Luxembourg has a history of being a space visionary. Launching SpaceResources.lu in 2016 and becoming the first country in Europe and the second one in the world to adopt a legal framework for the exploration and use of space resources was a natural continuation of its decade-long position at the forefront of the commercial satellite communications industry. And the efforts are paying off. “We have a record number of new businesses that have incorporated in Luxembourg over the past few years, and our community now exceeds 50 companies,” says Marc Serres, CEO of the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA).
The Luxembourg space sector remains diversified with companies covering the whole value chain, from hardware development to the services segment. “Around 10% specialise in the space resources field, but the majority focus on other areas. They are drawn here by the firm commitment to supporting the sector demonstrated by SpaceResources.lu.” The recently inaugurated European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC), which is hosted by the Luxembourg Institute for Science and Technology, is yet another proof of the country’s determination to become a new space leader.
Business-driven, strong government support
Unlike most other space agencies that are largely research-driven, LSA’s main priority is developing the business community. “The increasingly active presence of private players in the new space field fosters the development of commercial space activities and of a dynamic and innovative economic sector,” states Minister of the Economy Franz Fayot. “Space companies in Luxembourg with strong business ideas benefit from a complete range of support: funding, premises, research resources and a network of international contacts and potential partners. Ever since the launch of SES (Société Européenne des Satellites) in the 1980s, Luxembourg has been a pioneer in commercial space activities. By positioning the Grand Duchy as a European hub for space resources utilisation, Luxembourg shows, once again, that it is firmly orientated towards the future.”
Space companies in Luxembourg with strong business ideas benefit from a complete range of support: funding, premises, research resources and a network of international contacts and potential partners.
In addition to formulating and implementing a national legal framework ensuring that private operators can be confident about their rights to resources they extract in space, Luxembourg works extensively to raise the question at the international level and is involved in inter-governmental forums as well as UN working groups. It is also a full member of the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2005.
Most space companies come to Luxembourg to develop their R&D activities. “We work with them to support their efforts,” Mr Serres points out. “In addition, they wish to be part of our dynamic ecosystem, and are attracted by Luxembourg’s central location and the closeness to suppliers from other sectors. The political support available is also attractive. A lot of countries are interested in space, but not many put it as high on the political agenda as we do.”
In-space economy for benefits on Earth
With thousands of commercial satellites orbiting the earths, the “in-space economy” is today a huge sector that provides services for everyday use and generates massive revenues for companies. “Businesses use satellites to provide telecommunications, TV broadcasting and connectivity,” Mr Serres exemplifies. “We can also see significant growth in applications using Earth observation data. Companies combine satellite-generated images with other data and integrate artificial intelligence to process them to provide a wide range of location-based services.”
One strong argument for us to help a company develop from Luxembourg and co-finance its R&D and innovation activities is the robustness of its business plan.
LSA keeps the business perspective in mind when working with all companies, also those orientated towards the space resources field where commercial viability may be some 10-15 years away. The agency encourages the development of business models with a dual space/Earth perspective. “One strong argument for us to help a company develop from Luxembourg and co-finance its R&D and innovation activities is the robustness of its business plan. This means that they need clients on Earth to whom they can sell products and services already today in a sustainable way. We push them to commercialise what they are doing in space on other markets, and have quite a few cases where technologies developed for space end up generating more revenues from their Earth application.”
In addition to commercially driven services, the space sector also brings other socio-economic benefits. ESA member countries are determined that society in general should reap concrete benefits from investments made in space, and the United Nations are extensively using space infrastructure and data to monitor the progress of its Sustainable Development Goals. LSA is also taking ethical aspects into consideration in its work. The SpaceResources.lu initiative is fully aligned with the international treaties regulating all space activity that are all orientated towards providing benefits for humankind, and the agency is in the process of further formalising its commitment to an ethical approach.
Talent development is one of the cornerstones in Luxembourg’s drive to ensure the long-term sustainability of its space sector. Initiatives span from making materials from ESA’s education programme available for primary and secondary school teachers to launching an interdisciplinary space Master, which the University of Luxembourg did in 2019 in collaboration with LSA. The aim of the programme is to generate a talent pool of highly skilled engineers and innovative entrepreneurs who will be able to create and manage leading commercial space enterprises. LSA also runs the Luxembourg Young Graduate Trainee programme, which offers students transitioning from education to full-time employment in the space industry the opportunity to carry out internships at ESA.
We hope that what we are doing today for the space sector will have a lasting impact on our economy in the years to come.
While the primary objective of these initiatives is to ensure a home-grown talent pool for space companies, the ambitions go further than this one sector. “There is a general lack of people interested in pursuing more scientific and technical careers in Europe, and we need to inspire our youth to explore science and technology further,” says Mr Serres. “Space is a good stimulus: it generates dreams and aspirations. We hope that what we are doing today for the space sector will have a lasting impact on our economy in the years to come.”
Photo: © Luxinnovation/Marion Dessard