Luxembourgh Times
Space Resources

Space resources in spotlight with start-up initiative

Although Luxembourg has diversified its space economy, space resources to remain a focus with new start-up programme

Luxembourg Minister of Economy Franz Fayot (centre) in a meeting with the European Space Agency on Tuesday in Dubai

Luxembourg Minister of Economy Franz Fayot (centre) in a meeting with the European Space Agency on Tuesday in Dubai © Photo credit: SIP/Emmanuel Claude

An initiative to boost Luxembourg space start-ups, backed by the European Space Agency, is set to be launched, as the country’s sector continues to diversify.

The goal of the new programme is to identify early-stage space resources companies, both in space and on earth, Matthias Link, director of European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC), said at the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai on Tuesday.

The programme will be run by the start-up incubator Technoport in Belval and ESRIC and is backed by the European Space Agency - an intergovernmental organisation set up in 1975 bringing together 22 European countries including Luxembourg.

Five start-ups will be selected before a single start-up is incubated for a period of two years with funding from ESRIC. The business could then be supported for three years for commercialisation and technology transfer support, Link said.

"We have done quite a lot of research to support this programme", said Thomas Kallstenius of the LIST research institute, which helped set up ESRIC. The Dudelange-based company WASDI, which specialises in earth observation and mapping floods from space, is also a recent spin-off of the research institute, which tries to ally research with industry.

Five years ago, the Luxembourg government launched an initiative to attract businesses and create an ecosystem focusing on the exploration and exploitation of space resources, following in the footsteps of the US.

"We started in 2016 with the space resources initiatives", Franz Fayot said comparing it to the launch of the SES satellite operator in the 80s which "also seemed like a crazy idea at the time", echoing the vision of former Economy Minister Etienne Schneider who launched the initiative.

Given the uncertainties and risks around the space industry Luxembourg-based companies have looked elsewhere, such as lunar and even Mars missions, or have focussed on earth observation and data analysis.

Despite the diversification of the sector, the space resources initiative remains one of the pillars of Luxembourg's space strategy, Mario Grotz of the Ministry of Economy who has been involved in the initiative from the start told the Luxembourg Times on Sunday at the World Expo in Dubai.

Around "42% of our ecosystem are small to medium enterprises", Fayot said. "The space resources programme is really just beginning", he said at the International Astronautical Congress on Tuesday.

"Luxembourg has shown the way again with space resources, the United Nations now has a working group on the project, and the main space powers, the US and China, are also looking at it", Géraldine Naja of the European Space Agency, an intergovernmental organisation set up in 1975 bringing together 22 European countries including Luxembourg, said in Dubai.

"If we want to continue to explore space, we cannot avoid looking at this subject", as space resources would help for better and longer missions in space, and could help with resources shortages, Naja said.

Space resources collaboration

Luxembourg-headquartered space startup iSpace Europe on Tuesday also announced an association with the European space and defence company Airbus and French energy company Air Liquide to explore lunar resources.

The association, EURO2MOON, is based in Luxembourg and is open to industrial partners as well as research organisations interested, with ESRIC being the first to join it. Any company which has their headquarters or key activities in the EU or in an ESA member state is eligible to join the project.

The Luxembourg Space Agency also cemented its relationship with its Italian counterpart in Dubai on Tuesday, vowing to collaborate on an improved legal framework for space and pooling expertise on space resources.