What can Europe do for your Space Start-up?

Vera Pinto Gomes, Space Policy Analyst at European Commission

Vera Pinto Gomes, Space Policy Analyst at European Commission

The Disrupt Space 2017 brought the most promising space startups to meet with top investors and executives. This two-day event took place in Berlin and was fueled with business meetings, inspiring keynotes and hands on activities to foster collaboration towards building a sustainable space economy. Our colleague Vera Pinto Gomes* was on the Summit and presented the main highlights on the current and future status of EU space programmes that will benefit start-ups:


1. Space Strategy – our vision for the next years to come

With the Space Strategy, European Commission has set its vision for the next 10-15 years:
Create a European market for space based applications and services.

  • Shift the focus from building the infrastructure to creating the right environment for the space data economy.
  • Promote the uptake of Copernicus, EGNOS and Galileo
  • Ease the access to Copernicus data so that more start- ups can access to them
  • Embrace disruptive technological evolutions and promote the emergence of dynamic European ecosystems of space start-ups.
  • The space strategy proposes many objectives. The European Commission is now translating these objectives into concrete actions.

2. Galileo – providing new business opportunities

2016 was a major year in setting up the European satellite navigation system, Galileo.
There are now 18 satellites in orbit and the ground infrastructure has been deployed. The goal is to complete the Galileo infrastructure by 2020.

Since December 2016, three Galileo Initial services are available: the Open Service (Galileo´s freely accessible service for positioning, navigation and timing) the Public Regulated Service (an encrypted service designed for greater robustness and assured availability) and the Search and Rescue Service (an important tool for locating people in distress).

Positioning and timing signals provided by satellite navigation systems are used in many critical areas of the economy: mobile phone networks and electronic trading, in-car navigation, effective road, sea and air traffic management, power grid synchronization, search and rescue
Already today, 11% of Europe’s GDP rely on satellite navigation.

Satellite navigation is a growing market! For the years to come, a growth of 8,3 % annually is expected. Satellite navigation offers many opportunities for jobs in the EU, in a wide range of sectors such as space, receivers and applications industries.

What opportunities does Galileo provide?
Galileo has specific features which no other satnav system offers. These features open the way for innovative applications.

  • Higher accuracy. In tests, Galileo provided the highest accuracy ever transmitted by a Global navigation system (a few decimeters). Today, with Galileo, around 4 meters precision can be reached, rather than 15 meters with GPS only. In the future, the Galileo Commercial Service will include a positioning service with a high accuracy down to a few centimeters. This opens the window for many new applications (e.g. in the area of automated vehicles, drones, ships).
  • Authentication. In 2014, there was a project with the first ever digitally signed signal transmitted by a global satellite navigation system – and this system was Galileo. By next year, it will be possible to use this feature: Galileo will provide a digital signature to its Open Service, to prevent “hacking”, similar to other digital applications (e.g. internet digital certificates). Moreover, Galileo will provide encrypted signals in its Commercial Service, so only users with the cryptographic key can use it.
  • Better time synchronisation for critical infrastructures: Galileo will, through its high precision clocks, enable more resilient time synchronization of banking and financial transactions, telecommunications and energy distribution networks such as smart-grids.
  • Secure services for public authorities: Galileo will also support public authorities such as civil protection services, humanitarian aid services, customs officers and the police through the Public Regulated Service. It will offer a particularly robust and fully encrypted service for government users during national emergencies or crisis situations, such as terrorist attacks, to ensure continuity of services.
  • Support to emergency operations: Moreover, Galileo will revolutionize search and rescue operations, by including a feature that allows informing the person in distress that his/her help request was received (the return link). Until recently, it took hours to detect a person lost at sea or in the mountains. With the Galileo contribution, it will take 10 minutes.

The potential areas of application are huge – and they are not yet fully exploited. It is up to the entrepreneurs to exploit them! Because Galileo is now a reality!

  • Smartphones: The first European Galileo-ready smartphone is now available in the stores (produced by the Spanish technology company BQ, Aquaris X5 Plus). In March, two other leading smartphone brands – Sony and Huawei – launched the first Galileo enabled mobile phones. In 2010, only 3 smart phone receiver manufacturers adopted Galileo – today, Galileo is adopted by 17 manufacturers, representing more than 95% of the global supply chain.
  • Car navigation: By 2018, Galileo will be integrated in every new car model sold in Europe, providing enhanced navigation services and the eCall emergency response system.

