Poland Eyes National Astronautics and Aeronautics Agency

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WARSAW, Poland — Following Poland’s accession to the European Space Agency (ESA) last year, local decision-makers are now debating the project to create a state-run astronautics and aeronautics agency. The latter is designed to boost the development of a Polish space industry.

The proposal was put forward in late July by the Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), one of the two ruling parties that form the country’s coalition government. Jan Bury, head of the PSL’s parliamentary faction, said the agency would coordinate Poland’s efforts in various intergovernmental space programs and boost cooperation between Polish scientists and manufacturers. The agency’s other roles would include cooperating with companies and research institutes whose work is related to space technology.

“We have great researchers and more than 200 companies interested in this industry,” Bury told local business daily Rzeczpospolita. “Poland is missing out on many opportunities, and it will miss out probably even more if we don’t create a coordinator of [our efforts in] space.”

He reiterated these remarks in an interview with Polish Radio, the nation’s public radio broadcaster.

Poland joined ESA in September 2012 and is contributing some $140 million per year in membership fees. Under the plan, the new Polish agency is expected to facilitate recouping some of these funds in the form of contracts awarded by the ESA to local space industry players.

With the Polish government currently trimming back spending on administration and state-run institutions, the new agency would initially be granted limited funds. According to Bury, who is also the deputy head of the Polish parliament’s space committee, the agency’s first budget would not exceed about 20 million zloty ($6.5 million). The new body would have a workforce of between 20 and 30, Bury told reporters July 30.

Bury said the bill to create the agency is most likely to be submitted by the parliament’s space committee, and not by his party or the government, in order to rally support from across the political spectrum behind the initiative.

According to Bury, creating a space agency could facilitate the awarding of ESA contracts to Poland’s space industry by increasing the companies’ visibility. Existing research institutes, such as the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences, are actively involved in space-related research but are not capable of supporting business-oriented activities of local manufacturers. 

Set up in 1976, the Space Research Center says on its website that it is supporting “the government in the organization of space activities in Poland” and “the establishment of the Polish Space Agency.”

The project to create the agency is in line with the government’s action plan for developing space and satellite technology in Poland. According to the plan, which was adopted in June 2012, the government aims to increase the “support for the development of the space sector in Poland, both in the industrial and scientific field, by 2020.”

“The main barriers hampering the development of Poland’s space industry are organizational and financial, and the state’s intervention is indispensable to eliminate them,” the document said.

Marek Jablonowski, a professor of political science at the University of Warsaw, said the Polish government is increasingly involved in fostering innovative research by domestic companies. “One example of such activity is [the government’s] support to the creation of an aviation industry cluster in southern Poland which significantly boosted the development of this industry,” Jablonowski said in an interview Oct. 15.

According to the government’s action plan, cooperation with local aviation and defense manufacturers is crucial for the development of Poland’s space industry.

Meanwhile, Poland-based space manufacturers are organizing themselves and developing links with their European counterparts in a bid to reach new markets. 

In late 2012, 19 entities set up the Polish Space Industry Association. Currently, the Warsaw-based organization has 24 members. These include state-owned defense industry player Polish Defense Holding, which until 2013 operated under the brand of Bumar Group; privately owned defense manufacturer WB Electronics, which specializes in unmanned aerial vehicles and radio communication systems; robotics manufacturer Robotics Inventions; Creotech Instruments, whose product portfolio includes machine-to-machine communication systems, cameras and measurement systems; and optical components and laser modulator manufacturer Solaris Optics.

In July 2013, the association joined the European space industry organization SME4SPACE, which groups small and medium-sized manufacturers from 11 member states.