The European space has regained points lost during the Covid crisis

Posted July 16, 2022, 9:00 AM

Europe’s space sector now employs 53,000 people and has a turnover of 8.6 billion euros in 2021, 900 million more than in 2020, making up for ground lost during the Covid health crisis last year, according to annual data published on July 13 by Eurospace. In the long term, space activities are progressing steadily, but the manufacturing sector is suffering a slowdown in orders for large geostationary telecommunications satellites, pending the arrival of a new cycle of orders.

Public procurement prevails

Despite the focus on SpaceX, private space tourism, constellation craze and the rise of start-ups in new space, Eurospace, the organization representing space professionals, recalls again, the total number of satellites launched into space, counting their mass. (about 370 tons per year in the last decade), 80% comes from institutional public orders. And it is to meet the needs of states, military, research organizations, NASA or its European counterpart, ESA.

Yet for the first time in 2021, the share of satellites sent into space by the private sector exceeds that of the public sector. Beware of optical effects, warns Pierre Lyonnet, director of research at Eurospace: Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation upsets statistics. In two years, 2020 and 2021, Starlink will put 500 tons of satellites into orbit, compared to 40 tons for the OneWeb constellation. Without Starlink, the share of commercial launches would still be 15-20% of the total satellites sent into space. And the next major constellations, promoted by private groups like Kuiper or Telesat, are instead planned for 2024-2025.

Europe is far behind China

With 8.6 billion euros in turnover, is Europe still running? Yes and no, answers Eurospace. Added to China’s thirst to catch up to the traditional dominant position of the United States, which devotes five times more public money to the space sector than Europe, is what clearly moves Europe to the third rank of space players and not the second. . Information is increasingly hard to come by and Chinese space bloggers have been silenced. Still, Eurospace estimates that China will have launched more satellites into space than the US in 2021, excluding the Starlink constellation.

Of the estimated $54 billion market value of satellites and payloads produced last year, China and the United States accounted for just 10% of that total, Eurospace notes. “Today, the space capabilities of China and the United States are in the same order. The Chinese program is extensive, whether related to manned flight, deep exploration, navigation constellations or strategic programs,” sums up Pierre Lionet. Just to contrast with the US, 99% of the Chinese space sector is funded by the state.

Space Launch: A Narrow Market

Among the 8.6 billion euros in turnover, the other lesson from the study is that our champions are actually builders of satellites, while our rockets certainly flow a lot of ink, but share a fairly small turnover. In 2021, launch services weighed 1.33 billion euros.

Overall, the world market for launch is no more than $10 billion with average launch price per kilo averaging $17,000 over the past five years, compared to $25,000 ten years ago. This price drop is of course driven by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, but this 10 billion is mainly shared between China, the US and Russia, with Europe lagging far behind. Europe suffers from a slowdown in the commercial telecommunications satellite market and weak institutional demand. Along with Ariane 6 and Vega C, it will have well-placed launchers relative to demand. Neither too big nor too small, the rockets should meet most needs, Eurospace believes, and will play a role from 2024 in future Starlink rival constellation deployments.

After brutally severing relations with Russia, Europe will have to carefully assess the need for autonomous access to space at its ministerial meeting next November, recalls Eurospace. Knowing that the more competitive a launcher is the more times it fires, if Europe builds too many rockets, it will suffer a loss of competitiveness and therefore a potential loss of autonomy, warns Eurospace.

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