a Brussels-based Political Scientist. She has a BSc and a Master in Political Sciences with special focus on Corporate Social Responsibility in Greek banks. Currently, she is making a profound research in the field of space activities and EU strategy on Space. 

**Operated together with Ariane5 and Soyuz, Vega has an essential role within the Arianespace commercial launcher family. Vega officially became an ESA developed programme in June 1998, when the Agency inherited the small-launcher programme of Italy’s ASI space agency.

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