Ireland is set to invest €17m annually in European Space Agency (ESA) space programmes over the coming years, it has been announced at a meeting of ESA member states in Italy.
At the meeting in Naples, the 20 ESA member states approved a multi-year budget of €10.1bn for ESA activities. The budget will include the upgrade of the Ariane 5 rocket, as well as design work on its successor, Ariane 6, which could have its maiden flight in 2021 or 2022.
Ireland’s Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock, TD, announced details of the country’s investment in ESA programmes at the meeting.
He said the State will invest more than €17m per year in the coming years. As well as this, Ireland is aiming to double its exports in the space sector from €27m in 2011 to more than €56m by 2015. In terms of jobs, the goal is to increase Irish jobs in the space sector from 1,570 in 2011 to more than 2,000 jobs in 2015.
Sherlock said the ESA, with the support of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and Enterprise Ireland, is enabling the "rapid expansion" and growth of Irish space companies, as well as supporting new start-ups in the sector.
He also emphasised the role the ESA plays in fostering the development of small to medium-sized companies in the space market.
Sherlock said that in the coming months, a number of "significant" R&D contracts from the ESA are expected to develop technologies for use in space systems with Irish technology companies such as Eirecomposites, Sensl and the start-up Faztech.
He said more than 40 Irish companies have secured ESA contracts worth more than €10m annually in the past five years.
"In the past three years alone, 12 Irish companies have secured their first ESA contract to develop commercial products in a range of technologies, including advanced materials, optoelectronics, software and bio-diagnostics."
Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the ESA, also commented on the increased involvement from Irish industry in ESA programmes.
"Irish companies are gaining increased recognition for their technical competence and innovation, in particular in the fields of electronics, optoelectronics software and materials, areas of expertise in which ESA will continue to have a great demand," said Dordain.