Luxembourg: A European hub for commercial space

space travel

Luxembourg is the European focal point for the ‘new space’ industry – the next generation of space technologies.

The space industry has entered a new phase of development. No longer the province of nation states alone, the next generation of space technologies is being designed and built by a steadily growing community of entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers and engineers. Luxembourg is the European focal point for this ‘new space’ industry, and for good reason.

Developing high technology for the space industry has an exacting set of requirements. Research, finance and technical services are all essential. As are access to valuable scientific data gathered from space. Each of these needs is well satisfied in Luxembourg and as a result, the space sector is thriving.

Connecting space and non-space

Huge data sets, gathered from space, represent an essential source of insight and opportunity for the space industry. Meanwhile, these self-same data sets are being used by non-space businesses searching for better ways to work on planet Earth. Data is the point of intersection for many high technology businesses.

The Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA) Data Center was created to support businesses in Luxembourg with reliable, fast and intuitive access to data streams from the European Copernicus Earth Observation programme. The detailed optical and radar imaging data which this project makes available, help to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure a civil security.

New products which make use of this data are of interest to businesses in many sectors including the environment, maritime, meteorology, agriculture, mobility, aviation and health, thus leading to a massive uptake of satellite-based products by end users. Furthermore, Luxembourg is now home to one of the world’s largest Data Lakes, for space data analytics.

Spire Global, an international player in space-to-cloud analytics, has made its data lake accessible, free of charge, to all start-ups, research institutes, and public agencies, in Luxembourg. These entities will be provided with sets of proprietary, differentiating, high-quality data for research and non-commercial product development activities. This collaborative initiative was co-funded by the Luxembourg Space Agency through its National Space Programme (LuxIMPULSE). The data lake is intended to spur the development of commercial space research by providing consistently reliable, critical data at no cost to the public, academic, and research communities.

The data sets to be offered by Spire include Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, which is used for tracking the movements of ships and vessels across the world, and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data, which is used for tracking airplanes across global airways. It also contains cutting-edge Radio Occultation data (GNSS-RO), a key element of weather forecasts.

The big picture

Luxembourg’s nurturing of high-tech businesses is part of a wider program of economic diversification. The nation has a raft of policies and programs aimed squarely at supporting a resilient, forward looking economy. Data is the latest facet in this story, with Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy keen to support the further emergence of a trusted data-driven economy, accelerating the digital transformation of its strategic sectors.

Space is one of these strategic sectors but it’s not alone. Luxembourg will proactively invest in companies using space infrastructure and data to develop their services and competitive position, regardless of whether that business is focused on planet Earth or looking outward to the stars.

History of space

Space has been a genuine success story for Luxembourg. For more than three decades, the country has been at the forefront of commercial and co-operative initiatives that have shaped a vibrant space economy. Luxembourg’s first foray into space came in 1985, with the creation of the Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), a landmark for satellite telecommunications and a global leader in this sector today.

Further space-related services and businesses have developed alongside SES, giving birth to an entire space industry in Luxembourg. The country’s accession to the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2005 was a second important spur for the industry. Today, the Grand Duchy is home to approximately 50 space companies and research labs, employing more than 800 people. The space sector’s contribution to national GDP is among the highest in Europe.

Make-up of the space sector in Luxembourg

The space industry in Luxembourg has three identifiable segments:

  1. Space: Manufacturing satellite and instrument structures, system integration of micro-satellites, electric propulsion for satellites, robotic payloads, in-space manufacturing, composites, RF payloads, FPGA.
  2. Ground: Development of ground stations, mechanical and electrical ground support equipment, communication networks, operations.
  3. Service: Teleport services, satellite-based media and telecommunications services, risk management services, data analytics, environmental applications and services, aeronautical information services, analytics platform.

The Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA)

Launched in 2018, the LSA is the latest stage in Luxembourg’s pro-space development. LSA fosters new and existing companies in the space sector, develops human resources, facilitates access to funding and provides support for academic research.

The agency implements the national space economic development strategy, manages national space research and development programs. The LSA also leads the Initiative and represents Luxembourg internationally before bodies such as the European Space Agency, the European Union and the United Nations.

Financing the space industry

No business is going to get very far without funding. Luxembourg’s expertise in international finance and the development of dedicated funding resources, have been crucial factors in the creation of a sustainable space industry. Together with a group of private and public investors, the Luxembourg Government is helping to establish a Space Fund as a standalone investment instrument.

The fund will provide equity funding for new space companies with ground-breaking ideas and technology. At the European level, Luxembourg contributes to the European Space Agency programs. These support the development of technology and of products, services and infrastructure in areas such as Telecommunications and Earth Observation. These contributions also open the door for players in Luxembourg to access the space market in Europe.

Global initiative on space resources

Launched in February 2016 and led by the LSA, the initiative positions Luxembourg as a pioneer in the exploration and utilisation of space resources. With this initiative, Luxembourg has defined a framework to promote and support the exploration and commercial utilisation of resources from ‘celestial bodies’ such as the Moon and asteroids.

In years to come, the focus on space resource exploration and utilisation will generate attractive opportunities in areas including materials science, additive manufacturing, remote sensing, communications, robotics, data analytics and artificial intelligence.

The initiative brings an ethical dimension to the project, seeking to ensure that space resources under its jurisdiction serve a peaceful purpose. It aims to ensure these resources are gathered and used in a sustainable manner, compatible with international law and for the benefit of humankind.

Space industry needs people

The Space industry needs a huge array of skills and talent, not just scientists and engineers. That is why, in fall 2019, the University of Luxembourg will launch a two-year Interdisciplinary Space Master’s program.

Set up in collaboration with the Luxembourg Space Agency, this master’s study program provides students with the engineering skills required by the burgeoning space industry, along with an in-depth knowledge of how to manage space-related business activities.

Using a project-based learning approach, graduates will obtain a fundamental understanding of the scientific bases and technical requirements of successful space missions. Courses will touch upon space systems engineering, space operations, space resource utilisation, space data mining and intelligent systems, satellite communications, and robotics.

The future

The pace of innovation in space-related technology continues to accelerate year after year. To make tomorrow’s technical possibilities a reality requires practical support today.

In Luxembourg, the space industry finds a nurturing and supportive environment with an established community of high-tech businesses, researchers, and entrepreneurs. All the necessary services and facilities, people and finances are in place. The next phase of space development is about to begin in earnest.

Luxembourg Space Agency

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