What allows Poland, currently, to assume and plan a potential acquisition of independent satellite capabilities and infrastructure, especially considering their use in the military domain? What are the main areas of technological, industrial, and organizational capacity and deficits that Polish state recognises in that matter? And finally, how to properly utilise and multiply the national potential, represented by the most perspective initiatives in Polish space sector, to provide Poland with at least a minimal required satellite capabilities? Those questions and many other provided the background for the discussion with the participants of themed expert seminar, entitled: “Satellites for Poland. Assumptions for establishing and securing the space infrastructure, in the era of new challenges and threats”, organized jointly by Space24.pl and Defence24.pl, in a remote setting, on 11th February.
The starting point for the Defence24 Group’s seminar was the discussion on the current stage of development of the national space policy and industry, after four years since the adoption of the Polish Space Strategy. The related industrial sector still waits for the initiative (top-down) to be intensified, when it comes to satellite programs. This includes procurement plans, and activities aimed at executing the adopted strategies. As the years have been going by, there are also some questions emerging, regarding the level and assumptions associated with inter-ministerial and institutional cooperation tied to satellite solutions - the satellites are usually expected to meet dual-use (civil/military) criteria. The discussion also referred to the most realistic implementation schemes. It paid attention to the scale, cost, and the expected ROI.
The webinar organized by Space24.pl and Defence24.pl involved a broad group of representatives hailing from state entities, armed forces, R&D facilities, and domestic and foreign space sector businesses. The following participants accepted the invitations:
Vice-Minister Maciej Małecki, Secretary of State at the Ministry of State Assets; Col. Marcin Górka, Director at the Innovation Department, MoD’s plenipotentiary for Space; Piotr Zabadała, head of the Space Policy Division, Department for Innovation and Industrial Policy at the Ministry of Development, Labour and Technology; col. Rafał Borek, Director at the Defence Programmes Department, Polish Space Agency (POLSA); prof. Iwona Stanisławska, Ph.D., Director at the Space Research Center at the Polish Academy of Sciences; col. Sławomir Jakubiuk, Head of the Geospatial Reconnaissance Department; col. Jolanta Dziak, Head of the Geospatial Reconnaissance Unit, Management for Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare, J-2, Operational Command of the Armed Forces; Lt. Col. Jarosław Dąbrowski, Deputy Head at the Military Geographical Centre; Bartosz Sokoliński, Director at the Bureau for Development and Innovation at the Polish Industrial Development Agency (ARP S.A.), and Paweł Pacek, Director at the Technology Development Department at ARP S.A.,; Damian Wierzbicki, Ph.D. Eng. Hab, professor at the Faculty of Land Engineering and Geodesy at the Military University of Technology, specializing in photogrammetry, remote sensing, and geoinformation systems; Maciej Wikło representing the National Security and Defence Program and Project Management Division at the National Centre for Research and Development; Jakub Gramatyka, Project Manager of the POLON project, pursued at the Łukasiewicz - Institute of Aviation;
along with the following representatives of the industry:
The seminar itself was opened by a speech by Vice-Minister Maciej Małecki, Secretary of State at the Ministry of State Assets, who referred to the preliminary assumptions made with regard to the Polish Space Cluster two weeks earlier (27th January 2021 in Rzeszów). The industrial cluster in question is to allow for coordinated participation of the Polish industry, academia, and space entities, in the development of space- and satellite-related undertakings. Exatel, a state-owned company supervised by the Ministry is the leading body of the cluster.
“The Ministry of State Assets exercises the rights related to shares in more than 200 state treasury companies, working in different domains [...] Exatel plays an important role in that portfolio - it is a company that acts as ICT and telecommunication services provider, also working in cybersecurity, not only meeting the demands of the state sector but also working for the commercial customers”, Małecki noted.
He stressed that launching a Polish EO satellite network would become the first objective that would be assigned to the cluster. The customers here could be found in the defence domain (cooperation declared between the Ministry of State Assets, and the Ministry of Defence), as well as in the civil market sector. “When it comes to satellite imagery, we have been using services rendered by foreign providers so far, hence the Exatel’s initiative, aimed at creating a constellation of Polish nano- and micro-satellites - expected to be created until the year 2025. Exatel is working to obtain funds from the Reconstruction Fund”, Małecki indicated. “Exatel has been present in the space sector for some time now, for a few years it has been providing satellite connectivity for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and a satellite teleport solution would be finalized this year - allowing for an extension of these services”, he added.
