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Revealed: Europe

European Space Agency : 30 June, 2003  (Technical Article)
'Europe has a yearly budget of approximately 400 million Euro for space technology research and development. ESA provides half of this budget, while the rest is going through national channels,' said Hans Kappler, ESA Director of Industrial Matters and Technology Programmes. 'It is very obvious this investment has to be harmonised in order to avoid unnecessary duplications of activities and fill strategic gaps.'
The French Minister of Research and New Technologies, Claudie Haigneré, opened the debate after receiving the first copy of the European Space Technology Master Plan (ESTMP, second release) from Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director for Launchers and incoming ESA Director General together with Antonio Rodota', ESA Director General, and Hans Kappler.

'It is very important that we can have this harmonisation and common strategy defined at European level on technology; it is an essential work between ESA, Member States, EC and Industry,' said Claudie Haigneré. 'We have now an instrument which is helping us to work efficiently and achieve concrete results at European level.'

The players and their views

'The ministerial conference in Edinburgh in November 2001 reaffirmed ESA mandate to take up a coordination and harmonisation role, involving all stakeholders, to establish the European technology strategy and policy,' recalled Kappler.

The necessity to identify needs, to map European capabilities and to define common European roadmaps for future developments were outlined and an overall process established.

The new ESTMP refers to all the institutional actors, describing technology activities in Europe, strategies and funding approaches, readiness level and relationship with European partners, and includes a database of 1600 individual European technology activities. The result: through a joint effort involving ESA, EC, the 16 ESA delegations, more than 100 industries and about 500 professionals, 20 technology areas have been harmonised.

Kappler said: 'A good example of harmonisation is the area of solar cells where we had to deal with the different dimensions, the needs, the technology availability, the competitiveness, and the harmonisation between different national players.'

There was a clear gap in the European market for multi-junction GaAS solar cells before harmonisation, with the technology primarily procured in the United States. Europe needed to invest in research to gain a competitive edge in terms of performance, price and delivery.

Resources were concentrated on a common development programme, with the aim of achieving a large-scale production capability. Today the result of the harmonisation effort is that European multi-junction solar cells are now used on the Herschel-Plank spacecraft. They are also being selected for Astrium telecommunication satellites.

Why the need for technology harmonisation?

Geir Hovmork, Chairman of ESA's Industry Policy Committee, explained: 'The national delegations finance their countries' participation in ESA as well as national programmes and they have limited finances available. In certain technology areas we find the same kind of industries competing for the same limited market. It became quite obvious both for industry as well as for governments that we needed some kind of concerted approach to get the most out of our budget.'

Alain Gaubert, Secretary General of Eurospace, recalled that Eurospace has 55 European companies as members representing 90 per cent of the European industry turnover; they have to face a very serious crisis. The telecommunication market is going down. 'There is a manufacturing capability of 35 satellites per year while the total number of orders will not be more than 12 this year, and we will be happy if we just get half of these. In this situation, there is need for a more coordinated approach in all R&D field and core innovation.'

This point was agreed by Luc Tytgat, the EC's Head of Space Unit: 'We want to improve and increase the strength of Europe, and it is absolutely necessary to implement a tool which helps to coordinate this, so this harmonisation effort is definitively something we welcome. We have in front of us an enlargement process where new association countries needs visibility on what are the objectives of the European Union and this type of instrument (i.e. the Master Plan) is absolutely a significant, strategic and visible contribution to our requirements to coordinate and harmonize technology activities in Europe.'

'If we want to be ambitious in Europe and want to launch new space programmes we will have to allocate more resources but at the same time to make the best use of the money. We have to ensure that all national research centres, the different institutes and even the private sector try to build up together an independent approach for the technology we need in Europe.'

It is part of the harmonisation process to find a balance between maintaining a healthy competition and to concentrate the limited resources available to support the Industry competitiveness. 'This is one of the real challenges in the harmonisation process,' Kappler emphasised.

All speakers at the round table underlined the constructive and positive spirit of this European initiative, the momentum acquired and the already concrete results achieved.

The step forward

The process of defining a European strategy and policy for space technology R&D is highly dynamic with active feedback throughout its various phases and frequent interaction with all parties involved. The technology requirements and the ESTMP itself will be updated on a yearly basis, the harmonisation being more a continuous process addressing approximately eight technologies per year, with the objective of revisiting the technology roadmaps on a three to four year basis.

'Technology is paving the way. The harmonisation approach and results will continue to further expand toward industrial policy and space programmes,' Kappler concluded.

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