15. Italy

Italy is a founding member and the third-highest contributor to the European Space Agency (ESA). The Italian Space Agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), defines, coordinates and manages national space programmes and the Italian participation to European and international space projects, under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, University and Research.

Italy’s space policy guidelines are formulated in the latest Strategic Vision Document for 2016-2025, which puts an increased emphasis on socio-economic returns of space activities, in particular, on the development of downstream activities (ASI, 2016[1]).

In 2018, Law No. 7 established a new national space governance, entrusting the Prime Minister with the overarching responsibility for space and aerospace policies supported by an inter-ministerial Committee composed of twelve Ministers and the President of the Regional Conference (COMINT), to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (Italian Parliament, 2018[2]).

In 2017, Italy allocated some EUR 837 million (USD 944 million), to space activities, which is a 1% increase in real terms over the last 10 years since 2008. 66% of the funding was directed towards ESA, and some 30% allocated to national and bilateral activities. Key priorities of the Italian Space Agency budget includes earth observation (30%), launchers and space transportation (26%), and human spaceflight and microgravity (20%). In addition to the ASI budget, the “Italian Space Economy Strategic Plan”, foresees an additional multi-annual investment of some EUR 4.7 billion, half of which is to be funded by the private sector. An initial part of this has already been allocated to telecommunications (ASI, 2016[3]).

Space-related research in aerospace engineering and space sciences is carried out in both national research organisations and at universities, such as the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA), Sapienza University of Rome and the polytechnic universities in Milano and Torino. ASI’s Space Geodesy Centre “Giuseppe Colombo” is one of the most important space geodetic observatories in the international network. ESRIN, ESA’s headquarters for earth observation activities, is located in Frascati, near Rome.

Italy has strong capabilities in almost all segments of the space industry, upstream and downstream. The sector currently encompasses some 200 companies, employs more than 6 200 people and, in 2015, generated more than EUR 1.6 billion in revenues (ASI, 2016[1]). While the majority of Italian space companies are small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), four companies, Avio, Selex ES, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space Italia, account for about 80% of total employment (ASI, 2016[1]).

Italian manufacturing companies are active in satellite, launcher and orbital system production and are important suppliers of high-technology subsystems, components, equipment and instruments, with strong links to the defence and automotive industries. Important aerospace clusters are located in the centre of the country (Lazio, Toscana, Abruzzo). The second most important area is the northwest (Piemonte and Lombardia), while the south and the Islands are increasing their share in revenues (Campania, Puglia).

The Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Puglia has been formally designated as Italy’s first spaceport by the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport and ENAC, the civil aviation authority. In 2018, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit announced a series of agreements with the Italian Space Agency and Italian companies to further the development of commercial launch activities in southern Italy.

In the downstream sector, space operations are an important activity, with Telespazio accounting for a major share of employment and revenues. Many companies also provide satellite data products and services, for instance for synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite imagery. Applications typically cater to government and commercial users in the areas of land cover management (agriculture, forestry), maritime activities and geo-hazard monitoring.

Italy’s share in scientific publications in OECD’s space literature dataset (see guide to the profiles) is comparable to that of France and Japan and has remained stable since 2000. In space-related patenting, Italy’s share in patent applications has significantly increased between 2002-05 and 2012-15. The penetration of satellite television has remained stable in the last years after an increase in subscriptions after 2000. Space-related development assistance activities in the 2000-16 period have focussed mainly on disaster risk management, followed by education, research and training.

Figure 15.1. Italy – Fast facts
Figure 15.1. Italy – Fast facts
Figure 15.2. Space budget trends and main programmes
Figure 15.2. Space budget trends and main programmes

1. The institutional space budget includes data for national and bilateral activities, ESA and EUMETSAT.

2. Also includes microgravity.

Source: OECD analysis based on institutional data.

Figure 15.3. Scientific production in space literature, per country
Share of total space publications, 2000, 2008 and 2016
Figure 15.3. Scientific production in space literature, per country

Source: OECD analysis based on Scopus Custom Data, Elsevier, July 2018.

Figure 15.4. Top applicants of space-related patents
IP5 patent families, by priority date and applicant’s location, using fractional counts, 2002-05 and 2012-15
Figure 15.4. Top applicants of space-related patents

Note: Patent families are compiled using information on patent families within the Five IP offices (IP5). Figures are based on incomplete data from 2014.

Source: OECD STI Micro-data Lab: Intellectual Property Database, http://oe.cd/ipstats, March 2018.

Figure 15.5. Penetration of satellite telecommunication technologies in Italy
Satellite broadband and satellite TV subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, 2010-16 and 2000-16
Figure 15.5. Penetration of satellite telecommunication technologies in Italy

Source: OECD analysis based on OECD Broadband database, https://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/broadband-statistics/, and ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.

Figure 15.6. Italian space-related official development assistance commitments
Share of total Italian space-related commitments, 2000-16
Figure 15.6. Italian space-related official development assistance commitments

Source: OECD analysis based on OECD DAC database (2018).


[3] ASI (2016), Piano Strategico Space Economy. Quadro di posizionamento nazionale, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, Rome.

[1] ASI (2016), Strategic Vision Document 2016-2025, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, Rome, https://www.asi.it/sites/default/files/attach/dettaglio/dvs-ing_web.pdf (accessed on 26 March 2018).

[2] Italian Parliament (2018), Legge 11 gennaio 2018, n. 7, [Law 11 January 2018, .No. 7], Rome.

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