Belgium 'substantially increases' investment in EU space programme

Belgium 'substantially increases' investment in EU space programme
Belgium as seen from space (towards the top of picture with the Orange lights). Credit: Thomas Pesquet / ESA

Ahead of the European Space Agency (ESA) Council summit this week, Belgium has announced it will be increasing its budget for space policy from around €275 million annually to €325 million.

During the three-day summit in Paris, ESA's 22 member states will determine the future developments of European space policy for the period 2023-2027, set in the context of the end of space cooperation with Russia and geopolitical tensions regarding the country's unlawful invasion of Ukraine.

Thomas Dermine, Belgium's Secretary of State in charge of Space Policy, is participating in the summit with a "strong mandate," reaffirming its position as the fifth largest net contributor to ESA and its stated desire to contribute to an ambitious European space policy.

"If Europe, and also Belgium as a first-mover member state, want to continue playing a leading role in the global space scene and emerge as an active player in the emerging space economy, additional investments will be needed, despite the changing geopolitical situation and the resulting pressure on our economic system," Dermine said.

Four pillars of space

The space sector has a significant positive impact on the Belgian economy, as for every euro invested in the ESA, the turnover of private sector companies increases. The total turnover has doubled in the last decade and will reach €710 million by 2020.

The decision to increase the country's space investments to €325 million a year was made by the Council of Ministers on Friday 18 November, of which €305 million will be for ESA projects — amounting to a total budget of €1.625 billion for the period 2023-2027 — while the remaining budget will go towards various European as well as national initiatives.

"The profound transition in space that is in full swing should prompt Belgium to renew and strengthen its strategic priorities," Dermine said.

However, Dermine also hopes Belgium's political and budgetary ambitions will support the campaign to get a Belgian into the new selection of astronauts, which will be presented at the end of the ESA Council on Wednesday.

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He explained that the thrust of Belgian space policy will be developed through four main pillars, including focusing on green, emerging and established technology in space, growing a national "viable space industry," and raising awareness among both the general public and space actors of the socio-economic importance of space.

The fourth, and perhaps most important pillar in the eyes of the EU, is safeguarding strong European autonomy in strategic areas, especially as "more autonomy is needed as a priority in areas such as cyber security and space weather, telecommunications and access to space."

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