EU space programme set for major expansion in Prague

Photo: Archive of the ESA

A plan to revamp the Prague-based European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency is being keenly followed in the Czech Republic. The move could see even more investment in the country’s space industry, which has been flourishing for several years.

Photo: Archive of the ESA
The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) is the EU’s equivalent of GPS. It has been based in Prague since 2012.

Plans that would see the GSA triple in size and assume increased responsibility will soon be voted on by the European Parliament.

Czech companies and government officials hope this will benefit the country’s space industry, which has been flourishing since GSA offices opened in Prague seven years ago.

Mark Aldorf is from the European space agency’s business incubation centre.

“In terms of numbers what I can say is that every year we can see some 15 start-ups trying to establish some space related product on the Czech market. Money from the Czech Republic to the ESA has more than doubled in past years, so Czech companies can get more money for their development.

Marek Aldorf,  photo: Archive of the ESA
“I can also say that thanks to the GSA a lot of companies even from abroad are trying to develop Czech projects together with the GSA to implement the Genesis service.”

Now it looks as though the future may look even brighter. Details for a new revamp of the GSA that would give it an increased role in the EU’s Space Programme have been worked out in Brussels.

The Czech Republic has been lobbying hard for this, says Transport Ministry spokeswoman Lenka Rezková.

“We have had countless meetings with the European Commission and member states. But the effort has paid off. We are basically at the end of negotiations today and it is very likely that the GSA will have a lot more responsibility now, which will increase its importance as well as the benefits it brings to the Czech Republic.”

The plan would see the agency renamed, as well as its budget and competencies increased, while its staff would likely triple in size.

Roman Bohovic,  photo: Archive of the Charles University in Prague
This would be a boost not just for Czech prestige, but also for the many local aerospace firms and start-ups such as World from Space, a company that uses earth observation data to assess agriculture and urban development.

Its co-founder, Roman Bohovic, says he is especially happy that the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme is also set to move to the Czech capital.

“It matters a lot. I see three areas where it could help a small start-up such as ours. First of all it could boost much needed awareness about the Copernicus programme. Second, it could attract more people into earth observation. Third, it will bring managers and professionals from across Europe to Prague and interact with the community we have here.”

The European Parliament should vote on the plan and its budget in April.

It is not yet clear how MEPs will vote, particularly in view of the already existing European Space Agency in Paris.

Some, such as German centre-right MEP Sven Schulze have said it would “lead to the unnecessary duplication of structures”.

In any case, the Czech Transport Ministry, which is currently responsible for the Czech Space Programme, says it is doing its best to push the plan through.