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Slovenia enhances cooperation in the European Space Agency to obtain full membership

Minister Matjaž Han presented Slovenia’s current work in the field of space technologies and plans to enhance cooperation with the Agency in order to obtain full membership of the Republic of Slovenia in the ESA to Geraldine Naja, Director of Commercialisation, Industry and Competitiveness at the European Space Agency (ESA).

The currently applicable agreement on Slovenia’s associate membership to the ESA is valid until the end of 2024, subsequently requesting an agreement regarding its further membership in this important international organisation. The ESA delegation is currently visiting Slovenia with the objective of reviewing Slovenia’s current work and the industry status regarding space technologies and the definition of further steps necessary to obtain full membership.

Following the working meeting, Minister of the Economy, Tourism and Sport Matjaž Han emphasised, "Our companies have already proved that they can successfully operate in the field of space technologies. So, it’s time for Slovenia to take a step forward in the coming year and upgrade its associate membership in the ESA to full membership. Slovenia is on a good path to do everything necessary for full membership and will also justify it with its work."

In the last seven years since Slovenia has been an associated member of the ESA, the space sector has recorded rapid growth. "Slovenian companies have concluded more than 70 contracts from the ESA calls, on the basis of which the funds obtained within the ESA programmes exceeded the funds contributed by Slovenia. The cooperation with the ESA is important for Slovenian companies for two reasons: firstly, they can participate in major joint development projects, obtain knowledge and contacts and secondly, the cooperation with the ESA also represents a credential that enables companies and institutions to obtain commercial business deals," Minister Han stressed.

"The space sector is certainly the sector of the future, irrespective of how impossible that sounds. The space sector does not only include astronauts and rockets. These technologies are also incorporated into science, economy, medicine, telecommunications, the environment and other fields. There is a number of successful companies that have obtained business deals and participated in important international projects on the basis of Slovenia’s associated membership in the ESA," Minister Han noted. It is a fact that an average European uses services and applications daily that involve at least 40 satellites.

The Minister was satisfied with the ESA’s opinion about the work done, "I am pleased that the ESA delegation commended the work done by Slovenia and the draft of the new strategy being prepared by the Ministry and which is to be adopted by the end of this year."

The promotion of growth of the space sector is one of the priorities of the Ministry and the Slovenian Government. To this end, the Slovenian Space Office was established at the Ministry of the Economy, Tourism and Sport last year. The Government adopted the Space Activities Act and the Ministry is drafting the Slovenian Space Strategy to be adopted by the end of the year. Slovenia is also strengthening bilateral cooperation with key countries in the field of space (Italy, France, Germany and the USA). Slovenia’s greatest success stories include three satellites in space (the launch of the fourth one is planned in 2024) and the ESA-owned Short Arm Human Centrifuge, which is operating in the Planica Nordic Centre where bed rest studies will be implemented in the hypoxic environment. The studies will be important for maintaining astronauts’ health on future missions into space, including that of the people on Earth, and the development of the Sentinel Hub, which is a tool for easier processing of satellite data for Earth observation that is being successfully used on the global level.

Geraldine Naja, Director of Commercialisation, Industry and Competitiveness at the ESA, commended Slovenia’s progress, "Although Slovenia is geographically small, its success in the field of space technologies and space is significant." On that note, she highlighted Slovenia’s advantages, "Its political commitment to space activities proves that space can actually be for everyone. Slovenia has also advocated this during its Presidency of the EU Council. Irrespective of its size, Slovenia successfully developed its national space industry within its cooperation with the ESA, which actively contributed to the international development of space and has already launched several own satellites. With relatively limited investment in the work of the Synergise company, Slovenia developed key competences in downstream services. It has leading companies in the market of test equipment, such as Dewesoft, and increases its competences in satellite hardware through companies, such as SkyLabs."

Naja further stressed the importance of the next steps, "Long-term investment in space and a clear space strategy, which Slovenia is currently drafting, will be necessary in the future. This is necessary for the development of upstream technological capacities and the expansion of the use of applications within the Government, its agencies and industry for the benefit of the entire population."

In connection with Slovenia’s membership, Director Naja noted, "On the behalf of the ESA, I congratulate Slovenia for its leading role of an associate member and look forward to further successful and mutually beneficial cooperation. To enhance cooperation with the ESA, Slovenia almost doubled its financial contribution for the ESA programmes last year, which enabled further participation of companies and institutions already cooperating with the ESA and also new companies that are developing innovative and commercially interesting technologies and products, but do not usually deal with space, e.g. propulsion systems, sensors, electronics, 3D printing, robotics and the like. As per the above-average success of Slovenian companies when obtaining the ESA projects with regard to other members, the investment in the ESA denotes an economic multiplier."

Full membership of the Republic of Slovenia in the ESA

The ESA plays an important role in the development of space technologies and applications. At the ESA Council meeting at ministerial level in November 2022, the member states contributed a record amount in the ESA programmes (i.e. EUR 16.9 billion) and conferred it a mandate to design an ambitious space programme, which would observe changes in the field of space technologies, enable enhanced participation of private actors, support the inclusion of small and medium-sized companies, and enable science development. 

The space sector is recording rapid growth. Its multiplier effects on the economic growth and employment are high, and the sector has a significant impact on green and digital transition and research development.

With full membership in the ESA, Slovenian companies and institutions will be granted additional opportunities for cooperating with the ESA, particularly within the mandatory scientific programme. The commercial component is crucial in this programme, which is a very important ESA programme, providing a basis for other programmes. The programme has two key objectives, i.e. to provide the best possible tools to maintain Europe’s competitiveness in the field of space and contribute to the sustainability of European space capacities and the appertaining infrastructure. Within the programme, the ESA promotes technological innovations in the industry and scientific communities and maintains launch services and space flight operations. It includes studies of future projects, technological research, joint technical investment, information systems and training programmes.

The Slovenian Space Strategy is being drafted

In order to become a full member of the ESA, Slovenia is drafting the national space strategy, which is one of the key conditions for full membership. The strategy is envisaged to be adopted by the end of 2023. Slovenia is also enhancing cooperation with the ESA and its member states. The ESA Council will decide on the granting of full membership at Slovenia’s written request as per the convention.

The Slovenian Space Strategy will encompass the guidelines and support for further enhancement of the space sector in Slovenia until 2030.

The vision of the Strategy states, "The Slovenian space is striving to expand the borders of knowledge and innovation and inspire green, digital and sustainable future."

The mission of the Strategy says, "Slovenia, positioned as a dynamic space economy, wishes to promote the environment that will enable the development of innovations and technologies." The ambitions from the vision are defined in five strategic pillars, of which three are intended for the development of programme focus areas and two for the establishment of good conditions for further development of the space sector:

  • promotion and development of space technologies, research and development (commercially successful products for application in space and on Earth, technology transfer to other sectors);
  • international cooperation (research and technologies);
  • space applications (acquisition and application of data from space for various purposes on Earth);
  • promotion of education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); expansion of Slovenia’s capacities to support entrepreneurship and the development of space innovation programmes (upgrade of measures to support entrepreneurship and spin-off companies at universities and research institutions).