Europe's Earth Observation Program GMES at Stake

bridges, vol. 33, May 2012 / Letter from Brussels

By Christian Eisner


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Christian EisnerChristian EisnerIn Europe, space policy is principally based on the contributions by three main actors: the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Union (EU), and the national states. The aim of developing a common EU Space Policy (ESP) building upon achievements by ESA and the Member States was initiated in 2004, when ESA and the European Community concluded an agreement that provided a formal political framework for cooperation. In accordance with several Resolutions adopted by the "Space Council" – concomitant meetings of the Council of the EU and the ESA Council at the Ministerial Level – two flagship programs have been defined so far. Adding to EGNOS and Galileo, well-known European activities in the field of satellite navigation,1 the European Earth Monitoring Program (GMES)2 will constitute the second pillar of the envisaged user-oriented ESP.

GMES is an Earth-monitoring program and will ensure Europe's contribution to the global GEOSS3 initiative. The program is led by the EU, the technical components will be carried out by ESA, and contributing missions by Member States will complement the program. GMES will establish capacities and enable access to data for monitoring the land, the atmosphere, the marine environment, and climate change. Furthermore, GMES will provide support in the fields of emergency management and security, and will offer information services especially designed to meet users' needs. The program will also serve policy makers from international to regional levels and will integrate well into the EUROPE 2020 Strategy and many other Union policies, including promotion of Europe's competitiveness.4

In order to allow implementation of first services for users, the GMES program moved from development to the beginning of its operational phase in 2010. The Land Monitoring service and the Emergency Response service are already operational and the first three Sentinel satellite missions will be prepared to launch in 2013. The Regulation on GMES and its initial operations5 made GMES an EU program and provided the legal basis for its financing from 2011 to 2013. By far the largest part of available funding for GMES, however, currently comes from the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Development and from ESA (the latter being responsible mainly for the space component, in particular the Sentinel satellite missions). In this way, EU and ESA will have spent a total of more than €3 billion by 2013. This amount will be supplemented by significant investments of Member States. To reflect the program's transition to its operational phase, these funding modalities will have to be adapted as of 2014, meaning a shift away from mainly research-based funding.

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