In 2022, EU leaders identified space as a strategic domain in the Strategic Compass and called for an EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence. Building on this political momentum, the Commission and the High Representative have developed the first-ever EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence.
In the current geopolitical context of increasing power competition and intensification of threats, the EU is taking action to protect its space assets, defend its interests, deter hostile activities in space and strengthen its strategic posture and autonomy.
Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “A lot of the things we do in space are crucial for the functioning of our society and economy. It keeps essential services running for public administrations, private companies and citizens. With this joint communication we take action to protect our assets in space with a view to increasing the common understanding among member states for a more coherent Europe in space.”
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said: “Space has become a key enabler not only for our European societies and economies, but also for security and defence. Without security, there can be no future in Space. As highlighted in the Strategic Compass, space is a strategic domain. For the first time, we are putting forward a strategy that will pull together all our tools to protect EU space assets and ensure that everyone can benefit from space services.”.
Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said: “Space plays a vital role in both our economic and security interests, but it is also an increasingly contested arena with competing interests vying for dominance. The EU's new strategy marks a paradigm shift, aimed at bolstering our resilience in and from space. It bridges the gap between space and defence, breaking down silos and strengthening our flagship programs in space for security and defence purposes.”
Shared understanding of space threats
The Strategy outlines the counterspace capabilities and main threats in space that put at risk space systems and their ground infrastructure, building on a common definition of the space domain. To increase the common understanding of threats across Member States, the High Representative will prepare a classified annual space threat landscape analysis at EU level, drawing on Member States´ intelligence.
Resilience and protection of space systems and services in the EU
The Strategy proposes actions to strengthen the resilience and protection of space systems and services in the EU. For this purpose, the Commission will:
Consider proposing an EU Space Law to provide a common framework for security, safety, and sustainability in Space, that would ensure a consistent and EU-wide approach.
Set up an Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (ISAC) to raise awareness and facilitate exchange of best practices among commercial and relevant public entities on resilience measures for space capabilities.
Launch preparatory work to ensure long-term EU autonomous access to space, addressing in particular the security and defence needs.
Enhance the technological sovereignty of the EU by reducing strategic dependencies and ensuring security of supply for space and defence, in close coordination with the European Defence Agency and the European Space Agency.
Responding to space threats
The strategy proposes to expand the existing space threat response mechanism which is already used for the protection of Galileo to all space systems and services in the EU.
It calls for the efficient and timely mobilisation of relevant EU tools to respond to space threats.
The Strategy proposes appropriate access to space domain awareness information through relevant national space commands to characterize inapproriate behaviours in orbit and protect EU assets.
Space exercises, including with partners, will help to test and develop EU response to space threats and to explore solidarity mechanisms.
Use of space for security and defence
The Strategy proposes to maximise the use of space for security and defence purposes. The development dual-use services requires to take into account defence requirements when preparing the evolution of the EU space programmes.
The Strategy proposes the launch of two pilots: one for the delivery of initial space domain awareness services building upon capacities of Member States, and another for a new earth observation governmental service as part of the evolution of Copernicus, and complementing existing assets.
The strategy also commits to better connect space, defence and security at EU level and ensure synergies and cross-fertilisation, notably in terms of research and development. It proposes concrete measures to foster collaborative work between space and defence start-ups and to enhance skills.
Partnering for responsible behaviors in space
The EU will strengthen its engagement in multilateral fora and promote norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours in outer space through concrete and pragmatic steps.
The strategy calls for developing space security dialogues with third countries, in particular with the Unites States and other likeminded countries. EU-NATO cooperation will also be developed.
The Strategy acknowledges that space is crucial for everyday life and for defence and security in particular. It proposes to better protect space systems and services and maximise the use of space systems for security and defence, thus reinforcing the role of EU as a global space power.
