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Lithuanian Space Office: is Lithuania ready for membership in European Space Agency?

Date

2020 02 12

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Negotiations on Lithuania’s further collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) have been initiated. The perspectives were discussed on 24th of January in Vilnius at a meeting between delegacies  of ESA and Lithuania.

Since 2015, Lithuania has participated in the Plan of European Cooperating State (PECS). This phase is coming to a conclusion as it is determined for 5 years and is decisive for membership in the organization.

ESA has published a report concerning the end of Lithuania’s PECS stage. The report assesses the completed phase and offers recommendations for further development of relations with ESA.

A feasibility study of Lithuania’s space potential performed by consultation company “Visionary Analytics” has been also completed.

“Lithuania’s space potential is growing; academia and industry are developing promising technologies. Regarding the recommendations of ESA, it is crucial to prepare for the membership in ESA properly” – says the coordinator of Lithuania’s Space Office Eglė Elena Šataitė.

Potential of Lithuania’s space sector

The feasibility study shows that Lithuania has a vast potential in developing its space sector in the following areas: life and physical sciences, optics and optoelectronics, materials and processes, radio frequency systems, payloads and technologies. Other than the mentioned, Lithuania‘s business potential enables the further efficient development of space system software exploiting Earth observation data as well as electric component advancement and quality researches.

Nevertheless, Lithuania is lacking the skills and needs to improve in the following: improve R&D proposal writing skills, increase Lithuania’s business commitment in ESA (as only 42% of the applicants are private companies). Lithuania also needs to improve the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of projects (only 25% of ongoing projects meet TRL5, where technologies are demonstrated in laboratories or in real environment).

Lithuania’s perspectives in ESA

The membership in ESA would enable Lithuanian business to participate in the European space sector consortia and to expand business activities. Additionally, it would raise the level of Lithuania’s scientific potential and engagement as well as increase the cooperation between academia and industry.

There are three possible scenarios for further cooperation with ESA including continued activity under the Plan of Cooperating State (PECS), associated membership and full membership.

The continued activity under PECS offers calls for tenders for Lithuanian entities only allowing more accessible competitions and more stable return of investment. Under this scenario the ability to interact with international partners is limited, consequently leading to a hesitant advancement of science based on Europe’s scale.

The associated membership enables Lithuania to participate in ESA Optional programmes, to be involved in international consortia as well as finding new markets. In this case, Lithuania must carefully analyse its space sector potential in order to select the Optional programmes needed to secure the greatest return of investment. Based on PECS period, Lithuania’s space sector potential is the most suitable for the following ESA programmes: Third Party Programme, General Support Technology Programme (GSTP), Earth Observation Envelop Programme (EOEP).

The full membership provides Mandatory programmes in addition to Optional programmes. Lithuania’s science and industry would be able to effectively collaborate with ESA Large system integrators (LSI) and other companies, though at first hindrances may occur when contesting the other full membership states of ESA, leading to an unstable return of investment.

Lithuania’s cooperation with ESA

According to the coordinator of Lithuania’s Space Office Eglė Elena Šataitė: “PECS has contributed to the preparation of Lithuania’s membership in ESA and allowed space sector players to better understand its activities and programmes. Academia and industry showed great interest in possibilities of international cooperation, visited ESA’s technology center ESTEC and other international space events.”

PECS showed that Lithuania science and business are aware of the challenges of the Europe and provide relevant solutions. Moreover, applications are solid as the PECS success rate is at 43% and exceeds other countries.

Since 2015, Lithuania has participated in five ESA calls with a total of 34 projects worth more than EUR 5.5 million. In 2019, 15 applications were submitted, and 9 business and science projects were announced winners with almost EUR 1.7 million of funding.

Moreover, since 2016 5 students from Lithuania have done internships at the European Space Agency and 3 graduates have worked there under the Young Trainees Programme.

Lithuania’s space policy

Since last July, the Lithuanian Space Office has been set up on the initiative of the Ministry of the Economy and Innovation and the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology to strengthen the Lithuanian space sector and to help prepare for Lithuania’s membership in the European Space Agency. Its main objective is to create and develop the Lithuanian space ecosystem based on innovation, cooperation between business, science and public sectors and integration into the international space community.

For more information you may contact Eglė Elena Šataitė, Lithuanian Space Office, space@mita.lt