The term ‘space’ is often perceived as abstract. Very often, the layman associates the term with sky observation, lunar missions, rocket launches and related cutting-edge technologies. This is indeed a substantial part of the space sector, however the term encompasses so much more. Space-related technologies have nowadays permeated into our everyday lives with a myriad of applications in various thematic areas. Navigation on land, sea and air, communication, surveillance, border control and security, agriculture, meteorological observation, monitoring of natural disasters and early warning systems all rely on space infrastructures. Space is no longer a luxury but it is today present at the core of so many essential commodities in the modern world.
While certain satellite system applications, such as communications services are rather mature and well-regulated locally, numerous other niche markets are considerably underexploited. The potential of satellite data, such as satellite-based positioning and Earth Observation (EO) imagery, can only be fully exploited by value-adding downstream services, which are tailor made to specific public and commercial needs. Such solutions, often encompassing research and development at the intersection of science and ICT, translate the unprocessed and raw data delivered from satellites and other in-situ sensors into information that is usable by the end user. There is ample scope to maximise the benefits and to better capitalise on the European Union investments made in this sector.
This very first National Space Policy published in 2017, asserts a national drive to encourage established and already developed economic sectors utilising satellite technologies and related data, whilst also incentivise start-ups and small and medium enterprise (SME) investment in new economic areas, particularly those encompassing synergies with existing Maltese competencies. It is recognized that despite the importance of awareness-raising measures, such as conferences, workshops and related events, a more focused capacity-building approach is often necessary. This is particularly important since the local sector is somewhat considered at its inception stage. It is well recognised that training, collaborative and funding opportunities for research and innovation projects, as well as internationalisation efforts where possible, provide the means for developing critical mass. Capacity-building measures should be focussed on national needs, yet with due consideration given to European initiatives and programmes. Such consideration ensures European-calibre development to help reduce disparities between established players and emerging ones like Malta. This approach would enable Malta to be in a better position in terms of accessing European Union funds and markets on satellite data and the eventual provision of new products and services. This aids shaping a relatively new economic activity that is complementary to Malta’s efforts in modernising the industry by transforming it into a knowledge based one.