Space as "Future Market"

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - In a recent strategy paper, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) is calling on the German government to provide billions of euros in support of German industry in the global competition for expansion into space. According to BDI, not only the German economy needs independent space-based satellite communications to secure its "strategic autonomy," but government agencies and the military, as well. After all, Bundeswehr missions are "inconceivable without space systems." The BDI, estimating the current space market at around US $260 billion, expects the global space market to increase "to US $2,700 billion" by 2040. To secure the German industry an attractive market share, the government must significantly increase its current approx. €285 million space budget, the BDI writes. Moon flights, space debris disposal, and space mining could offer opportunities.

Trillion Market

The Federation of German Industries (BDI) is urging the German government to extensively invest public funds in the private sector's space exploitation. According to the BDI's strategy paper published in late May, space is a "future market" and space applications are of "key importance" to German industry.[1] The space market has huge potential, and its present volume of around US $260 billion will increase by "more than tenfold to US $2,700 billion" by 2040, the BDI writes. As a "high-tech country," as "the world's fourth-largest economy" and "leading export nation," Germany has been investing too little in space flight. On the international level, Germany only ranks ninth in terms of government spending. There is a lack of public "resources and mechanisms" to promote "private space investment and innovation." In relationship to space, Germany must be "more ambitious," the BDI demands.

Space Flight as "Driving Force of Innovation"

The BDI considers space flight as a "key industrial sector" and as a "driving force for innovation," which could increase Germany's cross-sector "growth and competitive opportunities as a business site." In connection with the intended expansion into space, the paper specifically names key innovations - summarized under the heading "Industry 4.0" - such as the "Internet of Things" i.e. the automated transfer of information between technical devices and production facilities. "Industry 4.0" needs new forms of interception-proof satellite communication. Space-based forms of agriculture are decisive for the chemical industry to increase the efficiency of industrial "plant cultivation." The transport and logistics sectors are interested in the development of improved satellite-based logistical systems. Finally, the BDI wants to promote new forms for tapping raw materials deposits using satellite imagery. Because, as an industrialized country, Germany depends on the importation of raw materials, German automotive companies are already collaborating with "space flight service companies." The German industry's space exploitation will benefit the digital communication infrastructure, improve navigation systems, perfection economic and ecological earth observation, and promote sustainability, health, environmental and climate protection.

Strategic Autonomy

Space exploitation is a priority also for the "public sector," since space travel contributes significantly toward "mastering central global challenges" and to "Germany's prosperity," BDI explains. The German state's ability to act depends to a large extent on its "independent judgment," which is only possible when it disposes of its own access to space "communications, navigational and earth surveillance" systems. Only an independent European space infrastructure can "guarantee comprehensive state security" in the future. Besides, military missions are "no longer conceivable without space-based systems," the BDI warns. The military forces' dependence "on space-based systems and services" will continue to grow. The unimpeded access to, and the unobstructed availability of, the military infrastructure in space are "highly relevant." The BDI calls on politicians to guarantee the assured access to "strategic key technologies." The objective is to acquire or maintain the technical capability allowing the control of the entire "processing chain" of expansion into space. The BDI recognizes the German Aerospace Center (DLR) as the central institution for its ambitious space strategy, along with the Fraunhofer-Society, which disposes of the necessary "know how, and world leading and recognized key capabilities." Within the framework of the EU, the "strategic autonomy" must be maintained – even in relationship to the USA. This applies particularly to the Ariane 6 launching system, which will be operational in 2020.

"On a Par with France"

The German economy's ambitious space strategy will not come cheap for the taxpayers. To reinforce the capabilities of Germany's space industry and to attain a competitive edge, "the German government's continuous promotion of the strategic space competence in the national and international environment is necessary," explains BDI. Concretely speaking, Berlin must invest in the "German national space program" and in "Germany's share of the European space program" as well as "support" the strategic positioning of Germany's space industry. Last year, the German "National Program for Space and Innovation" was running on a budget of only €285 million, while France's program had a €726 million budget. The BDI complains of a similar imbalance existing in the "non-European sector." In spite of an overall inferior economic performance, the United States is investing "around five times more for space exploration," than the EU countries. An increase of Germany's space budget to "a par with France" would send the "right signal," according to the BDI. This would allow Berlin to continue to serve as the "motor" of the envisaged European space strategy.

Mining in Space and Orbital Debris Disposal

The BDI already names several concrete space projects, where the German industry could play a leading role in the future.[2] One pertains to the expansion to the moon, wherein the BDI, in spite of its rivalry, would like to punctually cooperate with the United States. The US seeks to return to the moon as early as 2024. Germany should be committed as the "USA's main partner for returning to the moon," according to the strategy paper. European industry has the necessary technological competence. This applies also to the further expansion to Mars, in which the moon could serve as a "stopover," writes BDI. In addition, a decision should be made, in cooperation with Washington, on an "ambitious follow-up project" for the International Space Station (ISS), to "facilitate continued research in the low-earth orbit even after 2028." The business association also envisages an orbital debris disposal project, to eliminate the rapidly accumulating space debris in the earth's orbit, threatening space stations and satellites. The technologies for "eliminating space debris" are already available and being tested; German companies are "leading in the currently accessible technologies." Finally, it is important to focus, already now, on space mining. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) Because of "rapid technological innovations," this has entered the "realm of the possible." Perspectively, metals mined from asteroids could even render "industrial production possible in space." The German government must set the course and promote "research projects for mining in space" already now.

 

[1] Zukunftsmarkt Weltraum - Bedeutung für die deutsche Industrie. BDI-Grundsatzpapier. Mai 2019.

[2] Stefan Krempl: Rückkehr zum Mond: BDI sieht Raumfahrt als kritische Infrastruktur. heise.de 21.05.2019.

[3] See also Rohstoffbomben aus dem Weltall.