When Poland joined the European Space Agency (ESA) eight years ago, the country also kicked off a dedicated incentive scheme to benefit Polish space entities that lasted through 2019. Now, according to ESA’s data, base there are more than 400 Polish entities registered in the program. But Poland’s activity in the European space sector is only a limited measure. If Poland is no longer a new ESA member state, then what is the true measure of the Polish space sector?
For Poland, things began a long time ago in the modern space era. During the celebrated space race, Poland joined the Soviet Union’s efforts and cooperated with Roscosmos. Bold research initiatives, and even human space flight efforts were developed. Joining ESA in later decades meant that Poland needed industry, and not only research centers. In 2013, it was estimated that around 80 Polish companies boasted space capabilities. Since then, much has changed, and numerous international companies including Sener, Airbus, and GMV have invested in Poland and established research offices here. The Polish space strategy is ambitious. These are five of its broad goals:
Poland has limited current integration expertise and experience, falling into Tier IV – suppliers of technologies and components. It’s worth mentioning that most Polish space companies are SMEs, indeed mostly small. Competing in the European space market is hard, especially when European space models take a different approach from that which is well-known to Polish institutions. For many, it’s still a challenge. Formulating ideas on how to develop something and proving our know-how are not a problem, as long as there are no flight heritage requirements. Things are relatively easier when it comes to downstream efforts – where some Polish companies are recognized on a European and worldwide scale. Additionally, through the Polish Space Agency’s (POLSA) participation in EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST), Poland is recognized in this and other areas. POLSA is also participating in ENTRUSTED, the Horizon 2020 project dedicated to the government satcom network of users.
Through years of efforts of many different institutions, especially the Sat4envi consortium, a great deal has been achieved. Many public and user entities now clearly communicate their needs regarding Earth Observation (EO) applications, and many Polish companies have proven capabilities to develop such products. Polish are working on trends like testing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data algorithms, improving image resolution through software innovations, and providing cloud computing solutions. These are all on the frontlines of a European race aiming for global markets.
Poland has the advantage of a Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014 to 2020, in which startups and innovative developments were prioritized. In 2019, almost 100 million euros was invested in innovative space technologies because of this foundation. Broader ideas, such as rocket development, smallsat modules, and communication modules were also submitted.
Without developing future space talent, the space sector cannot survive. A few trends in Poland are that many companies are spinoffs of university research or competition teams, and there is a relatively well-developed business and recruitment strategy. Understanding priorities and areas of need for future talent are crucial for future human space resources. It is well known that the space sector needs everyone but what are they to work on? It may be helpful to understand global trends, like miniaturization, deorbiting of debris, communication, AI, and much more.
The space sector is also a place for futurists, so the list is not limited. Each year, even during the pandemic, European Research Council (ERC) space and robotics events and competitions have taken place in Poland. Each year it gathers researchers, policymakers, business representatives, and students for a few days to compete and discuss the future of robotics and space exploration. This competition, like many around the world, builds competencies not only in robotics, but also in project management since teams are rated also by their outreach activities.
However, what are the true areas of Polish space sector specialization? Software is something that comes to mind, followed by electronics and robotics. Polish mechanisms are globally recognized, as well as interference-detection, microwave systems, and innovative propulsion systems.
The Polish Space Strategy was accepted by the government in January 2017. As of now, there is still no national space program, but POLSA is working hard to submit an inspiring and achievable plan. Technology is currently developed through the R&D budgets of companies or other structural funding mechanisms. This also influences the lack of prioritization of technology development. Poland has also signed up for strategic EU cluster efforts such as Space Surveillance and Tracking, and various optional programs including the Space Safety Programme. These are significant investments for Poland and Polish enterprises, industry, and institutions.
As for who makes decisions on space policy in Poland, the current leading party the Ministry of Economy Development, Employment and Technology, with strong influence from the Ministry of Science and Education, and the Ministry of Defense. The Polish Space Agency has the role of consulting all of these entities, with few meaningful responsibilities; while ESA BIC is under responsibility of the Agency of Industry Development.
The Polish Space Sector is still young and looking for its own niche, with smaller national competitions in limited technical domains. This sector is comprised of 100 entities: mostly small companies and research institutions. The most important and most rewarding achievements are still in front of us. VS
Kinga Gruszecka is the acting head of the Education Department of the Polish Space Agency, a member of the board of the Polish Space Professional Association, and a lecturer at Kozminski University. She was awarded the Hope of Polish Space Sector of 2019 title.