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Space research in Horizon 2020: which advantages for Italy?

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Horizon 2020 identified space research as one of Europe's key industrial technologies. The Commission highlighted its potential for EU innovation and competitiveness, but what are the consequences and advantages for our country? We had the pleasure to speak with Augusto Cramarossa, Head of National and International relations Unit of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).


How does ASI view the recent Draft Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2014-2015 in the area of Space? Is there any aspect that, in your opinion, could be improved?

The meeting held in Rome on November 27 was an informative and not a decisional one. The calls for 2014-2015 were published last December 11. Whilst everything has been already set for 2014, reviews of the calls for 2015 will be still possible until July 2014. Italy and France decided to abstain in regards to the 2014 Programme. In fact, we reserve our judgment on the included activities. We positively worked with the Commission and the other delegations, but, in our opinion, there was still place for improvements. In particular, we criticized the fact that the calls were defined without a clear idea of the general objectives.

In addition, we consider the overall fund distribution for Horizon 2020 (1,7 billion euros) inadequate, since it does not reflect the priority that, in our opinion, projects such as Galileo and Copernicus should be given to. We believe that research and development-funds allocated for these projects are too low. Another problem, then, regards call issue. The Commission proposes to follow a scheme 2+2+2+1 (years). Considering the maturity of the various activities, Italy on the other hand has proposed to invert the scheme, i.e. 1+2+2+2, in order to improve contents and general objectives. This is another reason that led us to abstention.

In regards to Copernicus, the recent tragedy of Lampedusa once again highlighted the necessity of maritime surveillance. Therefore, we believe it would have been very important to include in the calls for 2014 the prolongation of the FP7 activities - now due to finish - in order to control migration flow and avoid the occurrence of similar terrible tragedies in proximity of our coasts. 

We also proposed another activity linked to technological development for the preservation of cultural heritage of urban areas and critical infrastructures. And, in the end, the so-called “in orbit demonstration” and “in orbit validation”, a very important activity that allows to validate in orbit technologies developed on the Earth.

What are the goals of the Italian Space Agency in regards to the calls of Horizon 2020? On which projects will it be mostly focusing?

Our interest is that the Italian space community may participate to these calls in the widest possible way and that Italy can get benefits from this participation. Within FP7, Italy had returns slightly superior to 11% on space themes (Galileo, Copernicus, GMES and other technological activities). We are satisfied since this value is higher than the Italian average on other themes, however we would like to reach 14%, since Italy contributes to the 14% of the EU funds.  It is an extremely hard work because participation modalities to European Space Agency’s calls are different. There the rule of “right return” applies: if a Country spends 100 then it is guaranteed that it will receive 94 back, net of ESA administrative costs. Italy conspicuously participated to FP7 for what concerns the number of presented proposals, but the award rate is quite low.

How did ASI organize the proposal preparation? Can other stakeholders (universities, companies, research centres) email proposals of collaboration to [email protected]?

The Italian Space Agency does not directly participate to the calls, but acts as facilitator in several ways. ASI takes part to all the Space Committee’s works, i.e. has the task to negotiate the texts proposed to the Commission. After few months, a final text is ready, which compromises and tries to satisfy the demands of the various countries. ASI, also, organizes informative days like November 27, 2013. The aim is the dissemination of the calls’ contents in order to involve the highest possible number of interested Italian stakeholders: companies, PMI, industries, research centres and universities.  ASI consults the principal stakeholders during the negotiation phase, taking into account their suggestions and proposals, but always keeping in mind the strategic goals of our Agency. Italy plays a role in ESA equal to 12-13%, but we would like to improve. We cannot force anyone to make a proposal nor we can review it, but we can take into consideration all points of view. And we are doing it by means of this new email address.

If I am not mistaking, ASI can facilitate the search of partners from other Countries. Are these other space agencies (ESA, DLR Germany, CNES France, etc…) or also private subjects?

We have been carrying out this task and we will be continuing in the future. We receive requests from the delegated of other Countries, but we also work in the opposite direction. In order to improve the value for money in Horizon 2020, two strategic clusters have been identified: one is about electric propulsion and the other one is about robotics. First, a chosen consortium defines the cluster’s aims and suggests an adequate number of calls, whose unique goal is avoiding dispersion of funds, resources and expertise.  Once the road map is defined, the final calls are published. ASI is discussing with other national space agencies in order to create a consortium with the European Space Agency for managing the Program Support Action (PSA), i.e. the definition activities of the two clusters’ roadmaps. Considering the process of technological balancing carried out by ESA with our support, we are proposing that ESA coordinates the calls for the clusters’ PSA in order to define their road maps.

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