• Stephan Raab

Between Cyberspace and new space - Is there still a spot for Europe?

Credit photo: https://tecnico.ulisboa.pt/en/events/european-space-talks/

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship European Union. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before![1]” Recently many global actors, states and private enterprises alike have started to join a new space race for both political and commercial interests. Specifically, parallels between the cyberspace of digital economy and the rising attention towards those ambitious endeavours by nations and private companies can be observed. This article will explore where the European Union might find its own spot in this new space race.

We went to the moon, where are we going now?

Since its earliest days, mankind has been looking up to the sky, trying to uncover the eternal mysteries of the cosmos and thinking about its own modest existence in that endless space. Gazing at the stars has always been a rich source of science. It gave us Stonehenge and the Pyramids, as well as philosophy, which pondered about the heavens, and it made us dream, dreams like Jules Verne's “From Earth to Moon.” However, entering the marvellous world of space seemed to be a dream until the famous speech made by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1962: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard!”[2] Since the first small step on the moon, many other steps have followed, including the giant leaps of modern digitisation.

After the early heydays of aerospace during the cold war dominated by the USSR and the USA, new actors such as China[3] or the United Arabian Emirates[4] or even Bavaria with their mission Bavaria One[5] have now entered the spatial stage. Due to their high demands in resources, space programmes have been depicted as national missions run by governments, demonstrating the economic, military, and scientific power to run such a programme. However, nowadays private enterprises are booming[6] such as Space X, run by Tesla owner Elon Musk, or Blue Origin, founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos or Virgin Orbit, by British magnate Richard Branson. Comparing the earlier space period, described by rival, state-led “technocracies”, in the new space race a more flexible “netocracy” of public and private actors is emerging. This can be explained by the increase of venture capital, dynamic entrepreneurs, a supportive legal and political environment, and what is critical for success: the free flow of people and ideas[7].

Comparing old and new space race (Moltz 2019: 78)

Digital Space bringing New Space back to earth

The Space Strategy of the European Union emphasizes:” Global challenges due to growing populations, increased demand for resources and climate change require information about our planet which space-based solution can provide more easily.[8]The global space economy grew twice the size of the world economy between 2005 and 2017. Those new technologies and innovations intended for spacefaring serve as an enabler and accelerator for many vertical industries, such as shown in the overview provided by the graphic below[9].

A landscape space business, service, business models and segments (European Investment Bank 2018:4)

Nevertheless, all the innovative technology reminding us of science fiction fantasies is mostly grounded to earth. Orbital satellites are needed for ensuring digital communication, observing climate changes, or even dealing with the current pandemic. Take for instance Copernicus, titled “Europe´s eye on earth[10]” which provides real time data on movements at the European borders. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) supports public authorities with critical data in order to enable an informed and immediate decision making[11]. Consequently, space policies are a critical part of digital transformation as for instance the movie “Hidden Figures” shows, portraying young female coders and engineers at NASA in the 1960s[12]. According to Éric André Martin, from the Institut français des relations internationals (IFRI), « Space therefore becomes an essential "brick" in a functional chain to be built by the European Union (EU), in order to succeed in its digital transformation.[13]

The European Way to Space or rather the European Paradox

However, despite the increased importance of space policy, according to the European Space Policy Institute the “European Way” constitutes rather a “European Paradox”, stating that: “While Europe is, by far, the most exposed to the fluctuations of commercial markets and reliant on third-party technologies and solutions, it is also the least well equipped to safeguard its interests in international affairs.[14] Despite the existence of an intergovernmental organisation called European Space Agency (ESA), every member of the European Union seems to pursue its own space policy. Positions within the European Union are diverging. The lack of a common EU position became obvious during the signing of the Artemis Accord[15] in October 2020. This accord was proposed by the United States of America to set a new frame on any commercial activities within the space. However, critics argue that the USA intent to strengthen its weakening position in the field of space policies. Any corporation with the US in this area will be dependent on the approval of the terms set by the Artemis Accord[16].

Conscious about the urging need to refine a common European space policy, the European Commission has recently come up with the European Union for the Space Programme, shortly EUSPA. This new agency must not be confused with the European Space Agency, known as ESA. The latter is an intergovernmental agency “to provide for and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology and their space applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications systems.[17]In contrast to NASA, this is an agency not belonging to a certain country and as such not dependent on its political goals. Some members of ESA are not even members of the European Union. The new agency shall have wider competences, overseeing the space activities of the European Union, all the while creating synergies, and supporting the economic development of the European satellite industry[18]. Especially the commercial aspect of that decision was received with scepticism by ESA, fearing that EUSPA could become a competitor in this prospering field of space technologies[19]. Here, the increase of national interest in exploring the opportunities of space becomes visible, where the European Union envisages to catch up with actors like China, Russia, or private spacefarers.

