Thales Alenia Space has a huge footprint in space. And it is expanding its footprint in Luxembourg.
Thales Alenia Space has been busy since it announced the creation of a digital centre of excellence in Luxembourg in September 2021. The hub aims to build a critical mass of skills, “bringing together up to 50 digital engineers to deliver state-of-the-art products dedicated to space,” company general manager Etienne Barritault explained. This talent pool will complement those found in Thales Alenia Space’s other sites and contribute to delivering its systems. “It could be for digital platforms, cloud native applications; data management and data science; artificial intelligence; machine learning and advanced visualization systems,” Barritault said.
Among the five projects Thales Alenia Space Luxembourg is working on are a ground-based digital platform aimed at hosting all applications and data for a new class of satellites called Space Inspire satellite. Although the first flight model has yet to be delivered, Thales Alenia Space has already sold half a dozen of these satellites, including two to SES.
Future Digital Twins & Space Navigation Tool
Other projects being developed in Luxembourg include a 3D visualiser in some ways similar to Google Earth and aimed at space industry professionals, and the development of a proof of concept for a digital twin earth. “Future Digital Twins will be composed of massive ground infrastructure, cloud-based, HPC-based, with some scientific models on top. The scientists will create digital twins of the Earth addressing special themes of interest such as extreme weather events and pollution,” said Barritault.
A project particularly pertinent for a financial centre like Luxembourg will be Space For Sustainable Finance, a venture aimed at collecting space data and using it with other systems to develop insights and indicators for the insurance world and financial asset managers. The tool is expected to help verify self-declared ESG statements made by companies.
Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between French defence electronics specialist Thales Group and Italian defence conglomerate Leonardo. Headquartered in Cannes, France, the company’s portfolio includes civilian satellites (television and telecommunications) and high performing security and defence satellites for secured telecoms, observation, navigation and the environment (satellites producing photos of TV weather forecasts in Europe are made by Thales Alenia Space).
The company is also deeply entrenched in space exploration, manufacturing pressurised modules for the International Space Station (they made the cupola window) and the company is currently working on flight modules for the space station and on the ground for the Artemis project to return astronauts to the moon. It has also launched probes on planets like Titan and Mars among other things.
As a major space player, Thales Alenia Space chose to locate this hub in Luxembourg because of the country’s strong strategic push into the space sector. But it was also drawn to the grand duchy’s dedication to all things digital, as seen in the mushrooming data centres and secured clouds popping up in the country.
“We are also now starting to discover that Luxembourg is also well-informed and aware of how Europe works and is very good at strategising which makes it a key path for Thales Alenia Space to develop business across Europe.”Thales Alenia Space Luxembourg general manager Etienne Barritault
“We are also now starting to discover that Luxembourg is also well-informed and aware of how Europe works and is very good at strategising which makes it a key path for Thales Alenia Space to develop business across Europe.”
In the near future, the company expects to begin working more with universities, labs and startups in the local ecosystem. This could take the form of helping startups enter the Thales Alenia Space supply chain and developing partnerships to work on solutions responding to ESA call for tenders.
Thales Alenia Space already has some partnerships with local businesses, for instance, it has integrated technology from Gradel, a Luxembourg-based project management firm for MGSE.
Partnering With Startups
Barritault’s team will also examine potential partnerships with local startups that could improve Thales Alenia Space’s insight performance by providing new information or sensors, for example.
Currently, the 16-strong Thales Alenia Space Luxembourg is located at Technoport, but it expects to move into its own offices in 2023 to accommodate its expanding team.
“We will hopefully be 25 by the end of the year and the target is to be 50 two years from now,” the managing director said, adding: “What is interesting is that we hired mostly people that have absolutely no space background. They have been people from the digital world and while some have a space background, that’s clearly not the majority.”
This may change in the future, however, as the company seeks specialists to deal with AI and specific space challenges.