From the outset of the COVID-19 health crisis, CNES has instituted teleworking across the agency in line with government guidance. This policy has been able to build on existing teleworking arrangements, an appropriately scaled information system and permanent labour dialogue, underscored by a shared commitment to preserving the health of the agency’s employees, aiding the national effort and keeping missions on track. After initially transitioning all activities to teleworking at the start of the first lockdown period, including critical activities like Mars spacecraft operations, more than three-quarters of the agency’s personnel are today working from home to accomplish its missions.
To cushion the impact of the health crisis, CNES rapidly rolled out a series of support measures to help the space ecosystem weather the storm and stay competitive. During the first lockdown, it set up a Space Economy Observatory to provide an overview of the difficulties that firms were encountering and relay them to CNES, ESA and overseeing ministries in order to tailor support to the situation.
Teleworking has been the rule for all firms, obliging them to adapt and accelerate their digital transformation. While the COVID-19 health crisis has forced some to shut down production lines for several weeks and highlighted the need to ramp up digitization of manufacturing processes, companies have responded quickly by modifying workstations and organizing duty rotas to enable production to resume in strict accordance with safety protocols. By September 2020, all manufacturing businesses had restored more than 80% of their production capacity.
French NewSpace players like CLS subsidiary KINEIS, now in the top 40 French tech start-ups on the Next40 list for 2021, have come through the crisis and succeeded in raising significant funding (€100 million). Other service providers have increased sales, notably in the field of environmental monitoring and industrial production tracking.
While support measures have enabled the industry to limit the impact of the health crisis on revenues, cashflow is going to take longer to recover. The government recovery plan, with a €365-million stimulus package for the space sector, is thus designed to maintain the French space ecosystem’s edge in a fiercely competitive international and European market.