In Poland, we have a number of companies functioning in the broadly understood space industry, rendering services and creating products for foreign customers, like ESA for instance. We want Exatel, the state treasury leader for ICT, telecommunications, cybersecurity, and space, to become the central point for building the potential of the Polish industry, business, and science, so that this Polish footprint is strongly pronounced, also financially. So that the EO services expenditure, for instance, remains in Poland. Nowadays, we are experiencing a situation in which we need to pay foreign suppliers, foreign businesses, for these services. Of course, we are eager to work with foreign businesses, but we also want to create our own expertise - and we hope that we will be able to create this know-how around Exatel’s initiative. Here the Polish Ministry of Defence also offers a great deal of assistance.
The Ministry of State Assets declares that the space cluster led by Exatel would remain open for any party interested. “The objective adopted by the Ministry of State Assets, and by the Government, is to have as many new technology initiatives become a driving wheel for the Polish economy, as possible. To have the greatest margin on the final price remain within the Polish economy so that we could develop the Polish industrial potential within that scope”, Małecki explained.
Military Space Insight
Col. Marcin Górka, Director at the Department of Innovation at the MoD, and MoD’s Plenipotentiary for Space noted the multitude of applications that satellites have in our daily lives. He stressed the fundamental meaning that access to satellite technologies and hardware may have. “The space infrastructure, and the services using that infrastructure, remain critical for our lives, and they are also critical for the military, and the military operations, (...) and also they are critical for the state of Poland”, Górka stressed. “Most of the military platforms and procedures require access to both IMINT, ICT, navigation data, and also to data related to space reconnaissance (...), to conduct operations in an effective manner”, the representative of the MoD said.
Here’s where the ambition meets the capabilities and resources that Poland has. Thus, we need, to clearly define the strategic direction: what elements shall be autonomous, which shall be co-developed with the allies, or where, from the very beginning to the very end, we should procure capabilities in a role of an aware user of services provided by third parties. The common ground here is the necessity to define the ambition properly and to indicate the elements where we want to gain the greatest degree of autonomy, and those that would always be treated as an externally provided service.
Col. Górka also noted that there is a need to diversify the sources that the military could use to acquire satellite technologies. The fact that we would be creating an autonomous satellite system of our own (handled by the state, or by commercial parties operating on the Polish market) remains very relevant, but it does not mean we would be resigning from all of the other sources, Górka stressed. He added that the Polish military has been using such a “multi-source” model already, including IMINT obtained via a “co-owned network of satellite systems”, and allied exchange, and bilateral cooperation, as well as agreements signed with commercial suppliers and service providers.
Referring to the MoD’s space strategy, Col. Górka clarified that analytical efforts have been recently undertaken, that so far made it possible to create an outline for the document. He noted that in a week after the conference, a workgroup would be established tasked with developing the core portion of the strategy, based on the conceptual framework already available. “The framework in question would be based on the assumption that Poland is willing to be an active user of the outer space, for the purpose of meeting the MoD’s requirements”, the representative of the Polish Ministry of Defence stated. “In the strategy, we are willing to outline the satellite service domains that would be developed mostly autonomously, and those that are going to be implemented over the course of multinational cooperation, within NATO, or EU frameworks”, he added.
Górka noted that expectations related to the budgetary assumptions would also be important for the strategic concept, as a whole. “Of course, we will strive to define the finances and the timeline that we need to achieve the status assumed within the space strategy, as well as the ways to implement the plans”, he added, stressing that securing the procurement process shall be viewed as an important part of the plan of establishing satellite capabilities in Poland, also being a condition for completion of the work. Górka stated that meeting this condition would depend on the type of services selected, and the infrastructure.
Considering the fact that most of the subjects revolved around the remote sensing requirements of the Polish military, numerous representatives of the Polish military task units also made their statements during the meeting. Col. Sławomir Jakubiuk, heading the geo-spatial reconnaissance division of the military, has been one of the discussion participants. When it comes to the general nature of the matter, Jakubiuk emphasized the special mission of the newest military units in the Polish Armed Forces - the IMINT Centre (Ośrodek Rozpoznania Obrazowego, ORO). He stressed that ORO, to accomplish its missions, utilizes both aerial, as well as satellite imagery. The requirements within the latter scope are met via bilateral and commercial agreements.