The key pillars of the Strategy are:
- Ensuring a shared understanding of space threats;
- Enhancing the resilience and protection of space systems and services in the EU;
- Strengthening the collective ability of the EU to respond to any attacks and threats putting at risk the EU security interests;
- Developing dual-use space capabilities, including for security and defence purposes;
- Fostering global partnerships.
The EU will also enhance its technological sovereignty by reducing strategic dependencies and securing relevant supply chains, supporting synergies between space and defence, and enhancing skills for EU defence and space industries.
The Strategy proposes concrete actions to be implemented using budgets from existing programmes (e.g., European Defence Fund, Horizon Europe, EU space programme, IRIS²). It defines a new course of action for the EU. It will have a long-term impact and lead to greater synergies between space and defence, including in proposing options for potential new initiatives.
No, the governance of the EU Space Programme will remain unchanged.
The strategy will however foster the development of dual-use space-based services in support of security and defence. The governmental use of space services requires appropriate security rules.
Since it owns space assets, the EU should have access to the necessary security information to protect them. Modalities to support an EU response to space threats (such as a space domain awareness) will be explored with Member States owning relevant capabilities and to complement sensitive information we already provide on the security of the space programme
The EU budget could fund part of the technologies and capabilities related to space situational awareness.
The EU Space Programme has the potential to contribute to space threats picture, through space surveillance and tracking activities, included through IRIS². A pilot will explore the delivery of initial space domain awareness services.
The Council and the High Representative have the responsibility to take action in case of space threats that affect the security of the EU or its Member States, including by mobilising relevant EU tools in a consistent way to respond to such threats.
The EU is committed to prevent such an arms race and has been actively advocating for reducing space threats through norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviours.
At the same time, the EU has to cope with new security challenges, including in the space domain. Through the Space Strategy for Security and Defence, the EU intends to defend its security interests in space.
By making public its Space Strategy for Security and Defence, the EU intends to meet its commitment to transparency and thereby to further build confidence in outer space.
In the event of a threat, the Council, on a proposal by the High Representative, or the High Representative directly, issues urgent instructions to the relevant operator of the space programme. The European External Action Service is able to react 24/7 to support the High Representative in this process, through the Space Threat Response Architecture.
To address challenges in the space domain (proliferation of satellites and related risks of congestion and collision, high level of security threats against space infrastructures), Member States have started to develop national laws on space.
In the absence of an EU regulatory framework, there is a risk of fragmentation in the EU. Such lack of common rules would affect the competitiveness of the EU industry, the security of the EU and its global influence in multilateral fora.
The EU space law would propose common rules on safety, security, and sustainability in space.
The EU intends to uphold its efforts towards reinforcing an EU autonomous access to space.
The responsiveness, versatility and competitiveness of EU space launch systems is needed to best serve institutional (civil and military) as well as commercial needs.
Beyond ongoing research and innovation activities, the Union will propose preparatory actions to support the development of game changing solutions for EU autonomous access to space, also taking into account security and defence needs.
Space-based earth observation is a key enabler for security and defence, as proven by the EU Satellite Centre in the context of Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Though Copernicus delivers security services, it has not been designed to comply specifically with defence requirements.
An EU Earth observation governmental system would be beneficial to provide reliable, resilient, and continuously available situational awareness to support the autonomous decision-making and action of the EU and its Member States. As part of the evolution of Copernicus, an initial service will be put in place by end 2024.
The strategy proposes to explore options that would allow the EU to complement existing national, commercial, and European satellite imagery infrastructure.
The Commission will incentivise collaborative work between space and defence start-ups and SMEs.
Activities such as hackathons, challenges and matchmakings, In-Orbit-Validation and Demonstration will be synergised to foster cooperation between space and defence start-ups.
The main difference is that the EU owns space assets that require protection, whereas NATO relies on space assets owned by Allies.
EU and NATO responses to incident and threats in the space domain will be complementary and mutually reinforcing.
The third Joint EU-NATO Declaration of 10 January 2023 and the strategy identify space as a field where institutions will expand and deepen their cooperation.