In November 2012 Poland became a twentieth member of the European Space Agency (ESA). The participation to this prestigious organization brings new opportunities for technological development to Polish companies. The most important element of membership in the ESA is the possibility of applying for projects announced by the Agency in its tenders.
These tenders are almost exclusively addressed to entities from ESA’s Member States, in particular companies, research institutions and universities. Tenders relate to a wide range of topics, including basic research, development and technology development at different stages (from concept, through simulations up to the construction of the demonstrators) or providing specific components for ESA missions. Some tenders focus on the economical background or practical applications of satellite data, for example for marine traffic or next generation of telecommunication services.
Poland is a member of the ESA with an annual budget of about 30 million EUR per year. The contribution of each Member State is made up of two elements – the mandatory part (dependent on the size of the GDP), and contributions to optional programs, the value of which depends on the decision of the country.
About 90% of the membership fee to the ESA Member States should return in the form of contracts to entities from each country. Each new member in the structure of the Agency for first several years of membership is in a “transitional period”. In case of Poland, this period will last until the end of 2017. During this time, the entities from each country should gain experience and learn how to cooperate with the Agency. The transitional period is associated primarily with the allocation of a special amount of money, which in case of Poland is 45% of the mandatory fee. These funds are then distributed through a tender dedicated mostly to Polish entities.
The aim of the transitional period is to develop Polish products and solutions (hardware, software), which eventually would become competitive on the European and global space sector markets. Thanks to the allocation of funding, areas of expertise in the aerospace, telecommunications, software and application sectors should be reached. In addition, Polish entities will became familiar with the principles of requirements related to ESA tenders requirements, such as course projects, reporting, and accounting work. Similar “transitional periods” are currently being implemented in the Czech Republic and Romania, which joined ESA before Poland.
The first call for proposals in Poland, called “Polish Industry Incentive Scheme”, gained 73 valid submissions for a total amount of over 17 million. 54 applications (82% of total) were submitted by companies (in the amount of EUR 14 million), and 19 (over 3 million) by research institutions. Finally, 31 applications have been approved in the amount of approximately 5.3 million EUR, which gives very high for ESA success rate – 42%. 25 final applications were submitted by companies (in the amount of EUR 4.75 million), and 6 belong to research institutions (in the amount of EUR 0,578 million).
Development of the national space sector is a necessary action by any State, which aims to maintain high economic growth. The space industry is one of the most profitable and stable industries, with recorded growth even during the global economic crisis. Polish accession to the ESA is an opportunity for the rapid development of Polish high-tech industry, creation of new jobs, development of competitive products and services (related for example with satellite data) and eventually, increase of innovation of Polish economy.
Although Poland does not aspire to be a strong player on space market, it may well specialize in several “niches”. By using satellite data an improvement of the existing infrastructure may be achieved in many areas with benefits to the economy and society. Some examples include intelligent transportation systems (ITS), planning, monitoring and protection of the environment, public security, agriculture and crisis management.
Photo: Member States of the ESA – blue color