A column by Marco Fuchs: thoughts about time and space

2019 will be a decisive year for Europe and all space activities

2018 is drawing to a close. For OHB it was a very successful year with numerous highlights. a review and outlook.

December 27, 2018. 2018 is drawing to a close. For OHB it was a very successful year with numerous highlights such as the International Astronautical Congress IAC, which Bremen hosted in October, attracting many important and interesting guests to my home city. At the end of a year, however, we should not just be looking back on what we have achieved, but cast our glance forward to the coming year, which I believe will be an important landmark year for us, because it will be a year for Europe.

Freedom of movement across Europe forms an essential element of our Group structure

For OHB, Europe is not just a buzzword. As we see it, Europe is where we live and do business; our employees are spread across Europe in our companies. As recently as in November 2018 we planted a further OHB flag on European soil, when we opened OHB CzechSpace in Brno in the Czech Republic. The close cooperation between our European companies and also the movement of staff between them, something which we expressly encourage, is the key to our success. Accordingly, freedom of movement across Europe forms an essential element of our Group structure. For this reason alone, Brexit saddens and concerns me as it marks a serious setback in the freedom of movement within the single market. As a company that has employees with an average age of 40 years, we are at a loss to understand this decision. Our workforce is made up of a total of 39 different nations, with the overwhelming majority coming from the nations of the EU. These young people appreciate the ability to work very flexibly for a European-based group. As a businessman, I obviously also appreciate this.

Brexit has impact on global satellite navigation program Galileo

Yet, Brexit has also impacted one of our major programs, namely the Galileo European satellite navigation system. This is because the United Kingdom will probably no longer be able to participate in Galileo. This specifically affects the public regulated services as these expressly form part of a European Commission program that also touches on security aspects of the Union. It is particularly regrettable that Galileo of all things, a program that – in contrast to all the other global satellite navigation programs currently in operation around the world – is available to all users free of any restrictions and whose data is not only used for positioning purposes but can also be leveraged for new business ideas, should become a bone of contention in the wake of Brexit. Its true purpose is to support European independence and, just like independent European access to space, to further the EU’s autonomy. Incidentally, media reports suggest that after Brexit has been completed the United Kingdom will be joining forces with partners to establish its own satellite navigation system.

For OHB, Galileo is a further aspect of Europe which is significant for us. After all, the European Commission and ESA are our customers. Throughout the entire Galileo program ever since we were awarded our first contract, we have learned a great deal about Europe in working with our customer. I’m not just referring to decision programs and the occasionally complex coordination processes but also to what it means for many Europeans to work for the European institutions. Obviously, we at OHB are aware of the advantages and disadvantages for daily routines of having mixed teams. Beyond this, however, we have often seen in Brussels and Strasbourg the common wish to pursue the European idea at even the lowest level and that this is something that unites all those involved. With such a complex institution as the European Union, negotiations can be strenuous until a compromise that is acceptable to everyone is ultimately reached. However, all these efforts are invariably driven by the desire for deep integration and, hence, the success of the Union.

The establishment of Galileo and the EU’s second beacon space program, namely the Copernicus earth observation program, have unleashed a a whole new dynamic for space technology in Europe. One of the principles enshrined in the ESA convention is for the agency’s programs to be funded by what is known as the “geo return”. In other words, ESA undertakes to award industrial contracts to the member states in a ratio equaling the relative financial contributions which they make[1]. To give an arbitrary example: if Germany contributes 25% to the funding of an earth observation program, then ESA awards about 25% of the contracts for this program to German industry. This allows the German government to influence the main focus of its national space policy via ESA contracts. On the other hand, the EU calls for tenders across Europe for contract awards for its space programs. This means that the individual member states are unable to determine the key aspects of their national space policy to the same as extent as they can with ESA. Although these decision processes often appear to be complex and fragmented, we have leaned that they do finally come together to form a coherent whole and ultimately mean that the citizens of Europe benefit from the greatest possible degree of co-determination in the implementation of European legislation.

In 2019, as always, OHB focuses on applications, space flight that offers benefits

The European elections in May 2019 also entail an element of co-determination as the members of the European Parliament are ultimately accountable to the electorate in exactly the same way as the members of national parliaments are. These elections mark an important milestone for us not least of all because the offices of a number of EU commissioners will be expiring, resulting in a substantial influx of new faces. This is just one of several reasons why it is important to observe the outcome of the European elections closely. Hopefully, the new EU Commission will have been installed by the time the ESA Conference of Ministers takes place in Sevilla in November 2019. This is because one of the items on the agenda of this conference will be the relationship between the EU and ESA as well as the future of European space flight. Decisions must be made on the continued operation of the International Space Station ISS as well as the future of exploration with and without astronauts. What path does Europe want to take in space looking forward? The United States will soon be returning to the moon. Similarly, it has plans for a manned voyage to Mars. But where is Europe headed? And with whom? Until now, the major international partnerships have been forged between the traditional space nations. At the same time, the ISS has already proven several times that it can be a final lifeline for international cooperation. For this reason, it is imperative to additionally strengthen such partnerships. Moreover, I believe that thought must be given to ways of integrating new space nations such as China and India, which have previously not been members of the ISS team but have long since completed ventures into space. As always, OHB focuses on applications, space flight that offers benefits. However, in addition to the customary earth observation, telecommunications and navigation programs, we are also advocating an asteroid deterrence mission: in a partnership with US space agency NASA a space probe is to be used to deflect an asteroid from its trajectory by means of an impact. As we see it, this mission will make an important contribution to disaster prevention, which is why we will be asking the ministers in Sevilla to approve it.

We face a challenging year with lots of work. However, it will also be an exciting year for Europe, which we are greatly looking forward to.

[1] See Article VII (1c) of the ESA Convention.


Personal details:

Born in 1962, Marco Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE since 2000 and of OHB System AG since 2011. Marco Fuchs is married and has two children.