23.11.2018 change 23.11.2018

Brona: It`s time to create a program that will allow the Polish space market to grow

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

It`s time to create a program that will allow the Polish space market to grow. The Polish Space Agency is preparing it in cooperation with ministries. The program is expected to help Polish entities to further develop, so that they can fulfil the main objective of the Polish Space Strategy - account for 3% of the total space sector in Europe by 2030, the head of POLSA, Dr. Grzegorz Brona told PAP.

PAP: Consultations are underway of the National Space Program prepared by the Polish Space Agency; what is the purpose of the program?

Grzegorz Brona: The National Space Program will be the second "leg" that will allow for the development of space companies in Poland. The first "leg" is cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Every year, we pay approximately EUR 36 million contribution to ESA and our entities can obtain development contracts as part of these funds. In addition, Poland gets the know-how from ESA, which we joined in 2012. After 6 years of Polish membership, we are carrying out or have completed over 300 contracts with ESA; over 60 space sector companies have been created, which focus entirely or almost entirely on space activities. We have also begun to establish relations with NASA, with other space agencies, to which our companies already supply certain subsystems.

It is time to create a system in the country that will support the use of the growing capabilities of our Polish space companies. The Polish Space Agency in cooperation with ministries is currently preparing the National Space Program, expected to help Polish entities to further develop, so that they can fulfil the main objective of the Polish Space Strategy - account for 3% of the total space sector in Europe by 2030.

PAP: What is the expected period and budget of the National Space Program?

G.B .: When preparing the National Space Program, the Polish Space Agency took into account several factors resulting from certain restrictions. This included budget restrictions, but also those related to the level of space market development in Poland. The program can not be too big because there will not be enough entities to execute it. The program must also be flexible enough to support not only enterprises but also research and R&D institutions, student and university centres, administration - at various stages of development. At this stage, the program covers the years 2019-2021. They will be three years of very intensive, multidirectional activities: at the level associated with students and the preparation of staff after studies, in the area of support for enterprises that are already active in the space sector and at the level of support for Polish scientific institutions.

The program must be relatively short, and the activities implemented so intensive that after these three years the interest of Polish space companies should be focused on cooperation with the Polish state rather than with ESA. Then, around 2022, we can propose another space program, perhaps a longer one, maybe even more ambitious than the one currently being prepared.

The amounts to be managed within the National Space Program budget come from various sources. It is the agency`s own budget, we also intend to cooperate with state units and use the funds that are already in other organizations, such as the National Centre for Research and Development, the Industrial Development Agency or the National Science Centre. The total estimated budget for the implementation of the National Space Program in 2019-2021 is approximately PLN 200 million.

PAP: Who will benefit from these funds?

G.B.: The space program is created for various stakeholder groups. On the one hand, we place very strong emphasis on cooperation with private companies, in particular the SME sector, because in the perspective of a few years they should grow sufficiently to account for 3% of the total space sector in Europe, in accordance with the Polish Space Strategy.

On the other hand, we want to support cooperation with scientists. Polish astronomers are recognized globally, since 2013 we have Polish scientific satellites in space. It is time to think about new satellites, take advantage of these already created scientific opportunities.

Thirdly, we intend to strongly focus on the development of human resources for the Polish space sector through cooperation with universities, the organization of post-university internships or cooperation with ESA on the exchange of students. The goal is to provide a sufficient number of specialists to implement a more ambitious space program, which will be born after 2022. Then, perhaps, we will talk not about PLN 200 million, but about a few billion zlotys for Polish entities that will be preparing for that program over the next three years.

PAP: Will creating the first Polish satellite be a part of this program?

G.B .: Polish satellites are already in space! In 2012, Warsaw students sent the first test satellite into space. It was small - only 10 cm, but it flew into space and a significant part of its systems were tested. Two years later, two Polish scientific satellites Brite named Lem and Heweliusz were launched into space. They are still orbiting the Earth and providing scientific data. Two more will be launched soon onboard Elon Musk`s Falcon 9 rocket: another student satellite from the Warsaw University of Technology and a Finnish-Polish satellite built by private companies to provide Earth imaging in the radar band. These are Polish satellites, made by Polish entities - student and private, independently or in cooperation with a foreign partner.

It seems that in the next few years more Polish satellites will be launched - we know about at least five such projects that are currently being implemented in various places in Poland.

