Connect by CNES leaders pose with a replica of an International Space Station module at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Credit: Connect by CNES

SAN FRANCISCO — A delegation from the French Space Agency CNES visited Colorado and Texas last week to expand ties between French and American aerospace companies.

The officials, who jokingly refer to themselves as France’s NewSpace Musketeers, plan to establish virtual hubs in Denver and Houston for Connect by CNES, a government initiative to spur space-related innovation.

“We want to create jobs in the U.S. and jobs in France,” Francois Alter, CNES deputy chief strategy officer, told SpaceNews. “We want to be the wedding planner to support this growing ecosystem with strong partnerships between U.S. and French companies.”

France and the United States have longstanding civil and military space ties, which have deepened in recent years. In addition, France’s vibrant NewSpace sector is growing with an average of one startup established per week.

Government support for the NewSpace ecosystem is strong. The national investment plan France 2030 directs 1.5 billion euros ($1.64 billion) towards investment in space technologies over five years.

“We have ammunition to make this ecosystem go,” said Emmanuel de Lipkowski, CNES senior advisor and a French Space Command Reserve officer.

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Connect by CNES was established in 2018 to provide startups with technical expertise, funding, software, incubators, accelerators and introductions to prime contractors and government space agencies. With many French startups maturing, Connect by CNES is looking for international partners, beginning in the United States.

To help French startups establish ties in the U.S., a French delegation met in Denver Dec. 11 and 12 with representatives of Colorado companies, government agencies and academic institutions. The visit paves the way for some 30 to 40 French entrepreneurs to meet with potential partners in April during the National Space Foundation’s 39th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

“There is already a lot of collaboration between French and U.S. companies,” Alter said. “We met companies that already have French suppliers, French partners or French customers. Some of them want to make more business in Europe.”

Connect by CNES can help U.S. companies by serving as the “point of entrance to the European ecosystem,” Alter said.

Business France, which has seven offices in the United States, also helps U.S. companies “understand the French market and identify French and European market incentives,” said Nicolas Maubert, CNES representative and space attaché for the French Embassy in Washington.

Speed and Resiliency

Through international partnerships, CNES seeks to improve the resiliency of its space sector.

“We have to make our supply chain much more resilient,” Lipkowski said, citing geopolitical tensions.

The French Air and Space Force and French Space Command “have excellent collaboration with the U.S. military,” Lipowski said. “The collaboration is growing. We are here to make it better and to find better opportunities.”

Partnerships also help space companies keep up with the rapid pace of innovation, Alter said. “In this NewSpace era, you need to move fast. That means that you must find the best suppliers, the best off-the-shelf components and the best equipment.”

Connect by CNES’ Houston hub will be oriented toward human spaceflight and moon programs including Artemis. The Denver hub will focus on military space, cybersecurity, space medicine and educational exchanges.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...