I had always thought that the space industry is nothing but a cheap cop-out for guys who haven’t quite grown out of their ‘Star Wars phase’ — certainly not a serious field of business. How wrong I was.

The space industry forms the backbone of many of the things we take for granted: mobile phone reception in remote areas, sat-nav and satellite TV are just a small section of what this allows in daily life. Climate change research, such as monitoring deforestation patterns, ocean currents and changes in the ozone layer, is another key area. Last but not least, the space industry is a powerful economic force in itself, turning over billions and providing 45,000 jobs in Europe alone, accounting for slightly more than 17% of the global satellite production. 

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That space is an area where money can be made, as best illustrated by for-profit organisations, such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic, moving into this field.

In Europe, France is the biggest space nation in terms of jobs accounting for about 40% of the total, followed by Germany (with 20% and about half that of France). Italy and the UK are in a distant third and fourth (housing approximately 10% each). Perhaps even more important, however, are Europe’s space institutions: the European Space Agency and European Space Operation Centre, to name just two. There are even three ongoing European flagship projects: Copernicus (Earth observation data), Galileo (satellite navigation system) and Egnos (Geo-stationary navigation for aviation and maritime positioning). 

The space industry is structured into up-stream and down-stream segments. The former deals with the logistics of sending things — both rockets and people — into space; the latter, however, concerns the data-science and data-application side. This is the area in which growth is primarily happening now.

The importance of space for Europe doesn’t only lie in good jobs, but in its cross-sectional technological-enabling function. If we want to have autonomous driving, for example, we need to have at least 5G service in areas where there are currently no cell towers. It is therefore unsurprising that the German automotive industry is in close talks with companies such as ISAR Aerospace and SpaceX. We are on the verge of a paradigm shift — the merging of one of Europe’s key industries with an emerging industry few of us have on their radar yet. It is time we took a closer look.

Martin Kaspar is head of business development at a German mittelstand company in the automotive industry.

This article first appeared in the June/July print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.