BERLIN • Facing tough competition from China, the US and even tiny Luxembourg, Germany is racing to draft new laws and attract private investment to secure a slice of an emerging space market that could be worth US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) a year by the 2040s.
The drive to give Germany a bigger role in space comes as European, Asian and US firms stake out ground in an evolving segment that promises contracts for everything from exploration to mining of outer-space resources.
The new legislation would limit financial and legal liabilities of private companies should accidents happen in orbit, set standards for space operations and offer incentives for new projects, the German economy ministry told Reuters.
Companies likely to benefit from any future spending rise in Germany include Airbus, which co-owns the maker of Europe's Ariane space rockets, and Bremen-based OHB.
The move comes as firms and trade groups press for the German authorities to establish a regulatory framework for the lucrative new market to encourage private investment.
"We are sounding the alarm that Germany and Europe are falling behind in space vis-a-vis China and the United States," Mr Dirk Hoke, defence and space chief at Franco-German-led aerospace group Airbus, told Reuters.
Germany is Europe's economic powerhouse and the world's fourth-largest economy. But it had just the world's seventh-largest national space budget last year, an estimated US$1.1 billion, according to preliminary data from Paris-based research firm Euroconsult.
The figure, which excludes contributions to pan-European programmes, is dwarfed by the US - by far the largest spender on space at almost US$40 billion.
Ironically, American space ambitions could offer a lifeline.
Mr Hoke said a new lunar Gateway programme backed by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration offered a chance for Germany and others in Europe to stake a claim to a key role in the market.
"In my view, it is hugely important that we participate as equal partners so that we are primed to develop and build technologies for such a gateway," he said. The programme involves designing and developing a small spaceship that will orbit the moon and serve as a temporary home for astronauts and as a base for work on the moon's surface and, later, missions to Mars.
In the meantime, Germany is facing a brain drain as companies worldwide ponder how to extract minerals from asteroids and water from the moon within a decade. Some companies are already considering moving to Luxembourg, which has taken a lead in Europe by enacting laws to limit liabilities and ease restrictions on mining operations.
But Germany is not standing still. The economy ministry's aerospace and space commissioner, Mr Thomas Jarzombek, is working with trade groups, companies and other experts to draft space laws and plans to submit them to Parliament some time after September, a spokesman said.