Hungary’s first space strategy

After several years of preparatory work, the Hungarian Government adopted Hungary’s first space strategy by Resolution of 1606/2021 (VIII.18.). The document of more than 100 pages is the first significant, government-level strategy in the history of the country dealing specifically with the Hungarian space research activities, space industry, and the development of the Hungarian space sector. The result of many years of work is now available to the public and as shown by the ambitious objectives of the strategy ­the bigger part of the work still lies ahead.

But what exactly is the Space Strategy about and what makes it a truly remarkable step for the domestic space sector?

How did we get to this point?

The space strategy highlights Hungary’s history in space exploration, which now goes back 75 years, starting with Zoltán Bay’s 1946 lunar radar experiment. Hungary was an active participant in the space programmes from the ’70s onwards, first – for understandable historical reasons – as part of the Interkosmos, which was the joint space exploration programme of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries. The highlight of the Hungarian space program in the socialist era was the space flight of Bertalan Farkas in 1980.

Although the coordination of the space sector was included among the tasks of the state administration, the development of space sector was rather neglected after 1989, compared to the surrounding European countries. This is reflected in the fact that Hungary joined the European Space Agency (ESA) relatively late, in 2015. This has changed in 2018 when the coordination of space activities has become the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where a ministerial commissioner, Dr. Orsolya Ferencz, has been appointed and the Department for Space Research and Space Activities has been established. In addition to the organisational restructuring, budget support has also significantly increased: while in 2018 the government allocated 6 million EUR to the sector, this amount has increased to almost 29 million EUR by 2021. Of the European Space Agency’s 6,49 billion EUR budget, Hungary’s contribution in 2021 is EUR 16,8 million, a significant increase compared to recent years, but still below that of its regional competitors (43 million EUR from the Czech Republic and Romania, 39 million EUR from Poland).

The space strategy and its objectives

With the adoption of the space strategy, the Government has made a long-awaited step expected by many within the space sector and Hungary has joined those European countries who have already adopted their strategy. Today it is even a prerequisite for joining ESA that the candidate country sets out the key points of its space strategy. Certainly, it only makes sense to make a strategy if the financial resources are also guaranteed. This now seems to be assured, as the Hungarian Government intends to invest 85-100 million EUR into the sector over the next five years, in addition to the country’s international commitments mentioned above.

Focus is on space industry

The focus of the strategy is on space economy and industry aim to support the less spectacular but very useful areas of the space sector. According to strategy, “…the popular opinion today still identifies the opportunities in space economy with rocket technology (that consumes enormous material resources), work in space stations, and with the possibility of travelling to other planets, while the space industry now utilises far more material and intellectual resources than that and it opens up new directly accessible growth trajectories to a broader economic sector compared to the widely advertised results mentioned.”

The space strategy sets out three main strategic objectives:

  1. Exploiting the potential of the space sector to foster innovation and sustainable growth in the national economy as a whole;
  2. Strengthening Hungary’s international role and creating an organizational and normative framework for effective coordination of the sector;
  3. Labour resources and vital research hubs are vital for a prospering space economy. Therefore, the third main strategic objective is to create new forms of educational programs and to support research capabilities.

The first objective is intended to strengthen businesses, increase their economic weight, and increase significantly the number of companies investing in space activities. The ultimate purpose in this area would be the appearance of competitive companies at international level.

The second strategic objective is to strengthen Hungary’s international role, broaden its relations, and create an organizational and normative framework for coordination. In this context, the government aims to strengthen space diplomacy relations, the capability to access resources available through the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA). Another important objective is to establish the domestic institutional background (via a coordinating agency) that coordinates the mentioned areas. In practice, this could mean the setting up of a legal framework and a national space agency.

The third strategic objective focuses on education, as a prosperous space industry is unimaginable without well-trained professionals and researchers. For this purpose, the strategy aims to introduce secondary and higher education programs, results-based support for research centres, and to create an interdisciplinary knowledge platform of the space sector by the introduction of an inter-university training (including social sciences as well).

State coordination: national space act and space agency

As lawyers, we would like to highlight that the strategy puts special emphasis on the question of coordination of domestic space activities which might be based on a specific legal act and a coordinative agency (space agency). With this, Hungary follows the practice of those states that devote significant resources to space research and development.

In our view, the sui generis regulation of space activities under Hungarian jurisdiction is justified for two reasons. First of all, on the basis of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, Hungary – as a member state – is responsible for all “national” space activities and is obliged to license, continuously supervise, and register such activities. These rules must be incorporated into a legal act. On the other hand, it is in the interest of the state to authorize and supervise high-risk activities carried out “under its flag” in accordance with a strict set of rules, considering the foreign and national security interests of Hungary. Of the 22 Member States of the European Space Agency, 17 have already adopted various space regulations, which present a very diverse picture, partly due to the fact that the European Union does not have the competence to harmonize legislations in this area. In our opinion, the Austrian, Portuguese, Greek, Finnish, British and French national space acts might serve as a good example and inspiration for Hungary.

As far as the institutional background is concerned, the strategy mentions the creation of an agency. In addition to licensing and supervision, the strategy emphasizes that a one-stop shop system advocated by the agency might be more effective. The agency’s task would also include efforts to “make the domestic space sector visible”. The space agency is also an obvious solution for the above-mentioned (space diplomatic) representation of Hungarian interests. The agency could be the actor that effectively represents Hungarian interests at the international level. In addition, it could be a proactive actor during the relevant legislative processes, setting out possible directions for Hungary.

International law does not define conditions in relation to institutional coordination and supervision. According to the common practice in Europe, this is assured by ministries or independent (space) agencies. It is without doubt, however, that an independent space agency can represent Hungarian interests much more effectively. Thus, according to our opinion, the centralization and an independent space agency is a good direction, but the complexity of licensing procedures also points to the fact that a number of authorities might have to be involved during licensing processes.

Summary

A small step for the Hungarian government, a big step for the Hungarian space industry? That is not entirely the case: the additional 85-100 million EUR earmarked for the development of the space industry, as well as the fact that the government has defined an independent strategy for the development of the sector, is a big step for everyone. We sincerely hope that with the existing funds, the efforts to fill the gap will lead to results and that Hungary will also be a relevant actor in the European space industry within 5 years.

Authors: Balázs Bartóki-Gönczy PhD, assistant professor, head of Outer Space and Social Sciences Research Group – University of Public Service (bartoki-gonczy.balazs@uni-nke.hu), Tamás Darvas, junior associate (Sárhegyi and Partners Law Firm), researcher at Outer Space and Social Sciences Research Group (darvas.tamas@sarhegyi.hu)

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Sources (in Hungarian):

Balázs Bartóki-Gönczy: Regulation of space-related activities at national level: Analysis of the international legal environment and the practice of the ESA member states http://ias.jak.ppke.hu/hir/ias/20204sz/09_BartokiGonczyB_IAS_2020_4.pdf

Tamás Darvas: Conceptual and historical foundations of space law, new challenges https://epa.oszk.hu/02700/02769/00020/pdf/EPA02769_arsboni_2020_03-04_03-16.pdf

Tamás Darvas – István Sárhegyi: Why a National Space Agency? – basic regulatory and space law issues in the domestic space sector https://arsboni.hu/miert-lehet-szukseg-nemrijos-urugynoksegre-a-hazai-urszektor-szabalyozasi-es-urjogi-alapkerdesei/

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