Eurospace Position Paper “Towards an evolution of the ESA Geographical Return”


The “geographical return” is a system set up with the European Space Agency (ESA) Convention to attract Member States to invest in space programmes by guaranteeing that their investment will be “returned” in the form of contracts with their national industry, for an amount proportional to each country’s investment (minus ESA’s management costs).

This system has one major merit: having enabled the creation and development (and geographical structuring) of the European space sector. Geo-return has now become the guarantee of an institutional financing of the European space sector which, if it were to disappear, is hard to imagine how it could be compensated for.

However, the system has also its limitations. The first one does not lie in the rule itself, but in the inevitable fragmentation and the large control mechanism that needs to be instantiated by the Agency to implement the process. Moreover, with the advent of commercial programmes and applications, the need to (rapidly) offer return on investment is more and more apparent as is the need for ensuring the sustainability and competitiveness of strong European supply chains.

As part of the current ESA transformation exercise put forward in ESA Agenda 2025, the Agency has highlighted the need to improve its procurement process to make it leaner and more expedite. The evolution of the geo-return policy, currently discussed by ESA with its Member States is part of such exercise; but it is a delicate balance between the needs to safeguard the opportunities and investments of Member States, and in particular the “emerging” ones, and the above-mentioned leaner procurement goals.

In light of the proposed measures currently discussed by ESA with its Member States, the European space industry, represented by Eurospace, wishes to share its feedback on the evolution such system should pursue in its Position Paper “Towards an evolution of the ESA Geographical Return”, available HERE.