The practical nature of the ORO capabilities has been emphasized, based on specific examples - including non-military applications, such as monitoring and forecasting the Biebrza National Park fires, or the recent imagery pertaining to the COVID-19 response.
Industry: Ready to Launch
As the authorities declared their willingness to develop Polish, sovereign satellite capabilities, numerous representatives of the Polish and foreign industry also declared their readiness to participate in the national project aimed at establishing the national orbital infrastructure. “As Space Alliance, together with Telespazio, our sister company, we are offering the involvement of the Polish industry in the establishment of the downstream segment, and the operational capacity of the dedicated user segment. In particular, to address the needs of the public and institutional sector - the end customer within the satellite system”, said Andrzej Banasiak, representing Thales Alenia Space, summing up the attitude that the company has adopted.
As Thales Alenia Space, when it comes to the products segment, we offer the best-in-class optical, or radar observation systems, with customer-required military-grade resolution. On the other hand, we also offer small satellites in the 100 kg class, offering an ability to create a flexible constellation with an organic budget, along with a dedicated universal ground segment that can respond to inquiries from a variety of users. It could also become a part of the existing PDUGS system allowing for access to the COSMO-SkyMed data - thanks to which dual-use application handling is also possible. Furthermore, establishing infrastructure for early services can also be a priority element - this could be done through the establishment of an application center that would integrate the analytical systems.
Banasiak indicated that the Brazilian space industry development programme serves as a good example of national Thales Alenia Space cooperation - manufacturing, integration, and satellite systems technology/know-how transfer included, to increase the TRL levels. “A similar approach was adopted by us in Turkey, during the Gokturk EO programme dedicated for the military segment and aimed at the development of the national industry expertise, moderated by the local space agency, along with a dedicated tests/integration centre, training, and transfer of technology”, he explained.
TAS also promotes the education tied to the development of the space sector within the industry, supporting nations in developing their industrial potential and know-how, thanks to ToT (Transfer of Technology). A good example here is the multi-mission platform programme study, aimed at analysing the industrial capacity in the upstream segment. Banasiak pointed that the above could serve as a starting point for cooperation maximizing the Polish industrial involvement in the potential satellite programme. Roadmap for the individual subsystems and specific businesses is a relevant part of that plan, with those businesses exhibiting a potential to join a consortium working on a national satellite programme. “In particular, we offer our experience in building and implementing a program for creating a constellation of small EO satellites in the 100 kg class, that we have implemented in the US, within the scope of the Leostella programme, building a dedicated integration centre rapidly, with a low-cost investment. A similar approach is what we offer to Poland, supporting the programme management and integration of satellites together with domestic partners”, TAS Polska representative assured.
Another comment was made by Rafał Magryś, Vice-President of Exatel S.A., referring to the plans and assumptions for the space cluster expressed by Małecki. “The communications are the foundation for our activities in any domain - also in the space domain; given the needs that Poland had when it comes to the management of communications for the Ministry of Defence, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Exatel provided the communications here.”
“Being a state treasury company, with a certain mission to be accomplished, Exatel is at the same time a partnership organized under commercial law, hence it also needs to gain profit” - Margyś also added that more than 76 percent of Exatel’s income, comes from the commercial market. Cybersecurity has been the original domain of involvement, where the effort has been made to implement Polish solutions to replace the foreign ones that had been used before. In this area, the effort was made to implement new technologies based on R&D assets - originally, in the area of the ICT networks.
Currently, we have started taking a closer look at the matters tied to space and explore this area - it turned out that the Polish market still lacks a business that would allow others to consolidate. There is no, so-called, Polish prime, that thanks to its national champion reputation could meet the state requirements, but also divide the orders and guide the Polish businesses.
Margyś stressed that one can focus whole national industrial potential on a specific goal set, should this goal be specified, with that industrial potential being offered by the businesses on the market. Among those businesses, however, there is no clearly defined leader capable of penetrating the “glass ceiling of average development”. Exatel wants to fulfill this role, via the space cluster that would be brought to life soon. “We encourage all businesses in the sector to participate, we are talking to many of them already [...] We have two development paths defined - innovation-development one, and administrative-organizational one,”, he noted.
