Hosted at Charlotte Bar on Wednesday, the second edition of the awareness-raising initiative welcomed senior advisor to the economy ministry for space Gary Martin and Kleos director Andy Bowyer.
Martin was born in 1955, the year the space race between the US and Soviets began resulting in huge government investment in research and space missions. He recalls at one point 3% of GDP being invested in space technology at Nasa, raising expectations of humans living on Mars. But, when the US “won” the space race and ended the Apollo programme, researchers encountered countless political barriers, slowing down progress.
“I was given the wonderful job in 2000 of leading secret studies for Nasa to look at how we got humans out of lower orbit,” Martin said, adding the last time Congress had found out Nasa was working on moon and mars missions in the 1990s, they pulled any funding not related to the space station.
Private-sector driven development
Martin worked on studies that would enable the creation of space technology. With each new administration, the mission focus and funding changed. “It’s very hard to sustain something that’s going to take generations,” he said. Martin, however, went against the grain and advocated for a new approach to space development, to make the industry private-sector driven.
“If you can get private industry in there, they will have employees, pay taxes, the people in government want to keep that industry growing, they want more employees and more support and you get a positive feedback loop,” he explained. It paid off and the transition began in 2006 when “new space”, an industry that was privately financed and had a commercial purpose, was born. It prompted Luxembourg’s decision to develop a space industry sector, building on what it began with satellite operator SES in the 1980s and, more recently, creating a legislative framework around the rights to materials harvested in space.
“Luxembourg is doing something unique. Which is trying to build a space industry on this idea that we’re building a commercial space industry,” Martin said, adding: “They are doing the right things with research and education. It’s an exciting environment and we’re going to get bigger and better and more vibrant.
Space industry in Luxembourg
Luxembourg’s space industry today represents around 1.3% of GDP, generated by around 30 companies employing some 1,000 staff.
Kleos is one example. The Belval-based firm is developing technology which, in the long-term will develop the know-how and technology for space civil engineering, to build large structures for space infrastructure, which cannot simply be delivered from earth. In the short-term, it will collect earth observation geolocation data, which can be sold to the market.
Kleos will launch its first earth observation satellite system in early 2019, funded by an IPO launched on the Australian Stock Exchange. Why Australia? “Because our product is useful for the Australian people”, Bowyer explained on Wednesday.
The next Luxembourg space café will be held on 1 June at Arendt & Medernach. Speakers will be Arendt & Medernach partner Laurent Schummer and Agnieszka Lukaszczyk, director for EU Policy at Planet.