At ONESTAGETOSPACE we are global citizens, desiring to cater to a global citizenry. Nevertheless, we are located in our little part of the world and have to be aware of the policies, guidelines and regulations that spin our company compass.
For this reason we deem it important to share with our readers the advice given by VARIO* to the Flemish Minister Philippe Muyters (The Flemish minister of a.o. Work, Economy and Innovation) to develop a long-term strategy for ‘space’ in Flanders.
Since we are a fledgling actor, it is only natural that we are not yet part of the industry work group that helped prepare this short 112 page document. Established actors as the internationally well-respected VKI, universities and industry giants were of course included.
But the latter part of the document contains a high level comparison of the government investments in space in our neighboring countries. It is a valuable must read for all space professionals.
The document is also focused on discussing existing programs and stresses that government budgets in Flanders for this sector are what they are: limited and therefore focused on giving continued support to an existing program portfolio with some room for quick wins. It also wants to anchor innovative companies in Flanders, which is always positive. But do read the executive summary below for a less biased view.
The programs included being of a very valuable nature both scientifically and industrially, we can only applaud that Flanders is willing to explore a long-term agenda it can budgetary commit too with certainty.
Innovative or cutting edge ideas usually are not part of regional policy documents, nor can policy documents that take the long-term view always keep up with the rapid developments in this sector. And indeed, no mention is given regarding the investment in constellations of (robotic) propellant depots, the mid-2018 decision by the space agencies to add modules to the LOP-G, the Lunar Orbiting Platform Gateway,for which modules are now being built on the ground, the return by EU commercial companies to the moon surface, swarm navigation, robotic refueling technology or innovations in launch vehicle and reusable in-space propulsion technology. All things deemed exotic only a couple of years ago, now receiving world wide investment, but still not on the radar of the VARIO group. On a positive note, the document does not in any way discourage companies willing to follow that course. Even better:
“In Vision 2050 (a different policy document) Flanders strives to become leader in new production technologies and Industry 4.0 concepts, such as additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics and other innovations. The Aerospace sector can be an important ally to accomplish this.”**
The lack of detail and spotty mention of projects is to be expected. Usually local industry, or demonstration projects coming out of local academic research, have to show to governments what is actually possible before they take notice of something being a viable idea and make it part of their policy. ONESTAGETOSPACE will do exactly that over the course of its initial trials. Other actors also needed to start small first, that is why we suddenly see mention of the long running and impressive Melissa project, that wants to use biology to improve closed loop systems both in space and on Earth. We also notice the mentioning of the potential small CUBESATS have as a training tool but more and more often as fully capable science or data platforms that Flemish companies are also gaining more experience with.
What the document does not (and cannot) include in detail, although it mentions some well-known ones, are the many new investment programs and opportunities that exist separately of the Flemish initiative, at the ESA or European level, nor the European Business Angel investor, seed level, venture capital, mid level, EIB or all institutional investment networks or other investment opportunities that are accessible to companies from all European nations and/or ESA member.
At the European and international level, the chances for Flemish industry to get funding or clients are very Good. It is not even necessary to work with other European companies, which used to be the case in many old legacy programs. That being said, in some programs your chances improve when and if you are willing to cooperate with companies from other nations.
If your ambitions reach further than this document, there is only one thing you need to do: Take initiative, focus on finding alternative sources of financing first, and prove the viability of your concept. Who needs support when you have alternative sources of finance and clients?
If you want to gain a quick insight in what Flanders hopes to invest in:
The home of the VARIO advice, which does come with an English website and executive summary, ‘Advisory report 2: Flanders’ Space A strategy for the Flemish Space Economy’ can be found here. See http://www.vario.be/nl/publicaties/advice-2-flanders-space.
This advisory report consists of two parts. In part I VARIO formulates six recommendations and proposes a number of concrete actions to help shape the Flemish policy for a space economy.
- VARIO recommends that a triple helix Taskforce ‘Space Economy’ is established in order to (further) develop an integrated and coordinated strategy for the Flemish space economy. The Taskforce must also ensure that the strategy is translated into a concrete action plan and that the VARIO recommendations are effectively implemented.
- VARIO is not in favour of setting up specific new structures and/or instruments for this purpose, but recommends to seek for opportunities within the existing structures and instruments. A study on optimising the existing support instruments however is needed.
- VARIO sees cooperation – both between space actors and between space actors and ‘earth’ industry – as an opportunity that needs to be promoted. A Flemish cooperative model (cluster), in which both industry and knowledge institutes (academia, research centres, …) are present, comes highly recommended. A ‘space cluster’ should also promote cross-fertilisation with the ‘earth’ industry. Since space is a theme that can promote meaningful intercluster cooperation, VARIO recommends the space economy to be put forward as one of the priorities throughout intercluster cooperation.
- Thanks to a better/more/directed use of (services based on) space data, the Flemish government could tackle policy issues better, and at the same time function as an early adopter and enabler.
- Flanders should make sure that the full potential of space technology and knowledge is used, by setting up a space services economy and by ensuring that knowledge and technologies developed within the space context are actually valorised and anchored in Flanders (Belgium).
- The Flemish Government should demonstrate its commitment to a Flemish space economy by providing the necessary political and diplomatic support and weigh on the federal, European and international space policy.
In formulating his advice, VARIO used the report of a research project supervised by the VARIO working group on space (Part II). This background report includes both an analysis section and an onset for a strategy for Flanders entitled ’10 trajectories combined in a clever way’.
*VARIO: Flemish Advisory Council for Innovation and Enterprise (Vlaamse Adviesraad voor Innoveren en Ondernemen or VARIO)
**original, Advies nr. 2, p. 72: “In Visie 2050 streeft Vlaanderen ernaar om koploper te worden in nieuwe productie-technologieën en concepten van de Industrie 4.0, zoals 3D-printing, kunstmatige intelligentie, nanotechnologie, robotica en andere innovaties. De ruimtevaart kan hierbij een belangrijke bondgenoot zijn.”