Johannes von Thadden who also took part in the meeting (President of the Management Board and Managing Director at Airbus Poland S.A.) also enthusiastically reacted to the statement made by Minister Małecki, suggesting that Poland is willing to reinforce its space sector. Airbus employs 800 employees in Poland, providing a broad scope of competencies, he suggested. He noted that before he took over the management at Airbus Poland, he had been responsible for handling the space domain at Airbus globally, hence his awareness of needs within the scope of developing independent satellite infrastructure.
He added that Airbus is offering relevant solutions in all areas tied to defence, space, and civil sectors, including upstream and downstream (this also includes analysis and processing of the data gathered by the satellites). Von Thadden noted that Airbus has some experience at hand already, in supporting other nations in these domains, also giving full control over the process to the state customers. He suggested that Airbus has established an intense exchange of signals with the Ministry of Development, and with the POLSA - when it comes to the support for the civil and research satellites segment. Airbus does not limit itself to that - as the company is also talking to the Polish MoD. Still, Von Thadden said that it is up to the Polish government to decide as to what way shall be adopted for further implementation of the capabilities, the scope of autonomy and Polish control, and what should be done in cooperation with third states and industries. Airbus declares its readiness to work with the local businesses, also in the SME sector. The European company already knows how to work with the research bodies and academia - also in Poland. Airbus wants the know-how and technologies to be developed locally. This is exemplified by the establishment of the Astri Polska company, together with the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Science.
Furthermore, von Thadden referred to challenges and threats faced by the satellite operators in Europe and around the world. He stressed that the scale of the requirements and challenges is growing and that advanced technologies are needed to properly protect orbital infrastructure and the ground segment.
Johannes von Thadden, referring to the international perspective, suggested that a certain set of threats has become far more pronounced. In Europe, national security is the main focus, including the situation east of Poland, in Ukraine, or in the Baltics. The military threat steps beyond the land domain - as the space infrastructure is also one of the targets. Von Thadden exemplified the above referring to the Galileo system - even though far more accurate than GPS, it is more sensitive to jamming and external influence. Equal levels of importance can be associated with the protection of the satellite communications - and this, as von Thadden suggested - is an important issue that is discussed on the EU forum.
Directly after von Thadden, Yahiel Shalev, head of the military satellite department at Israel Aerospace Industries MBT Space Division took the floor. He assured that IAI is offering a comprehensive set of capabilities in the area of designing, developing, and launching the satellites - EO instruments included - so that they can meet the Polish expectations. Specific national needs have been the main factor in the acquisition of these capabilities (challenging geopolitical context and the necessity to continuously access fresh and precise intel). Numerous similarities can be found here, between Israel and Poland, the IAI representative suggested.
Shalev admitted that a body similar to the Polish space cluster has been in existence in Israel for years. He compared Israel to Poland, as Israel also started its space sector from a scratch, creating a broad range of satellites, along with ground support stations. Shalev stressed that this would not have happened without involvement on the part of the local enterprises, and also the R&D bodies and the academia.
He suggested that starting from a military satellite system is worthwhile, to meet the national requirements, as this, sooner or later, would result in derivative know-how and capabilities for the civil sector, with the economy receiving a boost and investment interest.
Apart from the satellite capabilities offered by large industrial integration, development potential available in the “New Space” domain has been discussed during the meeting. This domain was represented by the Polish ICEYE division. ICEYE is developing a global, commercial potential of light, radar-based remote sensing systems. “In Poland, we have a Satellite Operations Centre available, all of our ICEYE satellites are managed from Poland, from our office in Warsaw, by an international operators team, involving both Poles, as well as foreigners”, Robert Wagemann, Finance Director at ICEYE said. He also noted that ICEYE also maintains an R&D department working on selected satellite components - FPGA systems, in particular, controlling the radar, which is the primary sensor, also processing its signal.
