Lithuania to become ESA Associate Member state

Lithuania signed an Association Agreement with ESA on 28 April 2021.

This Association Agreement between ESA and the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, builds on the successful results achieved under the previous frameworks of cooperation and will enter into force for a duration of seven years. Comprising 18 Articles and two Annexes, it orchestrates the strengthening of Lithuania’s relations with ESA.
Ms Aušrinė Armonaitė, Minister of Economy and Innovation, signed the Association Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and ESA on 28 April in Vilnius. Associate membership will become effective upon notification that respective internal procedures have been completed.

Following its unanimous approval by Council, the Association Agreement was signed by ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher on 18 March 2021 at ESA Headquarters, in presence of the Ambassador of Lithuania to France.

“The accession of Lithuania to ESA as an Associate Member will enable Lithuania to implement its strong commitment to driving innovation, developing technologies and promoting research. There will be many opportunities for Lithuanian scientists and entrepreneurs to carry out joint space projects with the largest European technology companies, while contributing their scientific knowledge to the Agency’s activities,” said HE Mr Nerijus Aleksiejunas on that occasion.

For about a decade, ESA and Lithuania have been engaged in various forms of cooperation, first under a general Cooperation Agreement, followed by a European Cooperating State (ECS) Agreement. The latter entered into force on 28 September 2015, with the signature of the Plan for European Cooperating States (PECS) Charter, and was lately extended for 12 months, until 27 September 2021.

The overarching objective was, through an enhanced and mutually beneficial cooperation, to ensure a successful integration of Lithuania in the frame of ESA, the further development of sustainable and competitive industrial capabilities, and their integration in the space supply chain, while securing ultimately a fair geographical return to the country. To date, 35 contracts have been placed for PECS projects in education, generic technology, Earth observation, science, telecoms and human and robotic exploration. Following an additional sixth PECS call, six new projects will be developed.

The successful results achieved under the previous frameworks of cooperation were jointly reviewed in a meeting with Vice Minister Jekaterina Rojaka, in Vilnius on 24 January 2020. A feasibility study of Lithuania’s space potential was also performed by the consulting company Visionary Analytics. Former Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas subsequently requested that Lithuania be granted the status of Associate Member, an application unanimously supported by ESA Member States.

The Association Agreement will allow direct Lithuanian participation in the ESA’s optional programmes, subject to the unanimous approval of respective participating states. Lithuanian delegates and advisers will be entitled to attend meetings of ESA Council and its subordinate bodies, and to vote on questions relating to the activities and programmes in which Lithuania participates. The Lithuanian delegation to ESA is led by Mr Edvinas Grikšas from the Innovation Policy Division of the Ministry. The ambitions of Lithuania in space have also led to the establishment of the Lithuanian Space Office on 4 July 2019, currently headed by Ms Eglė Elena Šataitė, within the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA).

Among the programmes approved in November 2019 in Seville, the General Support Technology Programme (GSTP), Future EO and ARTES 4.0 Scylight (SeCure and Laser communication Technology) have been jointly identified as best matching Lithuanian capabilities. Vice Minister Gintaras Vilda, then in charge of innovation policy, industry and trade, praised the cooperation with ESA and advocated that ‘new players, especially start-ups and SMEs, should be included in the existing value chains’.

It is now envisaged to set up a Business Incubation Centre, to turn space-related business ideas into commercial start-ups companies. In addition, an incentive scheme, in the form of Requesting Party Activities, aims at further developing their industrial base, with the support of ESA experts. Such technical assistance and expertise have proven instrumental in the capacity building process, since the first Cooperation Agreement concluded on 7 October 2010.
The key existing competences in Lithuania can be summarised as follows: nanosatellites, propulsion system components, infrared based technologies, Earth observation downstream applications, optoelectronics (in particular laser technologies and photonics), life sciences, physical sciences, and radio frequency systems.

Lithuania benefited from a significant legacy in space R&D. The fourth oldest observatory in Europe, the Vilnius University Astronomical Observatory, was established in 1753. Lithuanian scientists and engineers participated in Soviet aerospace activities, by developing systems and elements for the Mars programme, the Buran space shuttle, the Lunokhod rover, as well as carrying plant research in scientific satellites Bion-10 and Bion-11 and the Salyut and Mir space stations.

In the 1990s, the expertise gained was used in NASA and ESA programmes. In particular, Lithuanian astronomers participated in Hipparcos, SOHO and Gaia, supplying an analysis of the photometric systems, peculiar stars and interstellar extinction.

The consolidation of the Lithuanian space sector started in 2007 when the National Space Technology Platform was established, followed in 2009 by the setting up of the Lithuanian Space Association (LSA).

The first two Lithuanian self-made nanosatellites (LituanicaSAT-1 and LitSat-1) were launched in January 2014 to the International Space Station, then deployed that February by JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata. They tested new technologies prior to reentering Earth’s atmosphere in September 2014. The third Lithuanian satellite (LituanicaSAT-2) was launched on 23 June 2017 by an Indian PSLV-XL rocket.

The Programme of Development of Research, Technologies and Innovation in the Aerospace Sector 2016-20 and its Action plan aimed at developing a competitive Lithuanian aerospace sector. The Research Council of Lithuania drafted, funded and coordinated the National Science Programme ‘Towards technologies of the Future’ (2015-20) for fundamental and applied space research, with a view to preparing Lithuania for ESA’s membership.

Entities such as the Baltic Institute of Advanced Technology, Geomatrix, NanoAvionika, Si Femto, Lidaris and others have shown capabilities in specific niches that are of interest to ESA. As climate change and ice monitoring are key concerns in the area, the Baltic initiative developed under ESA’s auspices intends to promote synergies among regional partners for the development and specific use of space systems.

ESA has now established formal relations with all the states that acceded to the European Union since 2004, and are thereby associated to the definition of an overall European Space Policy and participating with full rights and obligations in the EU Copernicus and Galileo programmes.

Lithuania followed Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia and Latvia in joining the ECS status, a frame for cooperation dating back to 2001. The five first countries have become Member States between 2008 and 2015, while Slovenia and Latvia became Associate Members in 2016 and 2020 respectively. Lithuania was followed as an ECS by Slovakia, Bulgaria and Cyprus, while Malta and Croatia have concluded general Cooperation Agreements in 2012 and 2018.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher stated that he was very much looking forward to the concrete implementation of the Association Agreement, through Lithuania’s steadily extending participation in ESA’s programmes and activities.

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