Aerospace is above all an international matter. Consequently, the FPS Foreign Affairs closely monitors this sector and more specifically its international context. Since the 1960s, Belgium has been involved in space policy. The concept and the implementation of the relevant policy were entrusted to the national administration for scientific research, currently BELSPO, on the basis of the following principles: scientific exploration, free access to outer space and sustainable application of aerospace technology in the interest of society and humanity.
Belgian space policy and law
In line with the above principles, BELSPO pursues a space policy based on four anchor points: scientific research, social utility, industrial development and economic interest. Belgian space policy is conducted in an international context, through bilateral cooperation and mainly at the multilateral level, i.e. the international space agencies (see below). The Belgian space policy is regularly updated, for example, following the emergence of new space companies (New Space).
International law (e.g. the five treaties on space law) and regulations lay down the main principles and general guidelines for aerospace and the use of outer space. The concrete implementation and application is based on national legislation. This means that legal certainty is ensured for any initiative or act relating to aerospace, in other words any legal entity can be held liable. At the centre of Belgian space law is the Act of 17 September 2005, revised by the Act of 1 December 2013, which has a twofold objective: to guarantee the legal and material security of operational space activities carried out under Belgian jurisdiction and to create an appropriate legal framework for the space sector in Belgium. Specifically, on the basis of this legislation, operators can establish themselves on Belgian territory and carry out their activities (e.g. space navigation, manipulation of satellite images) under Belgian jurisdiction. Both these activities require an authorisation from the Belgian Minister for Science Policy. Another concrete application of this legislation is the national register of spacecraft. According to international law, each launch state (e.g. Belgium) must have such a register. National legislation also defines the operator’s liability for any damage caused by the spacecraft launched.
International cooperation: economies of scale based on programmes
Belgium has always linked aerospace to active involvement in international organisations. Space technologies and their applications (upstream and downstream) are a comparative advantage for countries like Belgium if they are developed and implemented within a multilateral cooperation programme. There is a wide range of international organisations and partnerships in which Belgium is involved with regard to space, but the three organisations of key importance for Belgian space are briefly presented below.
European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA was founded in 1975 following the merger of the European Launcher Development Organisation and the European Space Research Organisation. ESA's basic objective is to provide and promote space research and space technology and its applications. In other words, ESA’s mission is to guarantee its European member states access to outer space and, through mutual cooperation, to safeguard the scientific and industrial interests of these countries in the space sector.
ESA is made up of 22 member states, including Belgium. ESA employs 2,200 people, not only at its headquarters in Paris (France) but also at its various sites across Europe. The most notable ones are the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, headed by Frank De Winne, second Belgian astronaut in space after Dirk Frimout, and the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), ESA's main technology development and test centre for spacecraft and space technology in the Netherlands. ESA also has a site in Belgium, namely the European Space Security and Education Centre (ESEC) at Redu.
In 2019, ESA's budget amounted to 5.72 billion EUR. Belgium is ESA's fifth most important donor. The budget is divided between compulsory contributions and optional programmes. At the triennial ministerial meeting of the member states, the broad strategic lines of ESA's policy are set and the budgets for its functioning and programmes are determined.
European Union- European Commission - Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space
DG DEFIS, established in Brussels, monitors the implementation of the European Space Programme, based on three objectives:
- to maximise the benefits of space for the European economy and society (transport, land use, security and emergency aid, environment, health, etc.);
- to ensure that the European space sector maintains its position as an innovative and competitive actor on the global market (market access, research and development), and
- enhancing access to outer space in a secure context. Space security is an issue that increasingly requires the attention and commitment of the EU, its member states, international partners and stakeholders. The presence of more and more space objects in orbit will eventually threaten access to outer space. Concepts such as Space Traffic Management are therefore becoming increasingly popular in the space sector.
The growing cooperation between ESA and the EU allows both organisations to focus more on their niche: technological applications for ESA and data transfer and digital services for the EU space programme Three strategic satellite navigation projects support this ambition: Copernicus (observation), Galileo (GPS) and EGNOS (road transport security).
The EU space programme is largely funded through Horizon2020.
United Nations: UNOOSA/COPUOS
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs is established in Vienna (Austria). This office, or agency to be more accurate, works to promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. UNOOSA monitors the implementation of UN space law obligations, e.g. keeping the register of space objects. Thirdly, UNOOSA organises training sessions and seminars in the framework of the United Nations Space Applications Programme.
In addition, UNOOSA fulfils its function as secretariat of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Founded in 1959, COPUOS was instrumental in the creation of the five treaties on space law (to which Belgium is a party) and in the conceptualisation of the five principles regarding outer space. In other words, COPUOS is of vital importance in the development of space law and aerospace. Basic principles and topical issues are the subject of debate in the numerous subaltern bodies of which the Legal Subcommittee and the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee are the most important ones. Belgium actively participates in the ongoing debates on long-term sustainable access to outer space and the exploitation of outer space (space resources).