Keeping pace in space travel

The industry and the Province of Zuid-Holland endorse the substantive focus of the Spatial Planning Policy Document but note a disastrous shortage of financial resources.

Yesterday, the publication of the Policy Document on Space Policy announced the government's commitment for the coming years. The Dutch participation in the optional ESA technology programmes is of great importance in this regard.

Jeroen Rotteveel, chairman of the SpaceNed sector organisation: “This means that the Netherlands is falling even further back compared to the already historically low enrolment in 2016 and that we run the risk of not realising both the Dutch knowledge ambition and the market potential of the Dutch space sector. For example, the strengthening of our role in the development of a European climate instrument, in particular the CO2 mission on Sentinel 7, or the development of satellite components for the commercial space market, such as laser satellite communication."

The Netherlands in lower regions ESA ranking

Despite an increase in participation in optional programmes from €102 million in 2016 to €133.5 million now, other ESA member states are expected to participate significantly more. For example, Spain announced that it would increase its participation by €350 million. A further decline threatens in the ranking of contributions by the member states, in which the Netherlands currently takes 18th place out of 22.

King's Commissioner Jaap Smit of the Province of Zuid-Holland, where the Dutch space industry's activities are concentrated: “I am disappointed with this lack of commitment, which does not match our stature as host country of ESA-ESTEC and can be harmful for the development of the Space cluster in the Netherlands. This way, we fail to keep sufficient pace in space travel.”

Substantive tone of the Note positive

The Cabinet recognises the great strategic, economic, scientific and social importance of European and Dutch space travel. Space is, after all, one of the few industrial sectors in Europe that can compete with existing space powers (U.S.A. and Russia) and new ones (China and India). In view of the changing economic and technological relationships in the world, it is crucial to stay ahead in the strategic field of space travel.

The Dutch sector is well able to do so and is well positioned to participate in the core of the new European climate mission (Sentinel 7, that will monitor CO2), to acquire a substantial market share in the safe optical satellite communication and to supply parts to (mega) constellations. The Netherlands also houses the technical heart of European space travel; ESTEC, with 2800 international knowledge workers in Noordwijk. All the more reason to double the 2016 participation to ESA optional technology programmes to €200 million.

Doubling of the Dutch space budget is necessary

SpaceNed and the Province of Zuid-Holland are striving to double the Dutch space budget; from €100 million participation in ESA optional technology programmes in 2016 to €200 million in December 2019 (in fact an increase of €33 million per year). This is not only desperately needed to make up for the backlog that has arisen in recent years, but above all to position the Dutch sector in time for important social and economic opportunities, in both the upcoming European climate mission and in the secure communication promise of the future: optical satellite communication. Programmes to which all ESA member states with relevant knowledge and skills are fully committed (smart, in view of the high economic return).

This Cabinet remains stuck at €133.5 million without government-wide contributions from other ministries

Members of the House of Representatives have often called for an intensification of the Dutch contribution to ESA and have called on the State Secretary to have other departments join in to achieve this. A logical solution: space travel is essentially a strategically high-tech infrastructure to and in space, which is indispensable for almost all economic and social processes on earth. From that point of view, it is illogical that the contribution to ESA is only made by the ministries of Economic Affairs and Education, Culture and Science.