Elzbieta Bienkowska, European Commissioner for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs. An EU Space Council or an EU Space Force? Why not? Credit: Business Bridge Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium — European Commission and European Parliament officials said they were optimistic that EU governments will approve a proposed 40% increase in the EU’s space budget but rejected an industry proposal for a dedicated space R&D package.

They also criticized European governments and industry for the fact that they appear to think space spending should sell itself without the need to make the case outside the small space sector.

“You here are all space specialists,” said Elzbieta Bienkowska, commissioner for Internal Markeet, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, known as DG-Grow, which has responsibility for the space budget. “But the potential for space is largely unknown outside this room, even by our leaders and politicians at national levels.”

“The debate about space is really limited nowadays to specialists,” she told the annual European Space Policy conference here June 22.

Bienkowska pointed to the United States’ decision to recreate a National Space Council reporting directly to the president and suggested such a council could be created in Europe, reporting to the European Council of governments, or to the president of the European Union.

European Parliament elections are scheduled for May, with a new commission expected to be named by November, meaning this year’s conference was likely Bienkowska’s last as commissioner.

In addition to the 16-billion-euro ($18.3-billion) space budget, the commission is asking that 21.5 billion euros in the seven-year research program, Horizon Europe, be used for research including digital inclusion and industrial competitiveness; and 13 billion euros for a European Defense Fund.

Bienkowska said that before she leaves office she will set in motion a dedicated space line in the 300-million-euro European investment fund to aid startup space companies. InvestEU will The InvestEU program will include an EU budget guarantee of €38 billion and be supplemented by private sector and European financial institution contributions.

In partnership with the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA), the commission will invest 100 million euros in in-orbit demonstrations of promising technologies, a program Bienkowska said “is potentially a game-changer in the market for ride-share services” to orbit.

Fourteen European space industry chief executives in November asked the commission to set aside a dedicated space R&D line in Horizon Europe: https://bit.ly/2PxTlzG.

Pierre Delsaux, deputy director-general, DG-Grow. Credit: European Commission

The commission has declined to do that. Pierre Delsaux, deputy director-general of DG-Grow, basically told industry that making it harder to win R&D grants should result in better proposals.

Delsaux channels Nietsche, refuses a special space R&D budget line

“The bright side here is that space will, of course, have to compete with other sectors to get the money,” Delsaux said. “But it could be an incentive for the space sector to be more dynamic. The fact that the space sector will not be protected, but will be confronted with [grant demands from] other sectors is an incentive for the space sector to be more efficient.”

Delsaux agreed with Bienkowska that the space sector needed to leave its echo chamber and persuade the wider society of space technology’s benefits.

Bienkowska and Delsaux agreed that an initial agreement on the space budget b the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council might be secured in February.

But the real test will come later in the year when the monies are approved by EU heads of state.

Gert Jan Koopman, director-general, DG-Budg. Credit: European Commission

Gert Jan Koopman, director-general of DG-Budg, which manages the commission’s budget, said negotiations over the space budget “have progressed extremely well” so far. He said negotiations are expected to conclude this autumn, leaving a full year before they are implemented starting in 2021.

For Bienkowska, China has used its recent landing on the far side of the Moon to galvanize public support for space. The United States, she said, has focused on its Mars exploration program. And Europe?

“A Moon village— why not?” she said. “Developing the ability of sending humans to space — why not? Just having a goal helps mobilize funding and ideas and new technologies. We do not have a clear, collective sense of where we are going together on space matters.” She also suggest a possible European Space Force, in the image of the proposed new Space Force at the U.S. Defense Department, as a way of reinforcing the ties between civil and military space spending.