Since the very beginning of its existence, the ICEYE’s footprint in Poland has been significant, for many reasons. First was the large pool of talented engineers, working across different domains. Our satellites are designed by us, manufactured by us, and managed in the orbit - also by us. Processing the acquired data is also an area that we are intensely developing. The industry, as is, is ready to deliver a number of different solutions. It is important to integrate these companies and give them a chance to develop this expertise, as broadly, and as rapidly as possible. If Poland is to be present on the global space market, the user - the Polish state - needs to be more active. Among the customer inquiries, the following could be found: “OK, you are developing a great technology, but is the state that you come from, where you work, acquiring that technology?” - if not, then doubts emerge.
The ICEYE Polska representatives also referred to their experience in networking with cooperative and sector partners, also in the area of developing new radar data processing and distribution technologies. The Managing Director at ICEYE Polska, Witold Witkowicz, indicated that cooperation as such also involves the Polish businesses, even though they are appreciated primarily abroad. “These are small start-up companies that, without major funding or hardware assets, analyze the data and have very interesting, prospective solutions available at hand, gaining customers all around the world. Not many of them come from Poland directly, but these companies expand their activities to the US market, for instance”, Witkowicz suggested.
We work with those Polish businesses, delivering what’s really unique for us - data gathered by a system with a high degree of revisit that is virtually incomparable to other radar constellations. We have a number of readymade solutions in place now, utilizing automatic data analysis - not only radar data.
Listing another example of putting the technology his company developed to work, the ICEYE Polska representative indicated the flood protection/analysis domain. He stressed that large insurance companies are the customer here, all around the world, facing large natural disasters. “It is a new level of quality, when it comes to the revisit and reaction times, allowing us to create services that had been previously unavailable. We are taking steps in that direction, also thanks to AI and automatic data analysis”, Witkowicz explained.
This year we are planning to double the number of our radar satellites, further launches have already been contracted for the upcoming year. These satellites weighing up to 150 kilograms, no significant sums are required here, however, they deliver data [...] incomparable to conventional systems. This is what has created a new market, allowing different, other companies to enter the downstream sector and to deliver interesting services - such as crisis management, analysis of the infrastructure, or in the agricultural domain. More and more businesses begin to expand in the mini- and micro-satellites segment. This data stream is going to be huge. [...] The defence sector will also need to open itself to the idea of huge constellations that are being prepared now.
Aligning Capabilities and Expectations - Satellites - Opportunities and Challenges
Andrzej Banasiak, referring to the early adoption of the Polish Space Strategy after 4 years from its inception, discussed several main themes. “The period of establishing the space sector potential in Poland, within the Polish Industry Incentive Scheme, has come to an end. This financial scheme has allowed the Polish businesses to gain a certain capacity, but also they remain active in competition at the European level. And now, these industrial capabilities that have been established, should be the source of profit in the given tenders. Unfortunately, we need to be straightforward here - the European competitors are awake”, Banasiak said.
We have a certain set of options available, on the other hand, we have companies that have been present on the market for many years now. There is a necessity to further expand the know-how and lower the cost, to meet the space sector challenges, above all - in the domain of the ESA tenders. We still lack in know-how, in some scopes, some subsystems, or we still have no experience in managing comprehensive, complex projects in this sector. We are also missing out on some of the industrial processes. Hence the need for further qualification and continuous investment. This is where we see a major role for a national programme, to put the requirements of the industry into the equation, to increase the potential, and the competitiveness, especially in the European arena. Like the industry, we are facing major challenges competition-wise. Consequently, our expectations towards the government, when it comes to that program, are high
Banasiak also said that we are closely approaching the new stage of the project pursued within the ESA County Ministerial Council - the ESA has high expectations of Poland for the next year. Concluding, Banasiak indicated that even today the Polish industrial potential tied to geography is highly relevant, and thus proper solutions are needed on both sides - on the side of ESA, and in Warsaw.
Polish Space Programme was also one of the discussion subjects - it is an important executive document for the Polish space policy. Here, representative of the Ministry of Development - involved at the frontline of development of the aforesaid document - head of the space policy division, Piotr Zabadała, provided relevant information. “What remains unchanged is the deadline for adoption of the National Space Programme - the second half of 2021, September, we hope” - he said, also suggesting that the next revision of the document is not being developed by the Ministry alone. “The work effort involves a broad group: administration, industry, academia; the work is taking place in four domain-focused workgroups”, he stressed.
