“Luxembourg has always been courageous and tried to reinvent itself,” said Étienne Schneider, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, at the launch of the space agency. Perhaps best known as a leading financial sector, this tiny country has over the past few decades become something of a giant in space and is also home to SES, the world’s largest satellite operator and a very dynamic space industry. The space sector represents nearly 2% of the country’s GDP – one of the highest rates in the EU.
Being at the very forefront of realising the potential of the new, commercial space sector, the government launched the audacious SpaceResources.lu initiative in 2016 with the aim of providing a unique legal, regulatory and business environment for private companies that explore and use space resources. Luxembourg became the first country in Europe, and the second in the world, to adopt a legal framework that secures property rights for resources harvested in space, and put in place a range of measures to meet the needs of these highly innovative companies. The success is obvious: over 20 global new space companies have already opened offices in Luxembourg and several more are on their way.
The space agency will further encourage innovation-driven space entrepreneurship and promote Luxembourg as Europe’s platform for commercial space development and a home for cutting-edge industries.
The Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA) was created to further professionalise the support offered to the space community. According to Minister Schneider, the agency will “further encourage innovation-driven space entrepreneurship and promote this country as Europe’s platform for commercial space development and a home for cutting-edge industries”.
Driven by business
Contrary to many other space agencies, the LSA will not directly conduct research or launch its own space missions but focus on business development and the creation of economic value and jobs. This strongly impacts the activities of the agency. “It is not enough to provide existing or new companies solely with support for R&D activities,” says its CEO, Marc Serres. “They need a place where they can find the right surrounding environment to develop their business.”
Building on their in-depth understanding of what space entrepreneurs need to succeed with their commercial ambitions, Mr Serres and his team of 12 will stimulate the development of the national space ecosystem and facilitate the process for new businesses setting up their European base here. In addition to managing the national space research and development programme and the SpaceResources.lu initiative, the agency represents the interests of the industry at the international level and helps companies make the most of the opportunities offered by the programmes of the European Space Agency and the European Union.
Innovative financial solutions
Access to funding is a key issue for growing space companies. Luxembourg can provide financial support to specific projects to complement companies’ equity and loans. Substantial assistance to academic and private sector research projects can be offered through national R&D grants, and the country’s participation in the European Space Agency (ESA) opens up access to European support programmes for Luxembourg-based companies. In addition, the National Research Fund is setting up a space research programme that will fund public-private research ventures aiming to advance knowledge, attract top-level researchers and contribute to the development of the space ecosystem.
It is not enough to provide existing or new companies solely with support for R&D activities. They need a place where they can find the right surrounding environment to develop their business.
Many of the companies arriving in Luxembourg are also looking for equity funding. A dedicated space fund with a capital of €100 million is currently being set up to meet this need and canalise the high level of interest shown by private investors. The fund will invest in new space companies with innovative ideas and technologies.
Developing human resources
In order to give its clients access to a wide range of services, the LSA has built a network of national partners including, among others, the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Intellectual Property, the Luxembourg Group of Aeronautics and Space (GLAE), Luxinnovation, SES and the Technoport incubator. They contribute with their specialist skills that are complementary to those of the agency.
One such field where complementary knowledge is needed, is the development of human resources. In addition to developing the current key skills and expertise of the sector, the agency aims to work with partners in the field of education to inspire both schoolchildren and young professionals to work in space. In 2019, the University of Luxembourg will launch a unique interdisciplinary Masters programme dedicated to space in order to train future experts for the space industry. This shows the country’s firm determination not only to meet the industry needs of today, but also to make sure that the sector can develop and thrive in the future.