It’s official. France, Germany and Italy, the three largest contributors to the European Space Agency, have joined forces to compete with SpaceX. At a meeting this week, ESA agreed to guarantee the future of the next-generation Ariane 6 and Vega-C rocket launcher systems.
According to Big and boldThe deal follows months of wrangling between Paris and Berlin over issues “including intellectual property rights, export licenses and the budget”.
ESA is asking its member states to contribute €18.5 billion to fund the space program over the next three years – a significant increase of more than 25% from previous funding.
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Three countries have proposed allowing ESA to launch European-made micro and mini-launch systems – currently being developed by Germany and France. ESA previously used SpaceX to launch two scientific missions.
Will it benefit European space technology startups?
According to people familiar with the plans, Berlin will only put its weight behind the future projects of Arianegroup (a joint venture of Airbus and Safran) whose programs are open to technology from European startups. It will be interesting to see how this works out in practice.
Germany has traditionally been the largest contributor to ESA’s budget, along with aerospace companies such as Airbus OHB Has invested heavily in large-scale European space projects. Will this be enough to champion startups and ensure their technology gets a share of funding and opportunity?
Germany has eyes in space
Although arguably not the first country when you think of space technology, Germany hosts the space agency Innospace Masters An annual competition for space tech startups.
With supporters like OHB and the Mercedes-Benz Challenge, the competition is not just academic, with categories for ideas already in the innovation or integration phase with existing technologies, systems, services or solutions. This is great news if you want to market real products. And there are some startups in Germany whose usage is mandatory.
Constellation Using microsatellites to monitor Earth’s surface temperature, map water needs and availability for agriculture. It facilitates smart crop monitoring and sustainable resource management, making it possible for farmers to detect crop changes before visible symptoms appear.
Similarly, live too Provides satellite-based monitoring of critical infrastructure such as power grids, pipelines and rail networks.
And there’s a lot happening in rocketry and R&D with startups HighImpulse Technologies Building a small European launcher for small satellites. It uses a hybrid rocket engine that burns solid paraffin with liquid oxygen. This reduces costs, making them safe, low-cost and suitable for quick market entry.
We are at a time when many question the allocation of funds to less tangible forms of R&D against current global challenges such as climate change and energy scarcity. ESA funding could be a concerted effort by Russia, China and North America to divert energy from space missions. And if you even think they can communicate with Space X. But whatever the underlying motivation, it will lead to spacetech innovations by startups that will help improve life on Earth in the long run.