Germany: The Federal Government’s new Space Strategy

Published on Dec 5, 2023

In September 2023, the German Government presented a new Space Strategy setting out its goals and opportunities for space travel up until 2030. Since the last space strategy was adopted in 2010, the determining economic, geopolitical and social factors have changed fundamentally. The space industry has also undergone rapid development. The total turnover of the space industry has increased between 2010 and 2021 by 70 per cent to worldwide 469 billion dollars in 2021 (Space Foundation, The Space Report, 2022). The number of satellites in orbit actually increased by almost 200 per cent from 2010 (3,380) to 2021 (10,100). Whilst in 2010 there were 50 countries operating space programmes, there are now 100 participating countries which is an increase of 100%. In 2010, 70 launch vehicles were entered into space. By 2022, this figure had risen to 179 (+155%). The number of satellites these vehicles transported rose from 124 (2010) to 2,500 (2022) (+ 2,016%). The adoption of a new Space Strategy was long overdue. The space industry has become considerably more important as a result of changing geopolitical factors and the accelerated progress in innovation associated with commercialisation. In order to remain competitive at an international level, Germany must expand its existing space expertise and, in particular, support its own commercialisation through an innovation-friendly approach.

Increasing commercialisation of German space travel

The rapid development of the space industry is being driven in particular by the increasing commercialisation of the sector. In the last ten years, private sector investment in space has increased tenfold and the trend is set to continue. The increase in private investment has led to increasing competition in the space market and subsequently to an acceleration of innovation. Although institutional customers still play a comparatively large role in Germany, the commercialisation of the space industry has also increased significantly in this country. According to its own figures, the German Government has increased the volume of civil space budgets by almost two thirds since 2010: In 2022, the Federal Republic invested 1.815 billion euros in civil space travel.

Areas of activity of the Federal Government’s new Space Strategy

The Federal Government’s Space Strategy defines nine areas of activity in order to shape the dynamic development towards more commercialisation and digitalisation. Key projects can be found in each of the nine areas of activity. The Federal Government would like to start implementing these projects before the end of this legislative period.

With the areas of activity relating to European and international cooperation, Germany wants to guarantee the independence of ESA and communicate more clearly the distribution of roles within the organisation. Strategic partnerships are to be concluded with selected international and national partners on the basis of a common value system. Independent and unhindered access to space is to be secured for Europe through a European Launcher Competition (key project 1). Germany also wants to increase its participation in international earth observation missions such as the GRACE mission or scientific missions such as the Japanese-German space mission DESTINY+ in order to open up new markets for German industry and further expand its own cutting-edge technologies and positions (key project 2). In addition, “Germany is internationally committed to binding regulations for the sustainable use of space.”

With the area of activity known as Space as a growth market - high-tech and NewSpace, the German Government is working to create attractive framework conditions that enable new business models for commercial customers and strengthen existing companies and start-ups in the new space sector. Private companies should build a profile within the European space market through competitive, demand-orientated tenders. The Federal Government also refers to the so-called anchor customer principle in ESA and EU procurement procedures. Overall, private investment in space is to be strengthened. However, the German Government refers NewSpace stakeholders to existing funding instruments such as the ESA Incubation Centres, the High-Tech Gründer Fond and the Deep Tech Climate Fund, as well as to the continued importance of the Small Satellite Initiative (key project 3) in order to effectively obtain venture capital. The only new funding instrument to be set up is a Space-Innovation Hub, which will facilitate the exchange between public users and providers of space services, make procurement processes more innovative and transparent and improve the utilisation of synergies (key project 4).

With the area of activity referred to as Climate change, resource protection and environmental protection, the Federal Government wants to contribute to combating the climate crisis and to the energy transition by providing precise, reliable data generated from space. Germany wants to maintain its pioneering position for innovative earth observation in Europe, which it has achieved through the Copernicus earth observation programme and the EUMETSAT weather satellite, and in doing so also improve monitoring of compliance with climate targets. Specifically, Germany wants to expand the precise space-based measurement of emissions (key project 5).

In the area of activity described as Digitalisation, data and downstream activities, the Federal Government is pursuing the goal of making the data generated in space permanently available to potential users. In particular, the provision of satellite data and processing tools via cloud platforms for climate and environmental purposes is to be further advanced (key project 6). Satellite communication will also play a significant role in the 6G communication standard. Through Germany’s involvement in ESA and the EU, the Galileo Control Centre is to remain one of the most important institutions for navigation, communication, research and development.

