Two years of Polish ESA membership – a commentary

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A special conference summarizing two years of Polish membership in the European Space Agency took place in the beginning of June. This article describes ESA’s recommendations for Poland.

In November 2012 Poland joined the European Space Agency (ESA) and became the twentieth member state of the organization. Similarly as in case of the Czech Republic and Romania this meant the beginning of a “transitional period”, initially planned to end in 2017. The intention of this period was to adapt and integrate the Polish industry with the European space industry.

ESA Member States (dark blue), European Cooperating States (light blue) and Associate States (green) / Credits – Ssolbergj, wikipmedia commons

ESA Member States (dark blue), European Cooperating States (light blue) and Associate States (green) / Credits – Ssolbergj, wikipmedia commons

In the beginning of 2015, after two years in ESA and two special calls for Polish entities (known as the Polish Industry Incentive Scheme) the space agency was to assess the country’s progress. For a couple of months ESA in cooperation with the Polish Delegation to the agency was analysing Polish projects and their outcomes. The results of the review were announced on the 1st of June during a meeting in Warsaw. The conference was attended by Jean-Jacques Dordain, retiring Director General of ESA, Johann Dietrich Woerner, the new Director General of ESA, Janusz Piechociński, the Minister of Econmics of Poland, Grażyna Henclewska, Deputy Secretaty of State, and many other representatives of the Polish space industry.

Jean-Jacques Dordain emphasised in his speech that the Polish space industry has significantly developed and is becoming more and more competitive at an international scale. Johann Dietriech Woerner stressed that ESA allows the participation in many small, local programs. He also pointed out that Europe needs more innovative thinking like in case of the SpaceX company. Other speakers emphasised the role of the space industry in creating new jobs and enhancing the quality and security of European citizens’ lives.

The raport regarding ESA’s recommendations for Poland was published on the Ministry of Economics website during the meeting. The raport lists six recommendations, which are described and commented below.

Recommendation #1: a cooperation between industry and academia, building on the strengths of the academic network and in the respect of their natural roles, should be encouraged and re-enforced maintaining an adequate balance between academic institutions and industry. It is as well recommended to increase the awareness and interest of students to scientific and engineering disciplines related to space.

Kosmonauta.net’s commentary:
The Polish space industry consists of about a dozen research centers (universities and research institutes), as well as national small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and foreign departments of space sector companies. For the time being, cooperation between these subjects, especially with research centers is insufficient. A more intensive collaboration with research centers, especially with these aspiring to play a significant role in the Polish space industry, should be promoted. Moreover, companies and research centers should not compete against each when applying for funds.

During the last couple of years, some leading Polish research centers purchased expensive specialist equipment, which may be helpful when conducting projects linked to ESA activities. Unfortunately, SME access to that kind of infrastructure is restricted. Consequently, Polish entities may have limited chances to win advanced ESA tenders.

The lack of contacts or mutual distrust is a common barrier when it comes to cooperation. In the end, many promising Polish technological projects realised in research centers cannot be commercialised. Their results are often stowed away and forgotten.

The current situation demands immediate changes, including promoting common research and development work, where research centers would be partners, and not leaders of consortiums. It should be looked at whether some kind of “competition” could occur between institutes interested in similar topics.

Recommendation #2: To encourage the involvement in space activities of national firms from other sectors than space in order to consolidate the Polish industrial capacity, and to foster national and foreign investment in Polish space firms. In this frame a National Space Strategy, covering also national security aspects, with measurable objectives, resources and a clear medium to long-term plan for institutional expenditure in space would support this undertaking.

Kosmonauta.net’s commentary:
Currently most of Polish companies are not capable to invest in the space sector and are looking for their chances in public (co)funded projects. Ultimately, this situation should change by the increasing engagement of private, company and investment resources. It is worth mentioning, that in Europe there are investment funds dedicated to the space industry (mainly in the “downstream” sector). Unfortunately, they are not yet accessible for Polish entities. There are attempts to create similar funds in Poland, but the first results will be known by the end of the next year.

During the last years some companies from the European space sector (also the largest system integrators) entered the Polish market. In some cases, the effects seem to be positive, because they led to interesting projects in Poland conducted within the framework of ESA and Horizon 2020 programs. In other cases, the presence of western companies might be controversial, according to some comments. This opinion is referred in case of technologies which are developed using Polish resources, but implemented abroad. It is not a profitable situation for the Polish space industry, which should introduce its own products as soon as possible.

Recommendation #3: Extend the transition period and its associated Polish Industry Incentive Scheme to 2019.

Kosmonauta.net’s commentary:
The moment Poland became an ESA member state (at the end of 2012), a dedicated transitional program called “Polish Industry Incentive Scheme” started. It is a call just for Polish entities, which are allowed to propose their own ideas for research and development projects. The aim of this call is to develop Polish technologies, which would become a part of the European space industry.

So far there were two calls conducted (in 2013 and 2014). This year’s announcement was postponed for a couple of months due to ESA’s review. Altogether there were over 60 projects selected coming from various fields. Their overall value is estimated to be over 10 million EUR. The first results of the competition should be known by the end of the year, when most projects from 2013 will be finished. At that moment it will be known whether creating Polish technological solutions succeeded.

