Leaders in the European space community at Planet’s Berlin office discussing the new space landscape in Europe © 2018, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
AUTHOR PROFILE Agnieszka Lukaszczyk
Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.

Five Takeaways from Europe’s Earth Observation Revolution


Last week, top leaders in the European space community from public and private organizations gathered at Planet’s Berlin office to discuss the new space landscape in Europe.

Over the past two decades, Europe has established itself as a leader in space, dominated by heavy investment from the government. The strong role of the European Commision and European Space Agency has led to a complex market environment for commercial companies. Today, however, there’s a perfect storm of increased investment, new private-public partnership models, and appetite for disruption that could tip the scales, with Europe’s commercial space sector assuming a more dominant role.

Here are five most important takeaways from the event:

  • Europe is poised to lead

The conditions for Europe leading the earth observation revolution are there. Now it’s time to act. Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet, noted that of the 450 European companies in the earth observation sector, 63% of them have less than 10 employees. The next decade of innovation will come from small and medium companies building off the data feeds in novel ways. Rafal Modrzewski, co-founder of ICEYE, added that in Europe, talent isn’t bottled up in corporations, so startups can take advantage now.

  • Collaborative private-public partnerships are key

Only through collaboration and flexibility between the public and private sectors can great things in Earth observation come out of Europe. Dr. Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observation Programmes at the European Space Agency, noted that one of the biggest areas for research and investment is understanding how large satellites and small satellites can fill in each other’s data gaps and complement one another.

  • New space companies need to make roots in Europe

The European space industry operates differently from the US space industry. International startups who want to participate in the Earth observation revolution need to invest in European operations and make roots within the community. In 2018, Planet intends to expand its sales operation in Europe via its offices in Berlin and Amsterdam.

  • Startups need financing beyond the seed stage

While there is strong support for start-ups at the seed stage, access to capital at later stages is harder to come by. Given that new space companies like ICEYE make significant investments in research and development over several years, participants agreed there need to be better funding schemes for scaling space companies over the long haul.

  • Embrace risk

Europe is not always keen to take risks, but sometimes it is required to fail and fail again before the big pay-off. Prof. Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, remarked that Europe has a relatively stable, well-funded ecosystem for research and entrepreneurship. However, failure and risk aversion hampers the industry. Dr. Tomasz Husak of the European Commission agreed and noted there are new incentives and programs in development that will foster a spirit of entrepreneurship that embraces risk.

Watch the full salon on our YouTube. 


Salon Participants:

  • Dr. Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observation Programmes, European Space Agency
  • Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board
  • Dr. Tomasz Husak, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Bienkowska at the European Commission, in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (GROW)
  • Rafal Modrzewski, CEO of the Finnish start-up ICEYE
  • Robbie Schingler, CSO and co-founder of Planet

Moderated by Agnieszka Lukaszczyk, EU Policy Director at Planet