One of the important tools in the programme is the National Reconstruction Plan, and the goal was to “base it, largely, on satellite and EO technologies”, Zabadała noted. The representative of the Ministry also stressed that Poland, contrary to the common view, has already put specific strategic assumptions into place when it comes to obtaining relevant elements of the space infrastructure. These assumptions were formulated, he stressed, back in 2017, based on the Polish Space Strategy.
In March, or between March and April, a new proposal is to be submitted for public consultation - when it comes to the Polish Space Program. It is to be aligned with the White Paper on Industrial Policy, which is being developed at the Ministry of Development.
The delays in the adoption of the Space Programme, as Zabadała suggested, are caused by the expansive number of institutions and entities involved. However, he also noted that this is not a factor that blocks or disperses the decision-making process. Zabadała stressed that this circumstance may even be viewed as a beneficial one, since it allows for the fusion of different sources of know-how and experience, on the given applications of space technologies. “It would be difficult to concentrate knowledge on national defence, agriculture, science, land development, environmental protection, within a single entity. And the above domains would be the certain customers of this system - the satellite-based EO system”, he noted.
This is where one of the representatives of POLSA - col. Rafał Borek, heading the Defence Programs Department - also voiced his concerns. He emphasized the amount of work POLSA did when developing the National Space Programme Projects. “We had different visions and designs, this is why this is taking so long. We hope that the document will be ready soon enough, since it would be conditioning the development of our sector”, Borek stressed. “The domestic businesses need to follow a roadmap that would show the specific direction that Poland is going to take, when it comes to its space and satellite capabilities”, he justified his statement, also saying that the Department is still involved in the development of the National Space Programme, but in a slightly different role.
Concluding the meeting, Col. Marcin Górka referred to the discussion from the point of view of the MoD and the Innovation Department. He said, that given his downstream background, he thinks that the market is well developed “with numerous, mature entities and start-up companies introducing numerous new technologies”. Górka said that these businesses thrive - both in Poland and around the world. “We see the presence of those entities - the more data is available on the market, the better the development will be. If we overlap this with Poland’s ability to create a cadre of highly qualified IT engineers, then the overall prospects are very promising”, Col. Górka added.
When it comes to satellites, their size, the quality of data - miniaturization is a natural trend that we are experiencing in virtually any domain. The micro platforms, classified between 10 and 150 kilograms, offer performance that could have been provided by platforms weighing a couple of tonnes. Thus, speaking of innovation and the future, we need to look out for platforms that would be lighter, and lighter. The Armed Forces are aware of this trend when assessing the R&D capacity regarding the possible capabilities on the nano-class satellites – [...] we are also trying to acquire actual capabilities offered by mini- and micro-class platforms.
Górka noted that the factor of progress in the military satellite acquisition is also important. “In the ongoing technological race, two very important aspects can be found. The first one is related to the breakthrough technologies, referred to as emerging and disruptive technologies in NATO and in the EU. It covers the space technologies, as well as AI, autonomous platforms, quantum technologies, big data, and material science”, he stressed. He also pointed that the second group is the group of technologies that are becoming common around the world, but that is also unavailable in Poland, due to the fact that Poland is still developing its industrial and research potential. Górka indicated “breakthrough” and “deficit” technology domains, as viewed from the point of view of supplies and national security.
I think that Poland has clearly articulated its needs, as the specific objective no. 3 of the Polish Space Strategy mentioned by Mr. Maciej Wikło from the National Centre for Research and Development, where the priorities are listed. It is clear, we need to observe the Earth from space, we need to have data and ways to process that data; further domains pertain to secure space-domain based communications; we need to access navigation data, and at least the preliminary capability, to understand as to what is actually happening in the outer space. What we are missing today are the major national investments that would allow us to create more than one integrator at the level of the space systems mission; We shall be able to create a whole ecosystem of research and industrial entities that could become a part of the integrator’s supply chain, with the integrator rendering services that would address national needs, but also having know-how at hand allowing him to get involved in major international supply chains, so that entity as such could become a fully-fledged participant of European and global processes tied to the development of science, industry, and satellite capabilities all around the world.
Col. Górka also referred to the evergreen requirement - the challenge related to basic questions, as to what is the purpose of the space industry, and space research, for us. He stated that they should always be taken into account when national capabilities are being established, adding that a stable, long-term national satellite programme is what should follow the process of defining the actual needs.