Guest editorial

The Spaceresources.lu initiative, five years later

“Space today is a €400bn+ annual business,” says Georges Schmit. Photo: Matic Zorman / Maison Moderne

“Space today is a €400bn+ annual business,” says Georges Schmit. Photo: Matic Zorman / Maison Moderne

This month we invited Georges Schmit, a member of the advisory board on space resources, to contribute an editorial on the subject of Luxembourg’s efforts in its space ecosystem.

Today, Luxembourg is again the centre of interest in the global space technology and business community as the third NewSpace Europe Conference is being held on the University of Luxembourg’s Belval campus. This annual event is but one item in an extensive five-year action plan implemented after the launch of the SpaceResources.lu initiative in June 2016.

Aiming to “participate in the peaceful exploration and sustainable utilisation of space resources for the benefit of humankind” was the leading vision that guided the design and implementation of this action plan, which was meant to develop an ecosystem to enable Luxembourg to participate in the future exploration and settlement of humans in space.

Unlike the approach of most other nations relying on large space administrations or agencies to implement their space policies, the goal of the first SpaceResources.lu action plan was to build an agile ecosystem which should enable, promote, authorise and supervise the activities of commercial entities in contributing to the Luxembourg vision.

For sure, the fundamental idea behind the initiative was to develop yet another economic vertical for the decades to come, focusing on the resources necessary for future human activity in space. International cooperation and promoting the emergence of new space business activities was expected to lead to new economic value creation and jobs.

Five years later, it is fair to look back on how things have gone--and to lay out a few thoughts on the next steps!

Strong achievement record

On the legal and regulatory front, several laws were passed by parliament to set the framework for authorising, supervising and registering the activities of commercial businesses in space. In the area of international cooperation, Luxembourg has become a respected contributor in multilateral space policy fora and organisations (UN, ESA, EU, Hague Space Resources Working Group, etc.) and has signed bilateral cooperation agreements with many spacefaring nations and organisations.

New academic curricula at the University of Luxembourg--as well as the establishment of new research and innovation infrastructure and project teams at the SnT, List and the newly founded European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC)--are but a few examples of a range of initiatives in collaborative research and innovation, dissemination of knowledge and talent development in space law, business and technology.

New incentive and funding mechanisms for space startups and established commercial operators have also provided significant support, helping to launch more than 50 new space businesses and research entities.

Last but not least, the promotion of interest in space and space resources through participation in international conferences and the organisation of unique annual events, conferences and knowledge dissemination platforms in Luxembourg (Space Resources Week, New Space-Europe, Asteroid Day, Space Café) have helped draw the interest and attention of space enthusiasts and the public at large to Luxembourg as a serious player in the international space community and as an attractive place for commercial space.

What’s next?

At a global level, space today is a €400bn+ annual business. The past five years have seen significant developments in the commercial applications of space-based technology in communications, navigation and observation, leading to new solutions for addressing issues on Earth. Recently established space companies and research entities in Luxembourg are increasingly participating in these new short-term opportunities, creating economic value and good jobs.

The Luxembourg Future Fund and the recently announced Luxembourg-based Orbital Ventures Fund are a step forward in the direction of more venture funding for emerging commercial space entities. However, if Europe and Luxembourg are to catch up with North American and Asian market dynamics in the field of space, more interest needs to be raised, more knowledge developed by the private equity industry and more funds invested into developing new space businesses.

The EU’s investment promotion institutions and the Luxembourg financial centre will have to play a more active role in developing Europe’s new space industry. Luxembourg also needs to continue to strengthen its role in investing in space research, innovation and talent training. For local businesses to remain and continue to develop their commercial activities in space, talented scientists, engineers, business leaders and legal experts need to become available at an increasing pace.

On a global scale, new ambitions in space exploration and the settlement of the moon and Mars have moved again to the centre of interest. The threats and opportunities of asteroids have emerged in the programmes of large spacefaring nations and international agencies. Luxembourg’s participation in ESA’s Hera follow-up mission to Nasa’s dual asteroid redirection test (Dart) mission--scheduled to launch today--is a good example of mission-focused policy. Luxembourg’s participation in the Nasa Artemis accords aiming to launch a human mission to the moon by the mid-2020s as a first step towards future human moon settlement could provide additional opportunities for Luxembourg-based commercial entities to participate in space missions and perfect the Luxembourg space ecosystem.

A second five-year action plan guiding and coordinating future national activities in promoting and strengthening the Luxembourg space ecosystem would be an appropriate tool with which to build on the current momentum of new economic value and jobs creation.