Public Service Review: European Science and Technology - Issue 11
A launchpad for success
08 July 2011
Editor Amy Caddick takes a closer look at the Netherlands' well-established space programme, which aims to foster international ties while boosting prosperity at home
Space technologies have become recognised as important cogs in the wheel of economic and scientific growth. The discoveries made in this field have enabled advances in telecommunications and computing, while providing a path to attempt to trace the origins of the universe.
Coming together under the umbrella of the European Space Agency, the success of European space projects depends largely upon the ability of individual countries to coordinate their own national space programmes, which can then be brought together on a more transnational level.
The Netherlands has an active and government supported space programme. Most recently, in December 2010, Maxime Verhagan, Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, oversaw the signing of two contracts worth €50m for supplying solar panels for Galileo and for the continuation of the TROPOMI programme.1
The Space Action Plan, which was published in 2003, recognised that the Netherlands had to have international and European support to maintain its programmes. The plan states that: 'the Netherlands cannot pursue its interests independently. The Netherlands is committed to achieving its goals through international, above all European, cooperation. By setting out clearly what the Netherlands is opting for, and by presenting a joint and united face to the outside world, the Netherlands Space Action Plan carries out a detailed pre-selection and sets priorities that enjoy broad support among the players in the field.'2
This focus on international cooperation is one of the reasons why the Netherlands has such a successful space programme. Links with the European Space Agency, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the European Union have enabled the Dutch to remain competitive.3
The Netherlands Space Office (NSO) notes that in deciding space policy, three areas need to be taken into account. Firstly the strategic importance of knowledge and technology development in advancing the Netherlands' position on the international playing field. Secondly, the prioritisation of certain programmes in terms of support; and thirdly, whether or not the research has a practical application, making it worthwhile.
The NSO is the public face of the Netherlands Space Programme, and space research is undertaken across many of its academic institutes. One organisation that is heavily involved in space science is the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology & Astronomy.
The association works to create knowledge of astronomy through star parties, lectures, courses and presentations. Work with schools and school age children to highlight the benefits and potential career paths that can be offered through space sciences is vital for the development of the next generation of astronomers.
Astronomy and space studies will contine to play a vital part in future technological development on the global stage. In order for these technologies to be discovered and pioneered, European countries such as the Netherlands must continue to promote and support space sciences. Only through this commitment can Europe become a serious competitor on the global stage.