The new European Union Agency for the Space Program and its relationship with the European Space Agency

European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA): this is the name of the new space agency created by the European Parliament and the Council with Regulation 696/2021 of 28 April. EUSPA is not an agency created ex novo. On the contrary, it represents the structured evolution of the European GNSS Agency (GSA) to which it fully succeeded. Unlike the GSA, EUSPA has the task of “governing” not only the satellite navigation programs of the European Union but also those of Earth observation and telecommunications.
In general, EUSPA manages the Union’s space programs carried out so far by other European bodies, bringing with it a wealth of know-how and integration of technologies used by the downstream industries that have made the difference in the management of missions and other space programs. In particular, EUSPA is in charge of providing positioning, navigation and timing services with the Galileo and EGNOS components, as well as communicating, promoting and developing the market for data, information and services derived from Copernicus and GOVSATCOM, both from the aforementioned Galileo and EGNOS. From the synergies of these components, EUSPA has the task of implementing the Union’s space programs by providing reliable services and maximizing the economic and social benefits for European companies and societies. The objective is also to improve competitiveness by promoting and strengthening the autonomy, development and technological independence of the Union and its Member States, also with a view to achieving a common defence system. In general, EUSPA aims to support the development of a broader European space ecosystem, with a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation in the Member States and regions of the Union. As argued by Rodrigo Da Costa (Executive Director of GSA and now of EUSPA) it is necessary to develop and implement the downstream sector in the European context. In short, it is the case to say: EUSPA is preparing to launch a new European model of approach to space that can be strategically decisive not only economically but also geopolitically.
The creation of EUSPA must be considered in light of the Brexit issue. With the final exit of the United Kingdom, the Union has indeed had to reconsider the evolution of security space programs at the European Space Agency (ESA) and relocate and organize them ex novo at entities under direct control of the Union bodies: the Galileo program is an example.  It is precisely the British issue that has raised doubts about the advisability of relying solely on ESA for European space matters. The United Kingdom, in fact, being one of the major contributors to ESA, could well tend to adopt strategies that are not necessarily in favor of the European Union.  
It should also be considered that the British space industry has always been connected to the programs developed by the rest of Europe, in a relationship of coexistence and cooperation among the most developed compared to the other (former) European partners. With Brexit, Europe will no longer be able to count on the economic contribution from UK allocations. In fact, the U.K. will not be automatically included in EUSPA projects, yet it will remain a member of ESA. In other words, U.K. will participate in some projects only in cooperation with EUSPA and not directly with the Union’s flagship programs.
The EUSPA founding regulation also emphasized the importance of ensuring the cyber security of European space infrastructure, both ground-based and in-orbit, to ensure the continued operation of systems and services. The need to protect systems and related services from cyber-attacks will be possible by using new technologies and, above all, by exploiting the skills of European entrepreneurship.
Because of the reasons listed above, the creation of EUSPA has certainly received praise from many of the experts in the space sector. However, when talking about “European space” one cannot avoid considering the relationship with the European Space Agency (ESA). Technically, ESA is an international agency that is not directly controlled by the European Union but is co-financed by it. In other words, being a member of the EU does not mean being part of the ESA, whose membership is only optional. In fact, some countries are effective members of ESA but not of the European Union: this is the case of Switzerland and Norway (and, as mentioned above, the United Kingdom).

Given that ESA also has extensive competencies in Earth observation and satellite navigation programs, such as Copernicus and Galileo respectively, it is not clear if and how the risks arising from overlapping budgets and investments can be avoided. The relationship between ESA and EUSPA, therefore, implies both an industrial challenge and a legal challenge: harmonizing at European level (therefore both between states and their respective space agencies and between European space agencies) these two elements means sharing and defending the capabilities present in the region, while maintaining a degree of autonomy as high as possible. For the two agencies to work together seems therefore an unavoidable necessity: to be competitive in the global scenario it is important to combine together all the skills and technologies available, being able to draw on them for the development of complementary and parallel programs and missions. The effectiveness of the ESA-EUSPA collaboration represents a factor too crucial for the successful implementation of services to the population and for missions of exploration or purely scientific-academic value. The same Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, in the Agenda 2025, has highlighted the need to intensify the relationship with the European Union and the European Commission” for the development of a space sector at the service of policies, citizens and industry.” The Financial Framework Partnership Agreement last June 22 between ESA and the EU (and thus EUSPA), which seeks to define tasks on joint projects, is only the first step in precisely defining the tasks of EUSPA and ESA.
If the collaboration is to be further strengthened, the prerogatives of the two agencies will also have to be better assigned and defined. In this sense, for the future, it is desirable to proceed towards a greater valorization of the respective peculiarities. The ESA, while continuing to be the main partner of the Union, should limit itself only to assuming technical and scientific responsibility for the development, design and construction of infrastructure. The almost 50 years of ESA know-how will be a crucial element to carry out the ambitious European space program. EUSPA, on the other hand, should assume the prominent role of “manager” of the space observation, navigation and communication components, thus exploiting synergies to the benefit of the downstream value chain in the areas of market monitoring, development of new business strategies for research and development (R&D) and coordination of public and private sector activities.

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