The European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) has just launched the world’s first startup support programme dedicated to Space Resources. Hosted by Technoport, the trailblazing programme will host its first edition in March 2022. Silicon Luxembourg caught up with Lari Cujko, Startup Program Lead at ESRIC and Olivier Zephir, Senior Business Advisor at Technoport to discuss the implications, goals and potential of this new programme.
Why is the launch of this programme important for Luxembourg’s ecosystem?
L.C. Since the 2016 launch of SpaceResources.lu, the utilization of space resources and related applications has become an additional priority for Luxembourg’s space sector. Wanting to differentiate themselves further in the space sector, ESRIC – European Space Resources Innovation Centre – was launched in 2020 to support this new field of activity.
What is understood by Space Resources? Which ones are most likely to be used in the near future?
L.C. It’s really the use of all potential natural resources, which are located out of Earth on any potential celestial body. This can be the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, etc.
We often talk about the Moon because it’s close and there is a lot of international focus on it at the moment. So, before we talk about Deep Space Exploration, we have to remain pragmatic and focus on the Moon.
In the short-term, the most likely use of resources will be the use of water, hydrogen and oxygen, for life support for Astronauts as well as propellant production. This can be used to re-fuel spacecrafts in space, both to go further, from the Moon to Mars for example, and to support in-orbit servicing activities in Earth orbit. Other interesting applications include equipment and infrastructure.
“We expect to have at least 10 prototypes in our portfolio.”
What role will Technoport take on in this new programme?
O.Z. Throughout the startup support programme, Technoport will address the incubation management activities. As a technology business incubator, Technoport’s main role will really be to focus on technology for business recommendations.
Furthermore, Technoport will also work on consolidating technical knowledge and executing operational capabilities as well as finding the best ways to initiate commercial activities in the new Space Resources sector.
Currently, the Space Resources programme follows a three-step model. The first step is dedicated to concept proofing which goes for two months. Then you have a launchpad of a second step for 24 months which includes prototyping and validation activities. And during the final step you have the residency period, which takes a maximum of 36 months.
When will the first startups start their journey?
O.Z. They will start in March 2022. The first cohort will be composed of five companies and there will be two cohorts yearly. While all five companies will go through the concept proofing phase, only one of them will be selected to go to the next phase.
What would you tell startups hesitant to apply?
O.Z. What I want to highlight is what startups can get out of the Start-up Support Programme. It is an opportunity to get support in their activities and a way forward to concept proofing their activities and get a commercial product validation.
It’s also not only about the pitching competition. It’s about supporting the startups to bring substance into their existing activity, which is about being able to currently formalise your concept, being able to edit a commercial product and get into the heavily regulated space sector.
Basically, it’s about turning a technical concept validation into a technology business solution. That is what our incubator is all about.
“The idea is really to find startups which can create products and of course, generate revenue in the future.”
What do you hope it will achieve in the next 5 years, Olivier?
O.Z. We expect to have at least 10 prototypes in our portfolio. We hope to have demonstrated laboratory and – why not – field testing. Cooperation and the finding of new commercial partners will also be very important, because it takes an entire village to create a new sector. Last but not least we hope to get to two to three mature startups that will be under a residency programme.
What are the main objectives you hope the programme achieves?
L.C. I think what we expect first is that we have successful startups which could bring ideas to benefit the national and European ecosystem. It’s also not only about the commercial side of the startup support programme, research is an essential aspect of the entire space value chain. I think that through the use of space resources, we would also like the scientific return to increase in the future, in addition to the creation of new markets and an in-space economy.
The idea is really to find startups which can create products and of course, generate revenue in the future. And these technologies should, in the best cases, have both space and terrestrial applications.
This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Read the full digital version of the magazine on our website, here. You can also choose to receive a hard copy at the office or at home. Subscribe now.