How does a company make money in, to, through, or from space? It almost always entails selling a space service or hardware to a government. Or if selling isn’t part of the deal, space-profits can be created from taxpayer-funded (AKA “government”) gifts, grants, and loans.
It’s true in the U.S. and it’s true in France. From Space News:
The French government on March 23 announced four launch vehicle and satellite projects that will receive a combined 500 million euros ($710 million) in state aid as part of a government bond issue designed to spur innovation.
Ah yes, state-sponsored innovation. “This time it’ll be different” is the saying, isn’t it? Such an assumption of usefulness is right up there with that of state-sponsored art, banking, news, and entertainment. Oh, and automotive industries.
The four projects are a next-generation rocket to succeed today’s Ariane 5 and Europeanized Soyuz vehicles; an ocean-altimetry satellite mission to be conducted with the United States; an upgraded multimission microsatellite platform for satellites weighing around 200 kilograms at launch; and investment in new telecommunications satellite technologies to keep French industry competitive on the world marketplace.
“Few nations have mastered as many areas of space technology as France,” French Research Minister Valérie Pécresse said in announcing the grants. “Investment in space is an investment in the future, in the many spinoffs of space activity and in tomorrow’s jobs.”
So how will these “investments” provide returns?
· Space launch: over time, good luck competing with SpaceX, China, and India. Sounds more like a prestige program.
· Ocean-focused radar altimetry: NASA’s making two-thirds of the “investment” and they’ve historically returned little to their “shareholders.”
· Small satellite platforms: who knows how that will work out (or not)?
· Telecommunications: yes, there’s money to be made. However, is there any irony that government funds are needed to sustain industry competitiveness?