Silicon Luxembourg got together for an exclusive interview with Franz Fayot, Minister of the Economy and Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg. He tells us about Luxembourg’s progress in in the new space strategy, the country’s ambitions, economic spin-offs, impact on non-space sectors and much more. In the past years, several launch pads have been set up to help Luxembourg’s space companies dream bigger. Lët’z take off!
The new space sector has grown and taken off in Luxembourg this year. Can you remind us of Luxembourg’s position in it?
For more than three decades, Luxembourg has been at the forefront of commercial space activities, at first thanks to the “Société Européenne des Satellites”. SES was created in 1985. Today, it is the operator of the world’s first telecommunications satellite network and a real Luxembourg success story. In 2016, we wanted to repeat this success with a new initiative, in the new space and we launched the SpaceResources.lu initiative, positioning the country as the European hub of space resource utilization.
In 2020, together with ESA we created the Luxembourg-based “European Space Resources Innovation Centre”. The project is further strengthening Luxembourg’s international positioning and reputation in this area by continuing the activities planned under the SpaceResources.lu initiative, adding to them an research dimension that does not exist elsewhere in Europe. All these advances underline the strategic decision of the present and past governments to actively and continuously develop and extend the local space industry and to further diversify Luxembourg’s economy.
There has been the Space Resources Week event, the Space economic mission in Dubai, support program for startups, the new Space Fund, NewSpace conferences – it has been a busy year in terms of events, announcements and meetings. What stuck in your memory?
The year 2021 was indeed eventful. This is a testament to the dynamism of the Luxembourg space ecosystem, which continues to grow. Whereas, last year, there were about 50 companies and research bodies listed in the space directory, there are now 70 which are active in Luxembourg.
This steady growth of the space players is for me a sign of Luxembourg’s attractiveness for the space sector, and shows the positive impact of the efforts driven by the Ministry of the Economy and by the Luxembourg Space Agency. Not only is the number of space industries growing, but the space capabilities represented in Luxembourg continue to thrive as well, helping to position Luxembourg on the international space stage and to keep its first mover position. Our ambition was also that the growth of the space sector would have a multiplier effect on the development of knowledge and skills in Luxembourg.
You recently welcomed the approach proposed by ESA’s Agenda 2025. What are your wishes for Luxembourg to stimulate collaboration and commercialization in the European space sector?
The European Space Agency is a very important partner for Luxembourg and this, since the very beginning of our “adventure” in space. Although we have our own Luxembourg Space Agency, we do not have the technical capabilities that ESA has and we rely a lot on it for the implementation of product and service developments of Luxembourg companies. In the context of ESA’s transformation, the commercialisation trend is an essential one to take into account and it is important that ESA proactively provides the right framework to support it, particularly by offering dedicated programmes to develop ideas from industry.
What major projects are making their way to Luxembourg’s space sector next year?
One of our most important projects this year will be the revision of our National Action Plan, which will be proposed for adoption by the Council of Government in late October, early November 2022. We also plan to take stock of the last 10 years of implementation of Luxembourg’s space policy and determine whether new approaches or initiatives should be taken.
In order to do this, we will carry out a broad consultation with the actors of the ecosystem to identify their needs and determine in a second step which ESA programmes will be the most appropriate, as well as the corresponding financial envelope, to best support the development of the ecosystem.
“I am convinced that space technologies can serve and promote the reindustrialisation of Luxembourg, in a sustainable way, based on greener and digital technologies.”
Franz Fayot, Minister of the Economy and Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg
How do you recommend strengthening the links between industrialists, institutions, startups and visionaries in the space sector?
It is essential to continue to organise events such as “New Space Europe” and the “Space Forum” which take place once a year in Luxembourg. These events bring the ecosystem together and create collaborations. It is also essential to continue to participate in major international events such as the IAC. This allows us to reinforce our visibility and credibility and ultimately helps to strengthen the links between industrialists, institutions, startups and visionaries in the space sector.
Concerning startups in particular, we also have another very effective tool with the Fit 4 Start acceleration programme, which allows us to recruit startups from the space sector from all over the world with a certain development potential. On top of that, with the launch of ESRIC’s Startup Support Programme, we now also have a programme specifically dedicated to space resources.
You launched the first startup support program dedicated to space resources. What do you expect from it?
With the launch of the world’s first startup support programme dedicated to space resources, we want Luxembourg to position itself once again as a pioneer. Innovation is key, in particular in the field of space resources. In order to stimulate innovation, this new support programme has been set up to support start-ups with innovative ideas. After the launch of ESRIC in 2020, this initiative was the next logical step for the development of Space Resources in Luxembourg, in Europe and beyond. Close collaboration between national and international partners has been key in this project, which will be instrumental for the field of space resources in general, and for the Spaceresources.lu initiative in particular.
To what extent can the space sector serve and promote the reindustrialization of the country?
Innovative technologies developed in the space sector have the potential to help the development of certain so-called “terrestrial” activities. Space data and space infrastructures have already demonstrated the high value they can bring to other domains of applications, like agriculture, logistics, climate change and many others.
It is also clear to me that space has a strong role to play to reach the various sustainable development goals. It is important to connect the space technologies with their possible terrestrial use and we need to foster the use of space to address the urgent challenges, which are ahead of us, including in the field of Cooperation. I am convinced that we should also harness space technologies for humanitarian action. For example, through earth observation, we can see the damage from floods or earthquakes, examine the extent of droughts and of deforestation. Thanks to the satellite data, we were also able to set up emergency.lu: a communication system to establish and restore a communication network in emergency or crisis situations, for instance between UN actors.
I am convinced that space technologies can serve and promote the reindustrialisation of Luxembourg, in a sustainable way, based on greener and digital technologies. Based on the success of Emergency.lu, which can serve as a model for new projects, I also intend to develop Space4Development, with the aim of using space technologies, infrastructure and data to support activities in the field of development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
What are your wishes for the year 2022 and beyond?
A lot remains to be done to bring the benefits of space closer to the users and in particular users in non-space sectors. That is the reason why what I wish is that we continue promoting the use of space technologies in non-space sectors, through demonstrations and pilot projects, showing how to make these technologies operational and how to market them. This will help us not only to tackle societal challenges, but also to support our economic development. Together with ESA, we have a launched a number of important activities going in that direction, such as the ESRIC, which is a good start. But we need to do more in the longer term, in Luxembourg and in Europe as we want to remain competitive towards other nations.
For Luxembourg in particular, our ambition has always been that the growth of the space sector should have a multiplier effect on the development of knowledge and skills. This has been the case over the past few years: not only has the number of space industries increased, but the space capabilities represented in Luxembourg have also continued to grow. Of course, I wish that this will be the case again in 2022 and in the years to come.
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.