Current geopolitical developments demonstrate only too well the critical influence satellite systems can have on a nation’s overall security concept. Against this backdrop, the area of activity of Security, strategic options and global stability is of particular importance. It aims to reduce dependencies in space technology on non-European countries and to strengthen their resilience and that of critical infrastructures. In this context, the Federal Government is pressing ahead with its participation in the EU SST project (EU Space Surveillance and Tracking) and is planning to expand national capabilities for space situational awareness (key project 7). In addition, an uncontrolled outflow of security-relevant key space technologies is to be counteracted by restrictive export controls based on existing international export control regimes.

The area of activity Sustainable, safe use of space aims to introduce an EU Space Traffic Management system (key project 8). Germany is also committed to international sustainability standards and best-practice rules as well as significantly reducing the time spent in orbit by decommissioned satellites. In addition, the maintainability and ability to modernise new satellites and the development of targeted collision avoidance capabilities should be promoted right from the development stage in order to reduce space debris overall. The Federal Government is also working towards a national Space Act that provides for a licence requirement for the monitoring of space activities and is intended to help create a competitive location for space companies (key project 9).

In the area of activity of Space research, small satellites in particular should be utilised more effectively for the continuation of Germany’s “excellent space research”. The Federal Government also considers it crucial to assert German interests in shaping the content of ESA’s Voyage 2050 science programme. The ISS is to be utilised together with international partners until at least 2030. In order to develop options for action in the post-ISS era, Germany intends to set up a group of experts to identify opportunities for the German Government to participate in alternative scenarios in the run-up to ESA decisions in order to create participation opportunities for German industry and research (key project 10).

International space exploration describes the preparation and realisation of exploration missions into space, in particular to Mars and the moon. In cooperation with Japan, America, Canada and other European countries, the German Government is planning to place a space station in the orbit of the moon, which will serve as a logistics hub in the future (Lunar Gateway). In addition, Germany is already making a significant contribution to the exploration of the moon by producing the European Service Module (ESM) for the Artemis missions. The Federal Government intends to play an important role in the EL3 Argonaut robotic lander system and in the overall development of robotic lander systems at ESA level in order to strengthen its own space robotics (key project 11). The Federal Government will also lobby the UN to create a regulatory framework for the mining of raw materials in space.

The area of activity referred to as Space activities in the context of recruiting and attracting talent includes the formulated goal of increasing the proportion of women in the space sector and offering and strengthening national exchange platforms in order to recruit, retain and train talent. Through key projects 12 and 13 (“Explaining the space sector” and “Experiencing the space sector”), the German Government aims to increase the visibility of the space sector among the general public, particularly in schools and universities.

Preliminary assessment

The adoption of a new Space Strategy was long overdue. The space industry has become considerably more important as a result of changing geopolitical factors and the accelerated progress in innovation associated with commercialisation. In order to remain competitive at an international level, Germany must expand its existing space expertise and, in particular, support its own commercialisation through an innovation-friendly approach.
The new Space Strategy now shows that the Federal Government has recognised the importance of space as a key technology and the need to support NewSpace players. The promotion of NewSpace companies can also be found in several places in the Strategy, for example in the planned initiation of a platform to promote better exchange between providers of space services and public users, the Space Innovation Hub and the continuous promotion of the small satellite initiative. On closer inspection, however, these support measures lack reliable commitments that go well beyond the status quo and that NewSpace stakeholders can use to attract investment. The reference to the various international co-operations intended to expand the national market, remain vague and insignificant for the NewSpace players until they are actually implemented. In particular, the German Government has missed the opportunity to strengthen its own territory as a relevant place of operation by making concrete commitments to the legal framework conditions in the areas of liability, authorisation and supervisory requirements relevant to investment and competition weighs heavily. Companies in the space industry, especially in the NewSpace sector, will therefore have to continue to pursue their activities on the basis of the existing regulatory and legal framework, which regularly leads to corresponding consulting expenses and risks that should not be underestimated. Although it can be assumed that national and international regulations will be adopted in this regard, which the German Government is in favour of, it is still unclear what their specific content will look like; the German NewSpace players are therefore still largely on their own.

Moreover, the consistent, timely and effective implementation of the objectives set out in the Space Strategy appears doubtful in that the German Government’s fundamental cost-cutting plans do not stop at the Federal Government’s Space Strategy. Germany would like to continue to support the ESA budget from 2023-2025 as the largest contributor (around 3.5 billion euros). At the same time, however, the budget for the 2024 national space programme is likely to be cut by up to 15%. It therefore remains to be seen which of the projects designated in the new Space Strategy can actually be actively implemented.