Germany to Airbus, SES and OHB: Fly on your own

January 18, 2017

DLR's Gerd Gruppe said Germany's policy in the European Data Relay System (EDRS) and the Electra all-electric telecommunications satellite programs are the same: Help industry get a footing in a promising technology, then leave them on their own to develop the busness -- without government support. Credit: DLR

DLR's Gerd Gruppe said Germany's policy in the European Data Relay System (EDRS) and the Electra all-electric telecommunications satellite programs are the same: Help industry get a footing in a promising technology, then leave them on their own to develop the busness -- without government support. Credit: DLR

PARIS — Germany’s DLR space agency has a message for satellite fleet operator SES, Airbus Defence and Space, OHB SE and anyone else with a commercially promising project that needs seed money:

DLR agrees with Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett, who said he would leave his children with “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.”

Gerd Gruppe, head of DLR’s space administration, did not quote Buffett. But his reasoning was identical on Jan. 18 as he explained why Germany, which has spent well over $100 million to develop space-based laser optical data communications, contributed zero to the European Space Agency’s latest funding round for the European Data Relay System (EDRS). 

The 22-nation ESA has partnered with Airbus Defence and Space to commercialize EDRS and had sought fresh support for the program, which notably lacks a Pacific Ocean Region node in geostationary orbit. 

But at ESA’s December ministerial council, EDRS was able to secure only around 7 million euros ($7.5 million) in support, more than half of that coming from Canada. 

“We are not investing in Airbus’s business,” Gruppe said in explaining Germany’s no-show on EDRS after so many years of support. “We are interested in technology development. That is how we see our role. For example, we are a big supporter of ESA’s ScyLight program.”

ScyLight continues Europe’s work on laser communications but is focused on quantum cryptography, an area still in the R&D stage at ESA. Germany is paying 51 percent of that program’s 47.3 million euro budget.

As with EDRS, so it is with Electra

Satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg and satellite builder OHB SE of Germany, following an ESA investment led by Germany. At the December ESA conference, the Electra program received 83.6 million euros of support, 71.6% of it from Germany.

But Gruppe said Germany targeted its investment on Electra technologies, including a full all-electric design to boost payload capacity while retaining a launch mass of 3,000 kilograms. It did not invest in the OHB-SES program to field an Electra satellite in 2021 if — a big if for now — they close the business case. 

“We didn't invest in common part of the Electra program because we think we are in a phase where the companies can invest in the near-term projects and invest in their own business case. We as an agency cannot support the business cases of companies. What we do is invest in technology.”

 

Peter B. de Selding