ESA strongly suggest proposing projects with a high implementation potential, not only “disposable” solutions without chances of further development. This poses a challenge to Polish companies due to their lack of experience in the space industry.

ESA noted that Polish subjects start winning tenders in open competitions of the agency (including the Kosmonauta.net / Blue Dot Solutions team). Still, some Polish subjects have significant problems with obtaining these contracts, comparing with western companies. On the other hand, the small PROBA3 satellite (predicted to launch in 2018) has a relatively high Polish contribution rate, which may be noted as a considerable success.

Misja PROBA-3 / Credits - ESA

PROBA-3 mission / Credits – ESA

Moreover, in 2017 a partial review of geo-return principle will take place at ESA. The formal review is expected to take place in 2019. These dates are related to the extension of the Polish Industry Incentive Scheme until 2019.

Recommendation #4: To further promote competitiveness of the Polish downstream applications sector and increase national investment in downstream activities (including increased participation in pertinent ESA programmes).

Kosmonauta.net’s commentary:
ESA noted that the Polish downstream sector has achieved some accomplishments and is capable competiveness on the market and is able to obtain the agency’s contracts. Therefore it is possible that ESA will reduce available funding for downstream projects, potentially apart from applications valuable for the development of the Polish public administration.

Already in 2014 the minimum requirements for submitted projects within the Polish Industry Incentive Scheme have been increased. It is possible that within the next years the requirements will change again, and consequently the number of submissions will decline. Still the number of available national competitions should increase and therefore strengthen the support to the downstream sector. However, national competitions may not be suitable enough to support such applications. As an alternative, Polish entities may try their hands at European competitions such as Horizon 2020, yet only a few projects have Polish coordinators so far.

It should be pointed out that downstream sector is currently the most profitable and competitive part of the space industry. Especially within the last years we observe a dynamic growth of quality and quantity of solutions using satellite navigation. In Poland it is encouraged to support the technological niche because of the introduction of the Galileo constellation to service.

Recommendation #5: A specific course on procurement, process and policy on ESA missions should be devised and delivered (teaching both, administration and space business). Access to information on the space market by sectors would be needed to allow Polish industry to have a clearer visibility of the market, their competitors and potential partners. Additional courses on Quality and Product Assurance and Cost audits for Polish industry and academia will also be organized.

Kosmonauta.net’s commentary:
Currently, the knowledge of Polish entities interested to join the space industry is relatively low. Lack of knowledge regarding applying for ESA’s projects, principles of (pre)financing projects, delivering results, distribution of intellectual property or the Polish presence in the agency result in many submission being rejected before the essential assessment. Consequently, only a few Polish subjects won open tenders of ESA. Moreover, frequently there were proposed projects without any relation to space or openly violating tender principles.

Even in Poland there is little knowledge about potential partners. Many entities, both scientific/academic and commercial aim to conduct projects on their own, despite lack of competence in certain fields (e.g. regarding implementation). Therefore, Polish entities need an intensive “training” in practical, technical, scientific and economic aspects of ESA’s space industry projects. Moreover, sufficient information exchange is needed, both official (coordinated by POLSA) and unofficial (delivered by independent experts). Besides, a large-scaled campaign should be performed informing on the benefits from developing a Polish space industry.

Recommendation #6: To speed up the process leading to a full operational Polish Space Agency, being the single executive responsible for space activities in Poland and providing efficient communication and information diffusion lines to the Polish space economic operators.

Kosmonauta.net’s commentary:
After Poland became an ESA member state, issues regarding the Polish space sector were supervised and organised by various ministries. The main role was taken over by the Ministry of Economics, however a great part of the Polish contribution to ESA is financed by the Defence Department. ESA decided that Poland needs a better space administration and suggested establishing an agency responsible for managing the Polish space industry. Finally, the Polish authorities created the Polish Space Agency – POLSA.

POLSA is meant to be the main unit responsible for collaboration with ESA. However, ESA’s report mentions that “some space economic operators” are concerned about establishing POLSA because of its competences and work description. Many Polish companies claim that POLSA should perform only administrative duties, yet it is said that the agency may also conduct its own research projects. The second form of activity seems to be less optimal for the Polish space industry because of the amount of funding and human resources needed. POLSA will be divided into three main departments (Warsaw, Gdańsk, Rzeszów) holding combined several dozen employees.

Siedziba POLSA w GPNT / Credits – Stanisław Kosiedowski, CC BY-SA 3.0

POLSA will be located in the Gdansk Center of Science & Technology (GPNT)  / Credits – Stanisław Kosiedowski, CC BY-SA 3.0

It is crucial for POLSA to start collaboration with Polish companies and universities as soon as possible. This way experts from the agency will gain insight into the real condition of the Polish space industry and will estimate the potential of Polish entities.

The next year Poland will participate in the ESA Ministerial Council. It is important for Polish officials to be well organised and ready for discussion with other experts about the future of the European Space Agency.

This article is a part of the report on the current condition of the Polish space industry written by Blue Dot Solutions. For more information please contact us at: office@bluedotsolutions.eu

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