Nepal | July 03, 2020

Fly me to the moon: Germany eyes slice of lucrative space market

Reuters
Share Now:

BERLIN: Facing tough competition from China, the United States and even tiny Luxembourg, Germany is racing to draft new laws and attract private investment to secure a slice of an emerging space market that could be worth $1 trillion a year by the 2040s.

The drive to give Germany a bigger role in space comes as European, Asian and US companies stake out ground in an evolving segment that promises contracts for everything from exploration to mining of outer-space resources.

Firms likely to benefit from any future spending rise in Germany include Airbus, which co-owns the maker of Europe’s Ariane space rockets, and Bremen-based OHB.

The new legislation would limit financial and legal liabilities of private companies should accidents happen in orbit, set standards for space operations and offer incentives for new projects, the German economy ministry told Reuters.

The ministry’s aerospace and space commissioner, Thomas Jarzombek, could submit the laws to parliament later this year. The move comes as companies and trade groups press for German authorities to establish a regulatory framework for the lucrative new market to encourage private investment.

“We are sounding the alarm that Germany and Europe are falling behind in space vis-a-vis China and the United States,” Dirk Hoke, defence and space chief at Franco-German-led aerospace group Airbus, told Reuters. “We’re at a critical juncture to ensure we stay in the top league.”

Germany is Europe’s economic powerhouse and the world’s fourth-largest economy. However it had just the world’s seventh-largest national space budget in 2018, an estimated $1.1 billion, just over half the amount generated by fifth-placed France, according to preliminary data from Paris-based research firm Euroconsult.

The figure, which excludes contributions to pan-European programs, is dwarfed by the United States – by far the largest spender on space at almost $40 billion.

Ironically, American space ambitions could offer a lifeline.

Hoke said a new lunar Gateway program backed by US space agency NASA offered a chance for Germany and others in Europe to stake a claim to a key role in the market.

“In my view, it is hugely important that we participate as equal partners so that we are primed to develop and build technologies for such a gateway,” he said.

The program involves designing and developing a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon and serve as a temporary home for astronauts and as a base for work on the moon’s surface and, later, missions to Mars. NASA had aimed to finish the Gateway by 2026, but Washington is now aiming to put humans back on the Moon by 2024, which could lead to an accelerated schedule.

Even before then, Germany is facing a brain-drain as companies worldwide ponder how to extract minerals from asteroids and water from the moon within a decade.

Some companies are already considering moving to Luxembourg, which has taken a lead in Europe by enacting laws to limit liabilities and ease restrictions on mining operations. It has also set up a 100-million-euro ($112 million)investment fund for projects.

“It’s a global market. We have our customers and we will keep them, even if we have to run the company from somewhere else,” said Walter Ballheimer, CEO of German Orbital Systems, a Berlin-based start-up that builds small satellites.

“Germany was overtaken a long time ago,” he said. “But it’s not too late. If they are courageous enough and adopt a clear space policy … then we can still have a piece of the cake that we should have as a leading export nation.”

Two other heads of small German space companies told Reuters they were considering leaving the country.


‘LEAN’ SPACE LAW

But Germany is not standing still.

Space commissioner Jarzombek is working with trade groups, companies and other experts to draft the space laws, and plans to submit it them parliament sometime after September.

“We are aiming for a lean basic law that is open to the future,” said a spokeswoman for Jarzombek and the economy ministry. “A national space law should focus above all on incentives and make it possible for the German space industry to play a bigger role in global developments.”

Berlin is also pressing the United Nations to set standards for mining of the Moon, asteroids and other objects in space.

The United States passed a law in 2015 that encouraged private companies to undertake mining work beyond Earth, and gives its firms the right to claim resources they may one day be able to extract from celestial bodies.

Jarzombek helped secure a 269-million-euro increase in planned funding for the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2020-2023. But Germany’s total space funding, which includes ESA and national programs, is not expected to rise in that period. It edged slightly lower to 1.57 billion euros in 2019.

The 18-member ESA oversees cooperation on space exploration and launches, but individual countries have their own research and interests, funded outside the ESA budget.

Matthias Wachter, aerospace expert at the BDI German Federation of Industry, said advances in space were crucial for future technologies such as autonomous driving.

