December 22, 2020. What a year! Are you feeling the same way? I still look a little incredulous at what has happened since March 2020. On the other hand, I am also impressed by how states, societies and companies have responded quickly and pragmatically to the challenges of the Corona pandemic. However, some sectors had to suffer significantly more from the Corona consequences than others. And that is why, at the end of the year, I am of course happy to be the owner and CEO of a company in the space industry. Because we have come through the crisis comparatively well - both in terms of the consequences for our workforce and the business results. This has not least to do with the fact that we are dealing with long-running projects in the space industry.
In this column I would like to focus less on taking stock of 2020 and more on looking ahead and making some observations about my expectations for 2021 and beyond. There are 5 trends that I am convinced will ensure that space will continue to grow in importance in the future.
First, however, I would like to draw your attention to a very important personnel matter that was recently decided upon. In mid-December, the ESA Council appointed the Austrian Josef Aschbacher as the new ESA Director General. He will take up the post on July 1st, 2021, succeeding the German Jan Wörner, who has been ESA Director General since 2015. I know both of them very well. Wörner has done a lot for space in Europe, for which I am very grateful to him. The Tyrolean-born Aschbacher is something of an ESA veteran, having been employed at the European Space Agency since 1990. He is currently the Director of Earth Observation Programmes for the Copernicus missions, which aim to collect data on climate change. So he brings a lot of experience with him - and he is focusing on topics that will further promote the future of application-oriented, useful space technology. Which brings me to the first trend that will ensure that the space industry will become more important.
More and better data on the development of the climate and the environment will decide our fate
In the future, this data will be available live, so to speak. There will be permanent monitoring of climate and environmental parameters via satellites. The pressure to have this database permanently available on demand has recently been put on Europe itself. At the last EU summit in December, the EU significantly tightened its own climate targets for 2030. Greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by at least 55 per cent below the 1990 level; previously, a minus of 40 per cent applied. Europe is thus confirming its goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050.
The fact that Europe is serious about playing a leading role in climate protection worldwide was already made clear in November 2019 by the decision of the then ESA Ministerial Council Conference. At that time, the ESA states agreed on six more missions of the European Earth Observation Programme Copernicus. In summer 2020, ESA awarded the contracts for these. I firmly believe that the climate goals can only be achieved if sound data and facts are available, which serve science as a basis for new climate models and politicians as a basis for deriving wise decisions from them. The source of this data will increasingly be satellites in the future.
Beyond that, however, we must also address the question of whether the measures taken so far to limit greenhouse gas emissions are sufficient. I have had many discussions with scientists about this in the course of this year. They have told me that the climate crisis is accelerating in a way that could also require alternative measures. Experts speak of geoengineering or solar radiation management. A team of engineers and scientists at OHB has been working on this in an internal study. After an intensive exchange with climate researchers from the University of Bremen and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, I came to the conclusion that we need to hold a discussion on flanking measures using geoengineering. There are still many reservations, but live tracking of measures through space technology is also possible in this field and would thus quickly make aberrations visible. This leads me to trend number 2:
The expansion of the European satellite networks will continue unabated
At the beginning of 2021, the ESA will award the contracts for the satellites of the second generation of the European navigation system Galileo. The fleet of satellites in the European Copernicus earth observation system will be growing steadily for the reasons described above. And finally, a few weeks ago, ESA initiated the award of a contract for a feasibility study for a third major European satellite programme to a consortium of European space companies, including OHB. The EU plans to develop a so-called constellation - a fleet of thousands of small satellites - in order to be able to offer nationwide internet from space.
This will significantly advance trend number 3:
The segment of the so-called New Space will also establish itself as an important area of space industry in Europe and drive the commercialisation of the industry
At a press conference on the occasion of his appointment, Josef Aschbacher named a few points that he wants to tackle right on his first day at work. One of them is to "intensively drive forward" the commercialisation of the space industry. Germany plays a leading role in this! We are currently experiencing a "race to space" of three start-ups working on so-called microlaunchers, small rockets with which small satellites can be launched into space. One of these ambitious companies is Rocket Factory Augsburg, which is planning its first launch for 2022 under the umbrella of OHB.
I firmly believe in the market that microlaunchers will be able to serve in the future. In the future, the satellite infrastructure will also increasingly be formed by swarms of hundreds to thousands of small satellites that will deliver a variety of different commercial services in low orbits. This will lead to an industrialisation of the satellite industry, making the production of a model much cheaper. We will then also see this industrialisation in the small rockets. Because constellations will have to be supplied with replacement satellites much more often. In a few years, we will therefore see a much more industrialised and commercialised European space industry.
This development already began in the USA a few years ago. Especially with the emergence of companies like Space X by Elon Musk or Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos. I have always followed this development closely. Through OHB's stake in the US satellite operator Orbcomm, I have gained a good insight into developments in America over many years. And that is why I am also convinced that trend number 4 will be very likely with the election of Democrat Joe Biden as the next President of the United States:
Transatlantic cooperation will be revitalised
And this will also have a positive effect on space travel. Europeans and Americans have always worked together very well and successfully in this field in the past. I am convinced that we will therefore see more joint projects again in the coming years - and I am also confident that new, long-term cooperation and partnerships will emerge from this.
This revived good cooperation between Europe and America will also give Germany new self-confidence. Thanks to the capabilities of the German space industry, the Federal Republic has technologies with which it can make an important contribution to NATO and to the sovereignty of Europe in the future. Reconnaissance, observation and communication technologies are crucial competencies for this. In this way, Germany will also be able to fulfil its responsibility for the security of the citizens of the European Union.
And of course - which brings me to trend number 5 -
Corona will also have a major impact on the further development of the economy and society, not only in 2021, but far beyond
Many things will remain, even if a vaccine will restore something like normality in some time. For example, I cannot imagine that we will travel for work in the same way again. In the past few months, every company has discovered for itself how easy and, above all, how much more resource-efficient it is to discuss purely voting matters by video or telephone conference. There will also be no return to the old presence culture. Flexible working models, working on the road or at home - this will become a matter of course in a mix that suits the respective area. For my company, I can also say that Corona has shown us how unbelievably creatively, responsibly and quickly our colleagues has reacted to the crisis. This provides important new impulses for the further development of corporate cultures.
There is just one thing we must not forget: 20 years ago, none of this would have been possible in this form. Why? Quite simply because the technology wasn't ready back then. It's hard to imagine what the consequences of this pandemic would have been at the turn of the millennium. Home office: unthinkable. Mobile working: technically hardly feasible. Home schooling: with what? For me, the decisive consequence of the pandemic is: we must continue to push ahead with digitization in Germany. Based on the experiences of 2020, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the degree of digitization of a society today determines how resilient it is in the face of crises and major challenges. The expansion of the digital infrastructure will happen not least through space-based technologies. Satellites will make a significant contribution to the nationwide provision of internet.
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.