You probably meant the satellite that would be used for defence purposes. For example, related to image reconnaissance. But this goes beyond the scope of the National Space Program and concerns matters related to defence systems that are not directly addressed in the National Space Program. We are preparing to create systems for the army as part this program, but they are not directly included in the National Space Program.

PAP: When Poland joined the ESA, a new market opened for Polish companies.

G.B .: Poland joined the space race with a 50-year delay. Before 2012, before we joined the ESA, we had entities that specialized in space research - in particular, the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Over 80 different instruments created there are or were on space probes.

In 2012, a market breakthrough took place in Poland. The huge European market opened for us, giving Polish companies an opportunity to supply subsystems and components. Today, this market is unfortunately not enough. We should go a step further and try our hand in the private market, unrelated to the European Space Agency. To do it best, we need to define niches, in which Polish enterprises can exist - areas, in which we will not have to chase the group that took off 50 years ago. Our companies use this opportunity well, they have already defined these niches.

PAP: So what are these niches, our cosmic specialisations?

G.B .: One niche is associated with microsatellites and nanosatellites, objects relatively small in relation to large satellites built by world giants. This market has just formed, it is to a large extent related to the miniaturization of electronics. 7 years ago the first entities in the world started to build this niche. Now we have at least five companies in Poland that want to specialize in supplying micro or nanosatellites.

The second niche are small rockets - especially suborbital ones. This field has been developing for several years, since the first private rockets appeared on the market that are capable of sending test objects to an altitude of 100 km, into space. There are companies and research units in Poland that want to specialize precisely in this niche.

The third area is space robotics, which can be used in several areas. This includes space mining, which will probably develop rapidly in the future. In 20-30 years we will probably be mining in space. And there are Polish companies that have begun to specialize in subsystems for space mining - such as drills or solar sails. But there are also companies that produce or plan to produce subsystems used in deorbiting missions that will remove space debris from space. One of such state-owned entities is PIAP Space. PIAP is an institute that until now specialized in sapper robots. Now it begins to specialize in robotic arms used in space to catch space debris and direct it towards the Earth`s atmosphere.

The fourth niche is related to satellite data. It was born a few years ago with the increasing number of observation satellites in space. A few hundred such satellites orbit are now in orbit. The largest European repository of satellite data of the European Union was created in Poland and based on it we can build services related to satellite data. Polish companies, mostly start-ups, have just begun to see this huge potential.

You can see that domestic entities do not want to compete with giants in areas, in which those tycoons started 50 years ago. They want to join the group that is just starting.

PAP: What revenues can our space market expect?

G.B .: The revenues of the space market in Poland are still linked to cooperation with ESA, which is the largest recipient of Polish space subsystems. We are talking about the amount of PLN 100-120 million per year. Another element of revenues is EUMETSAT - an organization associated with meteorological satellites. As part of its programs, a few tens of millions of zlotys can be added to the Polish market every year.

Another area is the European Southern Observatory (ESO) - the largest astronomical observatory currently being built on Earth, in which Poland participates. Our companies can carry out specific orders related to cameras, mirrors and mechanics. This is an amount of several million zlotys per year.

In the next financing perspective, the European Union has a preliminary budget of 16 billion euros for European space programs. Poland can benefit from these funds as an EU member. Our entities can obtain contracts in such programs as Copernicus (Earth observations), Galileo (navigation), Future Launcher (related to carrier rockets intended for the Community) or the program related to space debris. These programs are now being defined.

Another aspect worth mentioning is the private global market, which Polish companies can reach very quickly thanks to their participation in technology niches. This market is growing rapidly, because it has been noticed by huge private capital, especially American capital. I am talking about venture capital investment funds. These funds are also slowly entering the Polish market. A few months ago we watched the first such transactions in Poland related to the commercialisation of space, the so-called New Space or Space 4.0 market.

I hope that the National Space Program will be launched in 2019. I hope that it will soon contribute to a significant competence increase of the Polish space sector and after 2022 it will allow the companies created as a result of our cooperation with ESA to scale up so that they can enter the private market, which is growing very fast at the moment. This is probably the area where we can still cut out our piece of the pie, because it has not yet been divided. (PAP)

Interview by Magdalena Jarco

author: Magdalena Jarco

maja/ je/ kap/

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