“Germany is limping behind,” he said.

Any spending plans would have to contend with rising budget pressures and an economic slowdown. Germany is in its 10th year of expansion, but only narrowly avoided recession last year.

Senior executives from Deutsche Bank and Munich Re and others met in Berlin this month to brainstorm ways to fund and insure new space projects.

One problem is Germany’s conservative approach to investment and financing as entrepreneurs seek capital, said Sebastian Straube, CEO of investment firm Interstellar Ventures.

Straube is building a 100-million-euro investment fund that will fund projects. He is also working with companies like rail operator Deutsche Bahn to encourage them to support new ventures that build applications taking advantage of increased access to space through satellites in low-earth orbit.


SPACEX BATTLE

Marco Fuchs, CEO of satellite builder OHB, said Germany needed bigger increases in national space funding to pay for pioneering developments, citing growing competition worldwide.

The company carried out a privately funded commercial mission with China to orbit the moon in 2014, and teamed up this year with Israel Aerospace Industries to offer the commercial delivery of payloads to the lunar surface for ESA.

OHB is a key player in the battle between Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket and the Falcon 9 built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch the first of two new OHB spy satellites, called Georg, for Germany’s foreign intelligence agency in 2022.

The contract, worth tens of millions of dollars, is drawing political attention after SpaceX and Ariane traded barbs about access to each other’s markets, which could presage a transatlantic trade dispute in coming years.

OHB and the German government are expected to select the winner by late 2020, and Fuchs said the decision would be based on many factors, including launch dates and available budgets.

“In the end, it’s always a question of the price – or a political decision,” he said.

 


Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories:

More from The Himalayan Times:

In Pictures: Protest against govt's ineffective response to COVID-19 crisis

Kathmandu, July 2 Youths hold placards while maintaining safe distance as they take part in a protest at Patan on Thursday demanding better and effective response from the government in handling COVID-19 outbreak. Read More...

Botswana investigating mystery deaths of 275 elephants

GABORONE: The number of elephants found dead in Botswana's Okavango Panhandle has risen to 275 from 154 reported two weeks ago, the government said on Thursday. Authorities are investigating the unexplained deaths over the past months. Poaching has been ruled out as the carcasses were found Read More...

Deepika Padukone champions #DobaraPoocho on importance of discussing mental health issues

KATHMANDU: Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone has urged to be a little more attentive towards their loved ones and repeatedly inquire about their life struggles and mental health issues, through a campaign #DobaraPoocho. Taking to her Instagram on June 30, 34-year-old actor posted a video about che Read More...

Bob Dylan makes chart history with Rough and Rowdy Ways

KATHMANDU: American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has made a chart history with his 39th studio album Rough and Rowdy Ways — the critically-acclaimed full-length debuted at No 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, amassing three million streams and the equivalent of 53,000 album units in the United States. Read More...

British musicians call for govt to help live music industry

KATHMANDU: Some 1,500 British musicians including Sir Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran and The Rolling Stones called for the British government on July 2 to support the live music business survive the novel coronavirus pandemic as the future for concerts, festivals and the people who work in them looks bl Read More...

Actor Samragyee RL Shah exposes sexual, mental and financial exploitation in the Nepali film industry

Actor says many others suffering in silence KATHMANDU : Nepali actor Samragyee RL Shah, who has opened up about harassment she claims to have faced in the Nepali movie industry via a series of videos on her Instagram account, has shared with The Himalayan Times graphic details what she has fa Read More...

Ray Fisher says director Joss Whedon was gross, abusive and unprofessional on Justice League set

KATHMANDU: American actor Ray Fisher has accused director Joss Whedon of gross, abusive and unprofessional behaviour on the set of the 2017 film Justice League. Taking to Twitter on July 1, Fisher who played the young superhero Cyborg in the DC Comics film wrote, "Joss Wheadon’s on-set treatme Read More...

City honour Liverpool - then hammer them 4-0

MANCHESTER: Manchester City generously applauded new champions Liverpool onto the field before their Premier League match on Thursday -- and promptly showed no mercy by thrashing them 4-0 at the Etihad stadium. With the title secured a week ago, there was little at stake for Juergen Klo Read More...