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The Austrian Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (FFG, Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft) is preparing a strategic paper for space related activities in Austria up to the year 2020. This is done in on behalf of the Ministry of transport, innovation and technology (BmVIT). At the moment, the paper is in a phase of discussion to which national bodies from science and economy are invited. The current focus is to keep the traditional strengths of Austrian contributions, but also to build some selected new scientific and technological capacities. A strong focus is also put on improved public relations.
DI Aron Lentsch from Orbspace and a partner of the Austrian Space Forum has written a paper which is sent to both the BmVIT and the FFG. This paper shows potential for optimisation in current and future space politics. The following paragraphs provide his input:
1. A clear division between science and economy
I think a clear and stringent division between support for science and economy is necessary. This should be considered in the structure of the planned strategic paper, where possible.1
1 An example for this are austrian projects for small scale satellites, which belong to purely scientific research. To try and develop economical corporations from these would be clearly against such a strict division. It is also questionable from an economic point of view: The first small scale satellites run by universities were launched more than 40 years ago (Australis-OSCAR-5, University of Australia, 1970). Since this time a very small commercial interest has developed in this area, as the main purpose is purely academic, with homebuilt technology. However, several suppliers for this technology exist worldwide – Austria would try and join the market 20-30 years too late. Most of the more expensive components have to be bought due to missing know-how within any Austrian company. To the best of my knowledge, no Austrian company could provide this in a profitable way.
2. Technologies for a strategic positioning of Austrian companies
My point of view is that the short-term goals (like generation and conservation of jobs) should not be the main goal, since they have a rather small potential leverage. The goal should be to provide medium and long term potential: Which technologies will enable Austrian companies to become main players in international competition? What are the potential new markets, where such a position is still possible? I am convinced that the key to success lies within new technologies and ideas, which will make companies unique in international markets.
3. Willingness to take risks for these new ideas and technologies
New ideas and technologies are always tied in with higher risks. The enormous progress in space related technology can only be explained by the willingness to take high risks as well. Simply large financial resources are not enough to explain this, as even today remarkable sums are involved in space technology. To enable sustainable and basic innovation, this will to take risks from the sponsors is of major importance.
One idea to enable this would be to provide a small part of the budget specifically towards such high risk activities, similar to “High-risk venture capital”. Especially in areas with a current low level of innovation (e.g. space infrastructure, transportation) this could open a large economic potential.
4. Commercial Space activities and Entrepreneurship
To realise new economic chances and potentials via new technologies and being able to use them in a profitable manner is the basic principle of every private company or entrepreneur. Whenever private sponsors, businessmen (especially young ones!) invest their own resources, not only the hope for profit but also the realisation of a stable, self propelling market which will in turn increase the flow of public funding, are present. This principle of the private sector has been lost in many space related technologies. Usage of “commercial” is often misleading in this respect. 2
Instead, it would be very helpful – also in Europe and Austria – for space activities to consider these entrepreneur “spirit” and use it as a new overall concept. The willingness to take up a private risk could be even seen as criteria for receiving any support. To see it the other way round: Can any project be economically sound, if the entrepreneur himself does not invest and trust in its success? Space travel has to keep these basic rules of economy in mind and must not stay a “dinosaur of public industry”. This is possible within an international dominated market.
2 An example for this is the company „Arianespace“, which could not survive without EGAS (European Granted Access to Space), support supplied from the ESA.
5. International point of view – recognition of new challenges
A small country like Austria, which has to embed its space activities within European or worldwide collaborations, has to consider any foreseeable trends and strategies of the domineering space powers. A national space strategy, which should strengthen Austrian research and economy, should pick up these international developments and reflect them. This view towards the outside world enables change and the ability to recognise new challenges. This will prepare Austrian economy and help to strengthen it for competition. An example for this is the strategy of NASA, who outsources routine activities of their space programme to private sector companies, thus creating a market. These developments should be taken serious and be analysed, as sooner or later there will be an impact also within Austria.
6. Critical Review: To learn from past mistakes and become better
A critical review over previous strategies and – if necessary – adjustments to them could improve the new space strategy. Another thing to keep in mind is to learn from errors and successes of other countries.3
Has our current strategy reached its goals? Are Austrian companies nowadays economically more profitable and independent from national support than before? Are they actively involved in European projects to create value? Which revenue is achieved with technologies developed ten years ago? Could not the support and sponsoring of new ideas and companies open new chances for economic development?
3 For example, Sweden has launched its first satellite 25 years ago and therefore owns the necessary infrastructure which can now be used commercially https://www.ssc.se/satellite-control.
Aron Lentsch, Orbspace
These thoughts have also been sent to the ministry for transport, innovation and technology (BmVIT) as well as the The Austrian Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (FFG) / Aerospace Agency (ALR).
This article is available in: German
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