Amid Declining U.S. Budgets, Astrium Sees Opportunity

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PARIS — The U.S. military space budget is in for a multiyear decline and NASA’s budget is stagnant at best, leaving U.S. manufacturers hungry for new markets — hardly the moment for a non-U.S. company to be looking to grow in the United States.

Astrium Americas, a unit of Europe’s EADS aerospace giant, does not share that view. The company has created a new office in California to sell space propulsion technologies.

The company has hired Robert Huebner, a former vice president at AMPAC In-Space Technologies of Niagara Falls, N.Y., to run the Los Angeles operation, whose coals-to-Newcastle timing suits Astrium just fine.

“The market is challenging now with government budget cuts and the fact that prime contractors are looking to the commercial market as a kind of alternative,” said Andreas Rohne, head of the in-space propulsion business at Astrium Space Transportation. “But this presents opportunities as well. There are new platforms being developed, and we already have many relations with U.S. suppliers that can be better managed from the U.S.”

Astrium’s Eurostar commercial telecommunications satellite platform uses an established U.S. supply chain. In addition to hunting for new business, the propulsion office will maintain closer relations with these suppliers.

“The main point is to be in the United States,” Rohne said April 3. “We will take our time there.”

Astrium in the past couple of years has created a separate business unit, called Astrium Satellite Products, to sell satellite equipment to prime contractors to diversify the revenue base beyond the company’s satellites.

Thomas Mueller, head of Astrium Satellite Products, said the company sees multiple opportunities for expanding its business in the United States, saying the budget crisis may shake up the U.S. industrial base to the point where new partnerships are possible.

“It’s not just propulsion, but general satellite equipment where we may be able to add value” to U.S. prime contractors on government and nongovernment programs, Mueller said.