Citing the government’s policy for broadband delivery, Willetts says Britain’s investment in satellite technology is an example of the flexibility the country brings to public-private partnerships.
“With public investment of around £40 million leveraging more than £500 million of capital funds from the market to deliver British-owned and -operated services, it’s a good example of the flexibility of the space sector of Britain combining public and private finance,” he says.
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) is another example of Britain’s creativity when it comes to public-private initiatives. The government is providing £21 million to assist in the development and launch of the first of four small radar satellites, an investment that could unblock more than £150 million of inward investment to Britain. SSTL will use the money to develop the first NovaSAR demonstration satellite with a payload provided by Astrium U.K.
Over the past two years, as the U.K. was adapting to its evolving relationship with ESA, the European agency was starting to adopt reforms that come straight out of the British playbook.
“ESA has never looked as British as it does today,” says ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.
Dordain says his agency is working to develop new procedures with industry and is looking in new directions. For example, while ESA’s current acquisition rules favor geographic industrial return over competitive bidding, Dordain is putting growing emphasis on the near-term commercial potential of space.
“We are taking competitiveness and growth as the mantra of our next council meeting at the ministerial level,” Dordain says, referring to a November gathering in Caserta, Italy, where ESA ministers are expected to set the agency’s multiyear budget.
A key decision will be European access to space. Given the competition posed by U.S. start-up Space Exploration Technologies and its low-cost Falcon 9 medium-lift rocket, not to mention India’s development of a new commercial launcher, Europe’s current Ariane rocket system is not likely to be viable in the coming years.
Both Les Mureaux, France-based Astrium Space Transportation and OHB AG of Germany were recently awarded ESA study contracts to develop a next-generation launch vehicle architecture under the agency’s New European Launch Services (NELS) program.
But Dordain says U.K.-based Reaction Engines Ltd. (REL) made a surprise bid under the ESA tender issued earlier this year, which seeks ideas from European companies on how best to procure launch services.