At the end of January, a team of ESA business developers and scientific coordinators started a tour through nine Eastern European countries to promote the SURE initiative, a common project between ESA and the European Commission funded via the 6th framework programme.
SURE focuses on giving Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and scientists of the new EU member states plus EU aspirants Bulgaria and Romania the chance to perform Research and Development on the International Space Station by giving them priority funding.
During two weeks of workshops, it was impressively demonstrated to the ESA SURE team that these countries are anything but newcomers to the space business. Within two weeks, the SURE team made more than 300 contacts with representatives of SMEs and the scientific communities of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania. The response was extremely positive. For some of the countries it was the very first time ESA had visited their national space agencies or offices.
“It was exciting to see with how much energy and enthusiasm the SMEs, scientists and the national officials approached the opportunity that SURE offers”, explains David Fachiri, a member of the road show team. “The support by national space organisations and government officials to make the SURE project happen was outstanding.”
For instance, Czech deputy minister of Industry and Trade Martin Tlapa hosted the SURE event in Prague, and Estonian envoy for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications Lauri Tammiste supported the SURE information meeting in Tallinn.
The space business is not new terrain for any of the nine countries visited by the SURE team. Their space experience reaches back several decades, with almost all involved in the Soviet space programme. For example, Bulgaria flew two national cosmonauts, and has vast R&D experience in the space sector: over 100 Bulgarian experiments have flown in space. Poland can look back on 20 years of development work in the space sector; the country produced more than 40 instruments for suborbital flights.
Some of the countries already have experience in cooperating with ESA. In the 1990s, ESA funded industrial development of scientific space instruments and space experiments in Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic through the PRODEX programme for scientific experience development. All three countries signed the five-year Plan for European Cooperating States (PECS) that aims to prepare states for full membership. This enables them to participate in nearly all ESA programmes.
The ESA SURE project was percieved by all the countries visited as not only as a motor for innovation and business excellence, but also as a unique opportunity to kick-start high-profile local business segments. “Enthusiasm and a desire to benefit from SURE was evident in each country we visited”, underlines Maurizio Belingheri, Head of ESA's Commercial Promotion Office and a member of the SURE team. “They are eager to use this unique chance. I think we can expect a number of interesting industrial and scientific proposals.”
More information: www.spaceflight.esa.int/sure