Space: behind the historic Cnes strike, the challenges of “New space”

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Last Thursday, about 600 agents from the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes) in Toulouse went on strike to protest the new contract for goals and achievements signed with the state, which, according to unions, favors private actors. Behind, the effort for the “new space” where Europe has lagged behind.

It is a historic movement that affected the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes) in Toulouse on Thursday. At the urging of an interdisciplinary organization, about 600 agents out of 1,700 left the job to protest against wage increases that were considered “ridiculous” in the framework of the mandatory annual negotiations (NAO), but especially against the implementation of the new contract of objectives and performance (COP) between the state and Cnes for the period 2022-2025. A COP that will disrupt the current operation of Cnes, where the state mobilizes funds intended for private companies, especially start-ups.

“This COP accentuates the transfer of public money to the private sector by making CNES’s resources available to industrialists, without the latter really affecting the choice and success of the activities carried out. [Il] establishes new contractual relationships with the private sector that are potentially in conflict with public procurement rules. In particular, it is intended that EUR 1.5 billion of public funds will be distributed by the public investment bank (Bpifrance) to the so-called ecosystem of start-ups, with extremely limited control over the use of these funds and no guarantee of a use accordingly. with the public interest, ”condemns the union, which stresses that this project is the subject of a massive rejection by employees and their organizations. »

Emerge new space masters

Last January, Philippe Baptiste, president of Cnes, recalled two start-up programs under his wishes. On the one hand, CosmiCapital “an innovation capital fund supported by the company Karista, endowed with 38 million euros to bring out French and European masters of New Space. It is designed in particular by Cnes, the initiator of the fund, and National Seed Fund 2 (FNA 2), managed on behalf of the State by Bpifrance and in partnership with the European Space Agency. On the other hand, the SpaceFounders program “initiated and co-administered by Cnes and the University of the Bundeswehr Munich, [qui] supports the leading European gold nuggets in space technology. In 2022, two campaigns by 10 start-ups will each begin 10 weeks of support in Toulouse and Munich. »

Criticizing a COP that “highlights scientific research but allocates insufficient resources to it, and prioritizes the private sector and defense”, the interdisciplinary organization on Thursday condemned “the proposed space policy’s inability to meet future challenges. Scientific and ecological” and requires the abandonment of the current COP and the drafting of a new one.

This strike movement occurs in a specific context, where the boundaries of space are redrawn in the light of New Space. In this new space, historical actors such as NASA, the European Space Agency ESA, the Russian space agency Roscomos, etc. have seen the arrival of new private companies led by Tech billionaires (Elon’s Space X Musk, Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos) and on the other side is confronted with the ambitions of other states (China, India, Japan, etc.).

France 2030 plan

France and Europe want to continue to play a role in this intensified competition. “The question of trust, whether security in space is being put in radically new terms. […] It assumes that France [assume] to work with established players, but also with players who can innovate and change the situation in this area “, explained Emmanuel Macron on 12 October 2021, when he presented the 9th goal in the France 2030 plan.” For that, in short term, we have several goals: reusable mini-launchers, which is a goal that we must be able to achieve by 2026, but also micro-mini-satellites, tomorrow’s constellations and all the technological innovations and services that are at the core in this new place, ”the president explained.

Who serves whom?

“The goals and performance agreement that we are signing with Cnes will strengthen it in its capacity as the state’s armed wing to implement a space policy in the service of our influence, our sovereignty, our competitiveness and our planet,” Prime Minister Jean Castex explained. 15 December on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Cnes and emphasized that “the EUR 1.5 billion that will be [à la politique spatiale] will make it possible to catch up with certain key market segments “and that” funding in the form of competitions or calls for projects will be launched next year with a view to developing new market segments. »
The whole question is to know who is at the service of whom, who is driving and who is in control, between Cnes or the start-up ecosystem – by definition fragile – these new ambitions.

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