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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: Technology, society, innovation
Analytical approach: TA brief study
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: completed
Duration: 2018 till 2019

Subject and objective of the study

New Space refers to a commercialisation of space exploration that is increasingly driven by private-sector companies, including a growing number of start-ups. Commercial players are creating a momentum of innovation in space exploration by developing new technologies and business models. Even if New Space points to completely new developments, it is not possible to draw a clear line between »Old Space« and »New Space«. Long-established companies are just as active as start-ups in the areas assigned to New Space. On the one hand, New Space companies operate in the established business areas of the traditional space industry, e. g. communications, navigation and earth observation. On the other hand, however, they are opening up completely new fields of activity – such as private crewed space flight, space services including the removal of space debris, space mining and manufacturing – or are even aiming at developing new space habitats. These developments are driven by innovations, particularly in the fields of miniaturisation, 3D printing, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), which result i. a. in constantly declining costs for space transportation and enable new applications.

The aim of the TAB project was 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. New Space 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 private-sector players represent a special focus. In addition to the evaluation of available sources from science, economy and politics, experts have been involved in the project via interviews and workshops.

Key results

The overall picture shows that Germany’s space and New Space players with their high-performance space research and development are diverse and absolutely able to keep up with other countries in the field of technical components and their manufacturing. In Germany as well, the creation of new companies can be observed, and numerous funding measures are available especially for the early start-up phase. As the space market is growing substantially, it also promises lucrative market opportunities for German companies.

However, the potentially promising development opportunities face various barriers to innovation, such as a lack of venture capital (especially in the growth phase of start-ups), a funding system with no easy access for smaller players and legal uncertainties. Altogether, Germany invests rather little in space exploration compared to other countries, which leads to a poorer starting position in competition. Furthermore, a crucial obstacle to overcome is the development of business models based on space data and technologies into other industries to tap the promising potential for applications – particularly in the downstream segment.

Three main options of action emerge in the fields of legal certainty, measures encouraging innovation, and in terms of supporting New Space as an innovative industry. The adaptation of the existing legal framework, i. e. space law that has been applicable so far, is currently made by shaping a national space law taking into account licensing procedures, liability, access to and exploitation of space assets as well as how to manage space debris. With regard to the constantly growing amounts of data generated during earth observation missions by a multitude of players, the question arises as to how data protection can be ensured by international agreements and how an unlawful exploitation of data relevant for competition – especially concerning companies – can be prevented.

In view of measures encouraging innovation, politics would have to examine whether financing instruments specifically adapted to New Space, such as e. g. a German space innovation fund established by the German KfW, is desirable for improving access to funding or whether supporting the growth of high-tech start-ups and innovative SMEs shall be further developed. With regard to the shortage of skilled labour, it could also be examined whether there is a need for more space-specific programs for attracting new talent and securing the next generation of scientists, or whether this issue should preferably be addressed in general within the framework of measures encouraging innovation. Another aspect to be considered is a stronger involvement of SMEs. Without a target group-specific orientation of the funding instruments, German SMEs in the field of space exploration will continue to benefit primarily rather indirectly from space funding by being involved in projects as subcontractors or suppliers of larger players. It would be conceivable to focus future funding programs more strongly on SMEs – for example by means of a quota for start-ups and SMEs or support measures adapted exclusively to start-ups or SMEs – in order to exploit the innovative strength of the space industry even more effectively.

With regard to the relatively low level of government funding compared to other countries, it would have to be verified whether the amount invested should be (substantially) increased in view of the expected economic potential of space-related products and services. To make sure that German companies remain competitive in the growing space market, measures will have to be developed to safeguard or even increase competitiveness. In order to take advantage of the considerable economic opportunities for a wide range of industries – especially the use of downstream products and services in non-space sectors – the space industry is challenged to develop and offer suitable applications and business models for the non-space industries. For this, the use of space technologies should be anchored more firmly in the German government’s industrial strategy and in other strategic measures to accompany the future space strategy.

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