Germany Seeks Niche in Telecom Satellite Market

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The German government has resigned itself to the fact that France has a dominant role in building large telecommunications satellites but is determined to promote investment in other areas in which it can take the lead in Europe, according to Juergen Meyer, director-general of the German Ministry of Economics and Technology.

The goal, he said, is to provide near-term economic benefits.

“We have hoped that investing in new satellites could be a money-spinner,” Meyer said June 9 during the Berlin air show, ILA 2010. Addressing an audience that included German satellite component builders, he said: “We want to help you make money and develop a good value chain using ESA [the European Space Agency] and its Artes program.”

Artes is the 18-nation ESA’s program to develop telecommunications technologies. It is also the source of funding for the Small-Geo satellite design that OHB Technology of Bremen, Germany, is developing for commercial applications.

“In large communications satellites we must recognize that the French have a certain dominance, and it’s a dominance we’re not going to beat anytime soon,” Meyer said. “But German companies are developing technologies that put them in a favorable position.”

German industry is pushing the government to proceed with funding for a telecommunications demonstration satellite, named Heinrich Hertz, to provide in-orbit validation for some 30 different satellite components that are thought to have potential in the market.

Meyer did not say his ministry would commit to the project, but he said the idea is valid.

In several presentations here, government and industry officials cited China and India as new competitors in the satellite telecommunications market.

Berry Smutny, chief executive of OHB System, the satellite building division of OHB Technology, said the real competition is not in the east, but in the United States.

“Our objective is not to compete with India or China,” Smutny said here in a June 9 presentation. “We are competing with Orbital Sciences, and we need to be more attractive than they are. They have proved that the market for these [Small-Geo-type] satellites exists.

“After 20 years of German abstinence in investing in telecommunications, we now have a product that can be used for telecommunications, data relay and other purposes.”