Irish Govt expects 1,000 space-tech jobs by 2020 after ESA deal

2 Dec 2016

ESA council meeting at ministerial level in Lucerne, Switzerland. Image: Stephane Corvaja/ESA

Having committed to continue investing in the ESA, the Irish Government has confirmed it will invest €90m until 2021, with the expectation of creating 1,000 space-tech jobs by 2020.

Three years after the last meeting with the 22 European Space Agency (ESA) member states, Ireland has once again committed State funding to the programme – €90m up until 2021.

Travelling to the ESA ministerial council meeting held in Lucerne was Ireland’s Minister for Training, Skills and Innovation John Halligan, TD, who assured Ireland’s commitment to continued participation in a number of ESA programmes.

These include Earth observation, satellite communications, next-generation launchers – such as Ariane 6 and Vega C – and satellite navigation, among others.

From an Irish perspective however, Halligan said following the meeting that this €90m investment will support strong growth in the country’s space-tech sector.

By 2020, the number of companies working in this sector is expected to expand to more than 80, generating annual revenues growing from more than €75m in 2015 to €150m-plus.

Based on current estimates, the Government also believes that the investment will result in the doubling of employment in Irish space tech, creating more than 1,000 jobs by 2020.

Companies involved with ESA are also projected to increase combined turnover from €274m to more than €500m by 2020.

Hopes to invest additional funding in coming years

“We are seeing space-based technologies becoming increasingly critical to our everyday lives, whether is vehicle navigation, environmental monitoring, [or] managing our national resources and emergency response,” Halligan said.

“In addition, we are seeing growing commercial opportunities for Irish companies related to space and satellite technologies including satellite internet/IoT, commercial space launch vehicles, use of satellite data for environmental protection and climate change monitoring.”

“Our investment in ESA will continue to underpin the Irish growth in this and related sectors, and I hope that we can invest additional funding in the coming years as the industry base continues to expand, and as even more commercial opportunities arise.”

Still no word on ESO membership

However, while the ESA provides hope for a burgeoning space-tech sector, academics remain unclear as to whether Ireland plans to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

As one of the few EU member states left to not join the collaborative astronomy group, Irish astronomers continue to push for the Government to commit to membership for the benefit of Irish science.

Last month, a consortium of Irish universities and research institutes published a letter asking the Government to make membership a reality in 2018.

“Aside from making it more difficult for Irish astronomers to use the ESO facilities, lack of membership also prevents Irish companies from bidding for important industrial contracts that would be available if Ireland were to become a member,” the letter said.

Despite the visit of the ESO’s director general earlier this year being described as positive, there are no concrete plans to join the organisation.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic