Space Forum: Powering sustainable & resilient space developments

On September 14th, the ICT Spring’s Space Forum focused on how international cooperation and science will contribute to build up a resilient ecosystem fuelled with rapid technological development.

For the morning session, the master of ceremonies Jean-Jacques Dordain, Advisor,, welcomed the participants, assuring that all stakeholders in the space sector, public or private, even if they are in competition, have the same objective: “Make space an essential element of the daily life on Earth, an essential element of sustainable humanity.”

Franz Fayot, Luxembourg Minister of the Economy, opened the event, promoted the growth and vitality of Luxembourg space ecosystem and its 70 companies and research bodies. Combined with space capabilities represented in Luxembourg, it positioned the Grand Duchy on the international space stage.

“Calling for an Earthrise, one-planet approach to quell the COVID-19 pandemic and closing the borders” was the title of a round table moderated by Jean-Jacques Dordain which brought virtually together Valanathan Munsami, CEO, South Africa’s National Space (SANSA), and Wu Ji, Former Director-General and Professor at National Space Science Center (NSSC), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Specialist in Space Science and Exploration, President of Chinese Society of Space Research.

Dordain and Ji started with a little bit of history: 1968, the iconic picture “Earthrise”, by Mission Apollo, shows our home planet suspended above the Moon, often credited for propelling the environmental movement that led to the first Earth Day in 1970. For the three men, “space is the best laboratory of international cooperation for humanity”. They teamed up together to say that space erases boundaries, transcends national divisions because “space belongs to all human beings”. That doesn’t mean absence of competition but competition must be driven by common interests. For Munsami, space is the field to implement a “multi-sum game” where everybody loses or wins instead of the traditional zero-sum game where you have one winner and one looser.

The round table was followed by a fireside chat regarding “NASA Artemis programme -Destination: Mars” between Sam Scimemi, Senior Assistant in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Former ISS Director, NASA, live from the USA, and Paul Schonenberg, Chairman and CEO, AMCHAM Luxembourg.

Artemis is a multibillion dollar and multidecadal project that aim to go to the Moon sustainably and then to go to Mars. Artemis implies multiple companies and international partnerships. Luxembourg has been invited two years ago to be part of this initiative. To tackle the scientific challenges, NASA relies on the private sector. Even if it’s impossible to know if there will be resources available and exploitable to stay sustainably on the Moon and to go to Mars, NASA needs data and services provided by private companies. “There are viable commercial activities because the government are going to pay for these info or services”, Scimeni noticed. Their interest in resource exploration and robotics may allow Luxembourg-based companies to do well.

The organizers then welcomed Ruy Pinto (virtually), Chief Technology Officer, SES, for a presentation titled “Developing NewSpace and NewGround: Sustainable and Scalable Innovation Enabling Opportunities for Industry”. Quantum communications, Earth observation, connectivity and space mining are the future of the NewSpace and the NewGround. These technologies will have an impact not only on the space activities but also in our day-to-day life. To tackle these challenges, “we need unconventional thinking”, Pinto said.

Quantum technology will be a huge disrupter and to create a true all-encompassing quantum key distribution system, you need a space component. “Quantum keys will allow communications to be immune from its dropping  in an age of quantum computing”, stated Pinto. On connectivity, SES in investing in the Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) where you can have fast communications with great reactivity without launching hundreds of satellites to cover the whole Earth such as on the low orbit. To connect on the ground, SES is advocating for an open architecture and an advanced digitalization as a way to cut costs. 

Jean-Jacques Dordain then gave the floor to Andreas Hein, Professor for Space System Engineering, SnT, University of Luxembourg, who talked about: “Back to the future – How space resources can save the Earth”. Space is not an alternative to Earth, “escaping climate change and resources shortage by migrating to space at a large scale doesn’t seem realistic and feasible”, Hein noticed, “but space can be the key to a long-term survival on Earth”.

Right now, the most important spatial resource is data, to get a better knowledge of climate change and to help predicting natural disaster such as floods. In the future, spacecrafts could be used to mine celestial bodies such as asteroids to stimulate the space ecosystem but also eventually to provide high valued resources to Earth like platinum and mitigate the environmental impact of the terrestrial mining industry. The University of Luxembourg is working on miniaturise spacecrafts in order to do so. A whole fleet of these spaceships could be as well a basis to audacious system such as the project “Planet Sun Shade” : a system with thousands of spacecrafts covering the surface area of Germany to block a tiny fraction of sunlight and thereby decreasing the temperature on Earth.

The programme continued with a session untitled “Connecting with start uppers worldwide” presented by Nelson Pinto, Project Manager, Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy, who introduced the work of the nine Luxembourg Trade and Investment Offices (LTIO) spread all over the world. Three start-ups selected by the LTIO network has been highlighted with a five minutes speech. From Taipei, Thomas Yen, CEO, promoted his company Tensor Tech, which develops Reaction Sphere, an innovative spherical motor technology for satellite attitude determination and control systems (ADCS) and provides a full-stack service for the ADCS. On its side, the Japanese company Tenchijin utilises bid data captured in space in land assessment and provide a fuller evaluation of land. The start-up’ session closed with the Japanese Patchedconics which provides intellectual assets for low-cost propulsion subsystems for cube to micro-satellites.

Simon Seminari, Principle Advisor, Euroconsult, than gave an overview of “Space economy and government space budgets”. The space industry is reshaped: space actors’ field become less a government dominated area and more a commercial one. “Incumbents squeezed by market pull (switching demand) and technology push (New space) will result into a profound reorganization of the sector”, Seminari indicated.

In 2020, the global space economy can be valued at 385 billion dollars and it expected to reach 400 billion dollars in 2025. 80% of the demand in value is concentrated by governments. In 2020, a record of 1275 satellites have been launched with 93% of small satellites (under 500kg) and 60% linked to a satellites’ constellation. On average, 1250 satellites are expecting to be launch every year by 2029. The most commercial revenues are generated by satellites services providers. 

Some figures to highlight Luxembourg's investment in space: with almost 150 dollars, Luxembourg has the highest space budget by capita in the world, in front of the United States, and the third in percentage of GDP with 0.15% (world average 0.02%).

To start her speech on the theme “Why collaboration is now the key to exploring space?”, Pascal Ehrenfreund, President, International Astronautical Federation (IAF), teamed up with the previous speakers to say the needs for collaboration are increasing because space economy is touching more and more sectors and “extended its portfolio”, taking the example of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The space sector is at the forefront to achieve these goals, collaborating with the entire non-space sector to provide data to agriculture to fight hunger or to implement policies against climate change, etc.  She then focused on her organisation, the International Astronautical Federation, and its missions : advancing international development, raising awareness, preparing the workforce, sharing knowledge, promoting cooperation and recognising achievements. With 407 corporate members and 71 countries, the IAF is the world’s leading space advocacy body.

Lynn Zoenen (photo), Investment Manager, Alpine Space Ventures, Pierre Festal (photo), Partner, Promus Ventures, and Markus Payer, Founder and Owner, waveL communications, as a moderator, then participated in a round table entitled “Three components for success”. For Pierre Festal, there’s a key component beyond everything : people. “It’s all about the entrepreneur. We have a business model of backing people at the early stage, people with a vision. Market size and technology are secondary matters”, he stated. Lynn Zoenen didn’t say anything else. Alpine Space Ventures is first looking for a team and a CEO with a hybrid profile who is aware of the technological side and the commercialisation side. The market disruption potential of the company is also a key component with the market growth rate and the way the company approaches the market and how it intends to lead it.

Both of them noticed the appetite for investing in space, a sector that becomes a tangible market for industries with lots of applications on Earth. An appetite linked also to the broader market’s conditions: “There are huge amounts of liquidity looking for home”, Festal said.

The morning session of the Space Forum ended with a special announcement: the launch of YEESS, a syndicate to facilitate and accelerate the New Space dynamic in Europe. The YEESS initiative aims to be the representative platform for New Space enterprises in Europe and foster acceleration of the movement. YEESS, founded by six European young space enterprises from Belgium, France, Germany  and Spain (AEROSPACELAB, ANYWAVES, ConstellR, EXOTRAIL, PANGEA AEROSPACE and  SATLANTIS) is a movement expected to grow to over thirty active European members in the upcoming weeks.

Article by Nicolas Klein

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