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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Racing into a new space era

Thematic area: Information technologies
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Report preparation
Duration: 2018 till 2019

Background and central aspects of the topic

In recent years, public attention paid to crewed and uncrewed space exploration has been growing noticeably. Driven by scientific, political and increasingly also economic interests, a dynamic development can be observed in the space industry, which is referred to as »New Space«. Some visionaries have turned their attention to Mars as a kind of »second planet Earth«, the exploration and colonisation of which is intended to represent a next step in establishing a human presence in space. Other players are looking for ways and means to make resources that are beyond the Earth’s orbit accessible.

The goals of uncrewed space exploration appear less radical, but nevertheless ambitious: The further development of satellites enables new and better access to earth observation, weather and climate research, telecommunications and navigation. It is also clear from the relevance given to the topic by politics that space technologies have long been – and still are – an important field of innovation in a modern industrial and information society.

Yet the USA and Russia are no longer the only nations to make great leaps forward into space. Not only the European Union, but also China, Japan and India are pushing the development of rockets, satellite systems and space probes to explore planet Earth and the solar system. Besides, other groups of players have also become established in recent years. Financially strong private sector players in the USA – such as SpaceX, Blue Origins and Google – are making considerable investments to shape the dynamics of future development regarding crewed and uncrewed space exploration. In addition to renowned aerospace locations such as Bremen or Oberpfaffenhofen, a young scene of high-tech companies aiming at commercially opening up new applications of space technology is developing in Germany as well – particularly in Berlin.

Objectives and approach

The aim of the TAB project is to provide an overview of current developments and future perspectives in German space research and industry, taking particular account of the dynamics of start-ups and their new developments. In order to be able to adequately evaluate the race into the new space era, the activities in Germany are presented in comparison with the international environment. Besides national strategies to promote space exploration and the positioning of the major space organisations, the ambitions of new players (particularly private companies and start-ups) represent a special focus. In addition to the evaluation of available sources from science, economy and politics, experts will be involved in the project via interviews and workshops.

In a first step, a mapping of current technological trajectories for crewed and uncrewed space exploration and their political and economic framework conditions will be created. Based on this mapping, the fields of innovation regarding space technologies that are relevant for Germany will be identified. Besides technological and economic drivers, the aim is to identify the guiding principles and future visions of the players involved, to detect possible conflicts of interests and, finally, to point out prospects for commercialisation. In addition to the analysis of the thematically focused fields of innovation, a case study on Germany as a location for innovation will be prepared. In this case study, the reference points of the space technology locations in Germany with regard to the fields of innovation will be revealed. Subsequently, the foreseeable direct and indirect implications of the identified developments on the economy, society, environment and law will be described and classified within the framework of an analysis covering all fields of application. Finally, the results will be summarised and evaluated in a SWOT analysis and regulatory fields of action will be derived.

Project progress

Based on the brief profile (only in German)PDF [0,63 MB] of the topic worked out within the framework of the horizon scanning 2017, the TAB consortium partner VDI/VDE-IT started to work on the TA brief study in November 2018.