Lowri Evans, director-general of the European Commission's DG-Grow, said space sector commercial growth will depend on having control of the storage, processing and distribution of the massive data flow coming from program's like the Copernicus environment-monitoring network. The commission is determined to keep this business from becoming U.S.-dominated. Credit: European Commission Lowri Evans, director-general of the European Commission’s DG-Grow, said space sector commercial growth will depend on having control of the storage, processing and distribution of the massive data flow coming from program’s like the Copernicus environment-monitoring network. The commission is determined to keep this business from becoming U.S.-dominated. Credit: European Commission

BRUSSELS — The European Commission is as determined to end Europe’s dependence on Google and Amazon’s cloud computing services as it was to reduce reliance on the U.S. GPS satellite navigation system and non-European environmental data provision. 

With the Galileo positioning, timing and navigation system now providing initial service, and the Copernicus Earth observation network satellites being fielding, the commission is turning its attention to breaking the grip of U.S. companies on the massive data stream storage and processing, especially from Copernicus. 

Lowri Evans, director-general of the commission’s DG-Grow directorate, said the real promise of the space industry is in manipulating satellite data and turning it into businesses.

“The space industry of the future is all these potential operators who will do something with the data,” Evans said Jan. 24 at the European Space Policy Conference here. “Success depends on how much we can galvanize these new actors in a burgeoning space services economy.

‘We’re not leaving this to American multinationals’

“If we are not smart, we will leave the space data world to people like Google. We are not going to do that. We are not going to leave it to the American multinationals. Facilitating these new space companies — the new space-data people: That’s one of the real new challenges that we have identified and we are going to do whatever it takes.”

European political figures in recent years — especially since Edward Snowdon’s revelations about the surveillance reach of the U.S. National Security Agency — have expressed concerns that European governments will have spent billions on the Copernicus network only to see Google or Amazon become the de facto libraries and gatekeepers of Copernicus data. 

The 22-nation European Space Agency and the 28-nation European Commission are both developing programs on data storage that, especially for ESA, represents a new potential growth area in the agency’s mandate.

DG-Grow Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said Jan. 24 that her directorate has just issued a call for tender for development of new data platforms to be operated by industry.

“This is an innovative approach, trying also to attract Big Data companies into the space sector,” Bienkowska said. “I am personally committed to the success of these platforms. It would be a game changer in positioning Europe into the data economy worldwide.” 

Evans said the idea is to “convert the concept of data and take storage out of the equation. We want to create a sort of Copernicus data cloud that anybody can go to and take whatever they want without having to store the data. It’s going to remove a barrier to entry and take away storage costs from the business models of new space entrepreneurs.” 

For European cloud providers, a market opportunity

For European Big Data storage providers that have been unable to compete with Google and Amazon on price, the commission’s Digital Single Market and Digital Agenda initiatives, and the EU directive on data privacy taking effect in 2018 and DG-Grow’s Copernicus data program all promise a market share they have been unable to win otherwise.

Jury de la Mer, director of T-Systems International, said the new policies together create “a European level playing field.”

T-Systems operates an ESA Copernicus data hub with 60,000 registered users demanding one petabyte of data per month, a figure certain to grow as the full Copernicus fleet is deployed.

Addressing the conference Jan. 24, de la Mer said the U.S. cloud providers are able to offer unbeatable prices because they are not only distributing data to users, but collecting data on users that can be monetized. 

“Of course the temptation to use a free service is very strong,” de la Mer said. “But why are these [U.S.-provided] services free? The answer is simple. For businesses and consumer using these platforms, it’s not just the data they want that is being stored. It will be used in another way, for other purposes, and it’s not always transparent what that means.”

The EU regulations impose the same constraints on data privacy and data use on all providers operating in EU territory and include transparency requirements on the ultimate use of the data so that users can opt out. 

“Then the price difference will become more understandable and more relevant to decision-making, if you want to have a service you can really trust, where you know the data is only being used for your own purposes,” de la Mer said.

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for SpaceIntelReport.com. He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeminent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes