It is very probable that the European Space Agency will be joined by two new member states from our region – Estonia and Hungary.
The Czech Republic was the first post-socialist country to join the European Space Agency (ESA). This happened almost six years ago in November 2008. The following country was Romania, which became the 19th ESA member state in December 2011. Poland was the 20th country to join – in November 2012. The three countries currently participate to many ESA programs and contribute jointly 58,6 mln EUR to the agency annually. This is about 1,4% of the full ESA budget, which does not constitute a significant amount. Still one has to remember that just ten years ago space industry expenses in those countries were less that a few million EUR and funding was mostly allocated to “one of a kind” science projects.
Two new countries from our region – Hungary and Estonia – prepare for full ESA membership. If the governments of both countries will keep their declarations, be the end of next year the European Space Agency should consist of 22 member states.
In the last decade Hungary was on the path to become the first or second post-socialist ESA member state. At that time Hungary already participated to the PECS program (the last “phase” of integration with ESA), but in 2007 its government decided to delay the entry into the agency’s structures and another round of the PECS program was started instead. In 2012 the country decided again not to join ESA and start a third PECS round. This had a detrimental effect on the local space industry, which was “overtaken” by Czech and Polish companies. At least one company from Hungary lost a big share of the market this way.
On the other hand in recent years Estonia underwent a significant transformation towards a “digital state” with reduced administration. The country actively promotes itself in many events related to high-tech, including the space industry. Estonia has the following approach: the country knows its funding limits, thus it promotes cooperation and projects in consortia with foreign partners.
It is probable that the first ESA budgets coming from Hungary and Estonia will be rather small, on a 10-15 mln EURO scale, still those funds should enable the growth of companies in both countries, especially entities using satellite data and navigation. Both countries will probably focus less on hardware developments, although there are Hungarian and Estonian companies which have provided hardware for the space industry for years. Both countries have a big potential for growth and there is a fair chance, that they will introduce commercial satellite services by the end of the decade. In addition in 2016 or 2017 Slovenia should also become a new ESA member state.