Latvia may join space race after all

The Cabinet has given conceptual support to Latvia’s full-fledged, dues-paying member-state status in the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as for signing the ESA’s Charter for European Cooperation, Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma told the media after the government’s behind-closed-doors meeting Tuesday.

The Education and Science Ministry (IZM) proposed using emergency funding for unexpected circumstances, however without the support of other Cabinet members got stuck with this year's budgetary load estimated to total €1.36m. It is hoped that 90-93% of the state’s investment into the space technology sector will come back as project funding straight from the ESA.

“The IZM will finance it from its budget this year, but next year the necessary funding will be sought from new policy priorities as well as other resources,” the PM told the journalists.

There is some uncertainty as to the exact sums to be assessed for the first membership payment, scheduled to be made in February. In further years up to 2019 there will be three payments to be made each year. For the duration of the time period two new full-time civil service positions to coordinate and ensure the cooperation undertaken will have to be funded at around €25,000.

Without signing the Charter Latvia would remain the sole EU member-state outside the ESA, and would have to begin its application process entirely from scratch, with all the extra time, costs and unearned income entailed. The good news comes after much criticism from among Latvia's scientific and high-tech research community about whether the government would allow the membership application period to lapse without paying-in any dues and losing all of the time and money invested.

Of 33 Latvian companies and research institutes submitting projects to the ESA between March and October 2013, ten were chosen for 100% financing worth about €1.13m, including six scientific institutes and three commercial companies.

Within the next five years there could be two or three more calls for projects from the ESA that Latvian firms could take part in.

Of two observation projects, one is based on configuring Sentinel-2 satellite images with aviation-based hyper-spectral research data, while the second similarly with sea and oceanic research data and Sentinel-3 satellite images adapted for Baltic Sea conditions.

In the space technology sector Latvia is being called upon to develop the polyurethane foam material for the internal cryogenic isolation of the next generation carrier-rocket’s LH2 receptacle.

 

Economy
Economy