The European Commission wants to continue:

  • By providing funding to companies to develop services and applications via Horizon 2020 (€140 million for research on GNSS applications between 2014 and 2020).
  • By providing support to entrepreneurs who develop Galileo enabled chipsets and receivers. The Fundamental Elements programme budget is €111 million from 2015 to 2020.
  • Finally, the European Commission is developing a “Galileo Start-up Programme”, to promote the start-up creation in the downstream sector, including the “Galileo Masters”, the “Galileo Accerator” and the “Galileo Hackathons”.

3. Copernicus – providing new business opportunities

The Copernicus programme is fully operational. Last month, Sentinel 2B was launched successfully. Copernicus has now 5 satellites in orbit with 6 thematic services providing free images and information on the state of our planet (atmosphere, oceans, land cover).
All Copernicus data and services are free and open to everyone through the website: http://copernicus.eu/data-access

This is a fantastic opportunity for start-ups, which can use free Copernicus data to develop new commercial applications, in many areas (agriculture, tourism, construction…).

  • Building Radar, a German start-up, winner of the 2015 Copernicus Masters, is using Copernicus data to locate construction sites, an information that they sell to construction companies.
  • Synergize, a Slovenian start-up, winner of the 2016 Copernicus Masters, is developing a platform to access Copernicus data. They have sold their products to Amazon.

The Commission has set the priority for easy access to Copernicus data.

A new industry-led platforms to deliver access to Copernicus data and services will be set up. The platforms should act as a marketplace, which gives access to many different data sources, services and cloud computing.

Moreover, Copernicus has developed a Start-up Programme, with similar features like the Galileo Start-up Programme. The aim is to support start-ups from the generation of a business idea to its full commercialisation. There are the Copernicus Master, the Copernicus Accelerator, the Copernicus Incubation Programme and the Copernicus Hackathons to help to create and develop business ideas using Copernicus data.

4. Start- up and Scale up Initiative- Getting the right framework conditions and supporting start-ups

Finally, European Commission Start-up and Scale-Up Initiative was adopted in November 2016. This initiative brings together a range of existing and new actions to create a better framework for start-ups:

  • Improved access to finance. The European Commission and the European Investment Bank are launching a Pan-European Venture Capital Fund of Funds. The EU will provide up to a maximum budget of €400 million. The fund manager(s) must raise at least three times as much from private sources. This means additional investments to Venture Capital of around €1.6 billion, which would be a major boost, as the total of Venture Capital funds raised last year in the EU was €5 billion. European Commission hopes that the European Venture Capital Fund of Funds can potentially be a game changer on the European VC market. The objective is to have this fund up and running this year.
  • Second chance for entrepreneurs: European Commission has tabled a legislative proposal on insolvency law, which allows companies in financial difficulties to restructure early, to prevent bankruptcy and avoid laying off staff. It will also make it easier for entrepreneurs to benefit from a second chance, as they will be fully discharged of their debt after 3 years.
  • Simpler tax filings: The European Commission is working on a range of taxation simplifications. e.g. proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax base, plans for a simplification of the EU VAT system.

Next to addressing the framework conditions for start-ups in Europe, the European Commission has many support measures for SMEs:

  • Via the “Access2Finance” Website, companies looking for money can receive, in a customised way, information about the specific programmes that responds to their needs, as well as the contact partners for submitting an application.
  • Via the IPR help desk, – a “Helpline service” (telephone & email) -, SMEs can receive – free of charge – information on IPR.
  • Via the Enterprise Europe Network, SMEs can receive tailor-made, free of charge business and innovation support services.

In conclusion, Europe has much to offer for space business

  • a vision
  • a high class space infrastructure (Galileo, Copernicus)
  • good framework conditions, which European Commission is further improving
  • a range of concrete support measures

The European Commission wants to make sure that its space policy is successful. Entrepreneurs are part of this success by developing solutions and market applications which are building on Galileo and Copernicus.

*Vera Pinto Gomes is a space policy analyst currently working at the European Satellite Navigation Programs (Galileo & EGNOS). She is a member of the History Committee of the International Academy of Astronautics and keeps a Portuguese blog on space policy. Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

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