Dr Stéphane Pallage, dean of the University of Luxembourg, Yves Elsen, chair of the board of governors at the University of Luxembourg, economy minister Etienne Schneider and Luxembourg Space Agency CEO Marc Serrres, 12 September 2018
Photo: Matic Zorman
Luxembourg museum Mudam provided the launch pad for the country’s space agency, which lifted off on Wednesday.
So many people attended the eagerly-awaited public announcement that economy minister Etienne Schneider joked it was more successful than the citizen’s dialogue a week earlier with the French president Emmanuel Macron.
He was certainly right about the interest generated in Luxembourg’s activities in commercial space, or newspace, which over two years has attracted some 20 companies and prompted the creation of Space Café events in Luxembourg as well as private finance initiatives.
Schneider said that the space agency was “the logical consequence of everything” the government and its partners had done until now. He alluded to Luxembourg’s journey from establishing the newspace granddaddy SES in the 1980s to the space resources initiative in 2016, and the creation of a space mining legal framework (building on the UN space treaty of 1967), R&D grants and a masters in space communication and media law.
New face for the sector
Building on these foundations Wednesday put a new face on the sector, which until now had been fronted by the minister. Marc Serres, vice chair of the ESA council and formerly of satellite tech company Hitec, was named CEO of the agency. He oversees 12 staff, some of which worked for the space cluster when it was housed at Luxinnovation, a team which Schneider said would increase as soon as possible.
Finance is a key component of the agency’s activities and the minister explained of the €200m earmarked by the economy ministry for space activities, some €40m had been spent so far on developing the sector.
In a few days, the agency will launch a €100m public-private venture capital vehicle to be established as a reserved alternative investment fund, providing equity funding for newspace companies with innovative ideas and technology. Schneider said that the government will take a 30-40% share in the fund, which complements a handful of existing private funding initiatives for the sector.
Looking to the future, the minister and university representatives signed an agreement on Wednesday creating an interdisciplinary space masters. Starting in 2019, the course would help train the future workforce required for the sector diversification.
The commercial space sector, which today represents 2% of national GDP, looks set to continue growing, with three more newspace actors expected to announce new activities in Luxembourg in coming weeks. Schneider said that a further 50 were in the decision stages, while some 150 companies or institutions were in discussions about establishing a presence in Luxembourg.
“I think we can say that Luxembourg takes up more space in space than on Earth,” Schneider joked. But, despite his confidence, with legislative elections looming, there was a whiff of uncertainty in the air over a sector whose growth has been largely driven by the economy minister. “I think it would be a huge mistake to stop this venture after the elections,” Schneider said.