Today, a quiet but fierce space competition is taking place in Europe - said Gellért Jászai in an interview with növekedés.hu. The majority owner of 4iG, whom we asked about the satellite project announced last week, revealed that countries in our region and in Western Europe are all working to have their own satellite or expand their capacities even further. Therefore, from a strategic point of view, we do not really have a choice: we have to enter the competition or else we will end up in an unfavourable position.
It came as a surprise to many people that Hungary wants to launch its own satellite in 2024. How did we obtain a satellite orbit of our own, for the utilization of which 4iG, Antenna Hungária and New Space Industries announced the establishment of CarpathiaSat Zrt. last week?
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) working under the auspices of the United Nations is responsible for the allocation of satellite orbits and radio frequencies to each nation. According to an ITU decision, Hungary has had its own orbital slot for about three decades, which in 2004 was leased by the state to a foreign private company. The lease contract expires in 2024, and after that we will have the opportunity to utilize the slot ourselves.
What are the maintenance costs of this orbital slot? How much will it cost the Hungarian state, or in other words to the taxpayers?
There are no costs involved as these orbital slots are not for sale. ITU decides who are entitled to the slots in question on the basis of procedures prescribed by international conventions.
After a country applies for a satellite orbit, they gain independent control over the slot allocated by ITU. Hungary also gained the right to dispose of the 4W geostationary orbital slot this way.
Why is it important for Hungary to organize a space project or launch its own telecommunications satellite?
This century is clearly about the explosive development of digitization and data communication. Television and radio broadcasting, a part of mobile and internet communication, the operation of cash machines, or simply the fact that we can check at a touch of a button on our mobile phones what the weather forecast is for today, are all unimaginable without satellites. We consider these tools to be crucial, whose possible collapse or absence could have serious consequences for a country.
In this sense, it is a question of national sovereignty whether the Hungarian state possesses satellite technology or not.
How realistic are Hungary's ideas regarding the space project?
There is a quiet but fierce space competition in Europe today to meet, among other things, the technological needs that I just mentioned. Countries in the region and also in Western Europe are working to have their own satellite or to expand their existing capacities further.
So, strategically, we don’t really have a choice. If we do not enter the competition in 2024, we will be at a significant disadvantage and will continue to maintain Hungary's exposure.
If we do not have our own tools, then we have to use the technology of international companies or other nations to meet our needs. As a telecommunications satellite requires tens of billions of investment and can work for roughly 20 years, the decisions we have made now will determine Hungary's future development in this field for decades.
Why is it CarpathiaSat, founded by the three companies, that was given the opportunity to operate the satellite and the orbital slot?
The utilization of the Hungarian orbital slot was preceded by thorough and extensive preparation, which resulted in a construction in which both business and government interests can be pursued.
The companies involved in this industry were aware that the rental contract was expiring soon, however, to my knowledge, there was no other inquirer who considered utilizing the orbital slot together with the Hungarian state.
Antenna Hungária has been a key player in satellite data transmission services for decades, and István Sárhegyi has been working on the international legal background of the project for several years.
What will be the role of 4iG? What is the professional competence in which you consider yourselves to be the best?
4iG has a controlling interest in CarpathiaSat Zrt, so we will be responsible for the coordination and management of the project. We have extensive experience in software-driven technological and IT segments such as artificial intelligence development, block chain technologies, or cyber security, as well as in data communication, data processing, remote sensing, and imaging, which will all play an important role in both the implementation and the operation stages.
Will you have the necessary manpower for this task? Do you have sufficient human resources for all these tasks or will you have to involve external partners?
Today, 4iG employs nearly 680 people, and most of our employees are highly qualified engineers; professionals with extensive domestic and international experience.
Some of the competences and capacities are already available to us now, as we are not about to assemble a satellite or develop a booster rocket. These technologies and services are available from companies with extensive experience in the space industry.
On the other hand, we will definitely try to work with international integrators who support the role of Hungarian suppliers and that of Hungarian science in general in the investment, and also, we would like to be able to bring as much expertise to Hungary as possible through the project.
This does not mean that we do not need additional capacities besides the knowledge transfer. In addition to organic organizational growth, we would like to ensure the necessary manpower and expertise through acquisitions and strategic collaborations.
The company's turnover, and especially its profitability, grew sharply last year. Can you continue to grow this year? How does the pandemic affect the company's performance?
I still consider the outlook for 4iG and also for the entire industry to be favourable.
The pandemic has catalysed the development of digital technologies and increased demand for products and services from both state and market customers. In many ways, technological and IT companies have been, and will continue to be, the winners of the current crisis.
What might be the reason that there are relatively few Hungarian innovations compared to the rest of the region?
The costs are extremely high and it is not at all certain that an idea or a scientific project will result in a marketable product or service.
The Hungarian industry suffered a huge shock during the change of regime, partly due to privatization and partly to fall in demand. Thus, the industrial background that could sufficiently fund R&D had disappeared for decades.
Today, of course, there are already positive examples in Hungary as well, but it is no coincidence that the government is taking an increasing role in supporting the R&D activities of companies or the work of scientific researchers, as Hungarian companies alone are still not financially strong enough for these tasks.