Space sector funding hampered by rules on defence investment, says expert

‘Unresolved conflict’ must be addressed to bring in more early-stage investment to the Irish industry, IIEA event hears

Links between space technologies and the defence industry could constrain efforts to increase investment in the Irish space sector, according to a leading Irish expert in space economics.

Sinéad O’Sullivan, a former aerospace engineer and Nasa project manager who is now an investment adviser for the sector, said “one of the big problems” when securing finance for early-stage space companies was that fund managers were often not permitted to allocate investment to “anything that is defence or defence-adjacent”.

She was speaking at an event held by the Institute of International and European Affairs on Friday, days after the Government’s allocation of an additional €3.3 million in funding for the European Space Agency (ESA), an intergovernmental body, in Budget 2024.

Neale Richmond, the junior minister for space, told the “Space: A New Frontier for Ireland?” event in Dublin that the State can become a “key player” in the sector. The value of ESA contracts in the State last year arrived at €13.5 million.


Although the space sector is increasingly concerned with areas such as climate change monitoring, military use of hypersonic technology for the development of high-speed missiles as well as satellites for surveillance has generated unease.

“You can’t talk about the space industry without talking about the defence industry. That creates tension in Europe because the d-word, defence, is a dirty word. When I sit in board meetings in Europe and I say the word ‘defence’, I see a physical recoil,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

“This is an unresolved conflict in the industry, and it is something that needs to be resolved if we want to start bringing in early-stage investment into the industry, especially in Ireland.”

Ms O’Sullivan said she had discussed potential ways to delineate the space sector from the defence industry in conversations with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

Rory Fitzpatrick, chief executive of National Space Centre, which provides a range of satellite and communications services from its location near Midleton, Co Cork, said there was “a lot” of European satellite business that it was unable to take part in.

“This is a big area for us because we’re right on the edge of it. We have a load of contracts we could be taking if we did defence,” he said, clarifying that he meant other than work the centre does with the State’s Defence Forces.

He added that he did not expect to see the situation change quickly despite pressure “coming from all angles” for the State to become part of Nato.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics