Industry Urges Investment in Technologies for European Independence in Space

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  Space News Business

Industry Urges Investment in Technologies for European Independence in Space

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 31 October 2005
01:08 pm ET


Europe’s principal space-hardware manufacturers have presented to their governments a detailed list of technologies that should be the focus of European space budgets to assure their global competitiveness and eliminate dependence on the United States.

The resulting document, “Space R&T Priorities for Europe,” was produced by the Eurospace industry association and disclosed here Oct. 25 at a conference of European government and industry representatives.

The result of months of negotiations among 90 companies across Europe, the document reflects the divergent priorities of the manufacturers.

A company like Alcatel Alenia Space, which is relatively absent from rocket-related programs, wants government spending to focus on satellite and ground-segment technologies to assure that Europe can hold its own against the current U.S. competition, and against future competitors in China, India, Russia, Japan and elsewhere.

For companies like EADS Space Transportation and Snecma, maintaining Europe’s historic spending on space transportation tops their list of priorities, which include investment in future restartable rocket stages and new propulsion technologies.

Instead of choosing one set of goals over another, Eurospace simply added them together. Rankings were made only on the basis of each technology’s t echnology- readiness level, with milestone goals for testing and flying the technologies involved.

Eurospace’s intent is to influence the coming December conference in Berlin of European Space Agency (ESA) government ministers, a meeting that occurs once every three or four years to set space spending priorities.

A similar effort was made in the late 1990s — before the telecommunications crash and before the U.S. government enacted new rules making it much more difficult for non-U.S. companies to purchase U.S.-built space components.

U.S. technology-transfer restrictions have sparked an awareness in Europe that, often without realizing it, many European space programs have become dependent on U.S. suppliers for a substantial number of satellite components.

European government officials often cite the example of the Galileo satellite navigation project as an example of the problem. Because the future Galileo satellite constellation will include U.S. components, the U.S. State Department has veto power over where Galileo satellites are assembled and launched by virtue of its power to deny export licenses for the components.

U.S. State Department negotiators have made clear, for example, that Galileo satellites will not be permitted for launch aboard Chinese rockets. China is a shareholder in the Galileo program.

European science programs including atmospheric re-entry, descent and landing — such as the Beagle 2 Mars lander and the Huygens probe that landed on Saturn’s moon Titan — in the past two years have confronted the fact that all re-entry systems, including parachutes, are viewed as military gear under the new technology transfer rules.

ESA and the French space agency, CNES, have started programs designed to spur European electronics manufacturers to build space-qualified electronics in return for a guaranteed, if small, recurring sales volume among European space companies.

The Eurospace listing features four “dependence levels” for the technology priorities. They start at “No dependence concerns today” and end at “Immediate action is required” to avoid a situation in which U.S. suppliers and the U.S. government have control over what space programs Europe pursues.

There are a number of components and technologies that were identified as items that are now in production only outside Europe, mainly in the United States. The following are examples — technologies that Eurospace views as important for Europe’s future competitiveness and space ambitions, and carry the “Immediate Action is required” label:

– Active reconfigurable satellite antennas with beam-forming networks.

– Wideband digital transparent processors.

– High-efficiency laser pump sources for laser technologies including lidars.

– Advanced generic transmit-receive modules, power converters and radiators for high-resolution, wide-swath radar antennas for Earth observation satellites.

– Soft landing, sensor-based guidance, navigation and control systems with propulsion br aking, for re-entry, descent and landing for planetary probes, rovers and ascent vehicles.

– Digital electronic components including high-speed memories and processors and radiation-hardened digital signal processors operating at speeds of 1 gigaflop.

Comments: pdeselding@compuserve.com