The human adventure has just begun - A critical space traveller’s guide

Once, humanity was dreaming of looking up into the skies, observing the mysteries of the sheer endlessness of stars and planets. Now it is humanity looking through satellites from above on our daily lives on earth, or as put by the European Commission: “Space technologies, data and services have become indispensable in the daily lives of European citizens.[20] Cyberspace and new space have become essential partners for a world undergoing a digital transformation. Nevertheless, both spaces, might this be the digital space or the stellar space, provide an essential message. Looking up into the skies has often been rather looking down into mankind itself, serving as an inspiration for critical philosophy about human reason and purpose. Nowadays, in a world that is determined by the rising influence of likes and social media, we take care of the postings we put into the cyberspace, doing what American social psychologist Marc Snyder calls impression management, referring to:” those strategies and techniques that individuals use to control the images and impressions that others form of them during social interaction[21]Every post reveals how we would like to be seen or what we would like to be. Simultaneously, in 1977 mankind as a whole put a special posting in space, called “Voyager Golden Record.[22]” A special disc was recorded containing languages, music and pictures from miscellaneous achievements reached by humankind. This was sent on a mission to send a message to other species, wherever and however they may live. But what kind of message will that be?

Currently, it seems that the utopian dream of mankind overcoming conflicts for jointly and peacefully discovering new worlds is replaced by a rather sober reality. This reality is determined by commercial interests as national competition for securing its own place in space. Having opened the article with a famous Star Trek quote, let's go back to the series for an inspiration of what's to come. With its events taking place during the golden age of space research, it showcases people from all national and ethnic backgrounds forming one crew, aboard the U.S.S Enterprise. Besides futuristic technology, several philosophical aspects about humanity are addressed[23].

Nowadays, politics and private actors seem to have (re-)discovered the chances of exploring space together, while uncovering the threats of individual competing interests. Regarding the tremendous technological progress of the last years, from this moment on in space the human adventure is just beginning. Finally, maybe you, dear reader, might be interested in shaping a part of European Space Policy as an ESA astronaut[24], sending one message to the world, once famously stated by the Vulcanic ambassador Mr. Spock: “Peace and Prosper!”

[1] Star Trek: Where no man has gone before; retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NCsVc9R7z0 [2] Kennedy, John (1962): John F. Kennedy Moon Speech - Rice Stadium; retrieved from: https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm [3] Tiezzi, Shannon (10.03.2021): China, Russia Agree to Cooperate on Permanent Moon Base; in: The Diplomat; retrieved from: https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/china-russia-agree-to-cooperate-on-permanent-moon-base/ [4] Amos, Jonathan (09.02.2021): Emirates Mars Mission: Hope spacecraft enters orbit; in: BBC News; retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-55998848 [5] Schumacher, Elisabeth (05.10.2018): Bavaria One: German state to launch its own space program; in: Deutsche Welle; retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/bavaria-one-german-state-to-launch-its-own-space-program/a-45746997 [6] McLaughlin, Hailey (22.01.2021): Private spaceflight companies soar while SLS remains grounded; in: Astronomy; retrieved from: https://astronomy.com/news/2021/01/private-spaceflight-companies-soar-while-sls-remainsgrounded#:~:text=Spearheading%20this%20new%20space%20race,own%20reusable%20rockets%20and%20spacecraft. [7] Moltz, James (2019): The Changing Dynamics of Twenty-First-Century Space Power; in: Strategic Studies Quarterly 13(1); p. 66-94. p.78f. [8] European Commission (2016): Space Strategy for Europe; p.2. [9] European Investment Bank (2018): The future of the European space sector How to leverage Europe’s technological leadership and boost investments for space ventures; p. 3f. [10] see Copernicus program at: https://www.copernicus.eu/en [11]European Space Policy Institute (2020): Questions raised by the Covid-19 crisis for the European space sector; ESPI Brief 41. [12] see Hidden Figures at: https://family.20thcenturystudios.com/movies/hidden-figures [13] Éric André Martin (2021): Un changement de paradigme pour l’Europe spatiale ; Éditoriaux de l’Ifri 4. p.4. [14] European Space Policy Institute (2019): Toward a more strategic, assertive, and united Europe in Space; ESPI Brief 34. [15] National Aerospace Agency (2020): The Artemis Accords; retrieved from: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis-accords/img/Artemis-Accords-signed-13Oct2020.pdf [16] European Space Policy Institute (2020): Artemis Accords: What Implications for Europe?; ESPI Brief 46. [17] European Space Agency (1977): Convention of establishment of a European Space Agency, SP-1271(E); retrieved from: http://www.esa.int/About_Us/Corporate_news/ESA_s_Purpose [18] European Commission (2020): establishing the space programme of the Union and the European Union Agency for the Space Programme and repealing; retrieved from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-new-boost-for-jobs-growth-and-investment/file-mff-eu-space-programme [19] Foust, Jeff (22.01.2021): ESA and EU mend relations; in: Space News; retrieved from: https://spacenews.com/esa-and-eu-mend-relations/ [20] European Commission (2016): Space Strategy for Europe; retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/19442 [21]Snyder, Marc (1981): Impression management: The self in social interaction; in: Wrightman, Lawrence; Deaux, Kay (Eds): Social Psychology in the eighties; Brooks/Cole Publication; Monterey; p.112. [22] NASA (1997): Golden Record Project; retrieved from: http://goldenrecord.org/#discus-aureus [23] Decker, Kevin; Eberle, Jason (2008): Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant; Open Court Publishing. [24] For applications at ESA see: https://www.esa.int/About_Us/Careers_at_ESA/ESA_Astronaut_Selection