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"Space can deliver fascination, space can deliver business and also societal values for the future", ESA DG @ SSC PT anniversary
Photo by IPN

Recently, ESA Space Solutions Centre (SSC) Portugal celebrated its 4th anniversary, within a two-day event in Coimbra.

Inaugurated in November 2014, the SSC Portugal was implemented as a pilot for other European member states as the first, and still the only, centre that aggregates and enhances the results of ESA's three technology transfer programs: the ESA Business Incubator Centre (ESA BIC), the Technology Transfer Network (ESA Brokers) and the ESA Business Application (ESA BA) Ambassador Platform. The aim of the SSC Portugal is to seek entrepreneurs/companies with innovative ideas in using space technologies or developing applications to create new products and services in a non-space environment, from Portugal to the World.

As stated in the event by Piero Messina, from ESA Relations with Member State Office, “(…) you would be surprised by the number of national initiatives implemented by small-sized countries, compared to the more established space European countries. Portugal reminds us that space is about moving forward, being bold and launching new initiatives. Portugal is one of the counties that has launched almost an unbelievable number of good and bold initiatives. The good thing about Portugal is that the whole country is involved. It’s a very good signal that all can contribute to the success of a country in a specific domain, like the space activity”.

From health to transports and sports, the goal is always to fasten the market entry and support innovative business ideas, enhancing Portuguese competitiveness by creating new start-up companies, fostering technology transfer into terrestrial applications, and nurturing space data uptake, leading to new jobs and growth within the national space-related ecosystem.

“Space can deliver information, communication, new science, technology, education, and inspiration. Space today is an infrastructure, and even more! And what to do with infrastructure? Of course you have to use it” said Johann-Dietrich Wörner, ESA Director General, at the event.

The first day of the event was focused on celebrating the 2018 milestones and achievements. New start-ups enrolled within ESA BIC Portugal were presented to the network and had their minutes of fame – sticking their logos on the wall and presenting their projects: PavNext, iTrack Solutions, GreenFika, Delox, Kinetikos, mOceanSense and Fire Fly. These new 7 start-ups are now part of a national set of 23 supported companies.

Also the most recently launched alumni, Connect Robotics, Matereo, Blucover, Waterdog Mobile and inanoEnergy, had the time to share experiences and learned lessons. So far, the overall ESA BIC Portugal start-ups have achieved a total turnover of 1.3M€ (2015-2017), with more than 80 new jobs created.

A Small ARTES Apps 2017 project, GOSAFE, from Space Layer Technologies was presented. This was one of the current supported projects. This national tool has supported other projects, e.g. SWAIR, from Present Technologies, currently running a demonstrator project to increase the precision of GNSS signal monitorization at air navigation through space weather data. With respect to the overall ESA BA network, in 2018 the number of applications to feasibility studies submitted to ESA increased more than 2 times.

Last but not least, the great example of the first technology transfer involving 2 brokers from the ESA TT network was presented – from the Portuguese DEIMOS Engenharia to the Austrian start-up Accurision. Nuno Avila, DEIMOS Engenharia Director, was clear with respect to ESA technology transfer broker role on this case: “We moved from a potential market of space units which was about 400 units to a market of millions of units. I have to thank ESA Technology Transfer broker because it wouldn’t have been possible to reach the attention of this particular company, without their efforts. So now we have a branch, we have a hardware for space, and we are miniaturizing it for automobile industry”.

In parallel with the session, there was a 50 m2 successful showroom assembled to showcase examples of technology transfer in Portugal. More than 150 participants in the event visited the demo corners where they were able to see, among others, automated guided vehicles that have an ExoMars heritage moving freely on the room; a 3D printer with knowledge and technology from the one developed for the International Space Station; a light sport aircraft mock-up with an operation software based on a licensed ESA patent on fault detection; and a maritime satellite integrating EO data.

“Space 4.0 is more than just new space, it’s about participation: citizens and industry" stated the ESA Director General at the event, and beyond the SSC Portugal network, space and non-space industry and media got together to participate in the discussion of the Portuguese future space participation.

The 4 panels of the second day focused on the Atlantic Launch Services; Developing capabilities for space within International partnerships; Space rider and the opportunities for pharma; and Future markets powered by space, with special focus on Earth Observation data.

National and international companies were highly represented, with the presence of Avio, CeiiA, Critical Software, Edisoft, Hovione, LSE-Space – EUMETSAT, OHB, Omnidea, Orbex, PLD Space, Sogrape,, Thales Alenia Space Italy, and the national partnerships MIT-Portugal Program and UT-Austin Program, by Ciência Viva invitation. It was thus natural that the announcement of the Portuguese Space Agency was made public at the event by Manuel Heitor, Portuguese Minister of Science and Technology: “Together with the Regional Government from Azores and several other departments from governmental entities we are establishing the Portuguese Space Agency”.

Ultimately, for the future of SSC in Portugal, IPN, its partners and SSC Portugal stakeholders are preparing the new framework (2020-2025). It will have an increased participation from other regions, such as Azores, Alentejo, Algarve, and Madeira in the ESA BIC Portugal initiative, and also will increase the number of start-ups supported: “This is just the beginning, and the next 5 years will bring more entrepreneurs, global startups and a lot of success stories”, stated Carlos Cerqueira, head of SSC Portugal. Additionally, the current return on investment in terms of ESA BA is favourable to a future increase on ESA BA investment, and on the Technology Transfer Brokerage investment: “the experience of IPN within the ESA network has clearly shown us that, first knowledge creates markets, and second, space accelerates good jobs creation. And that is why we are here discussing the future”, these were the words of the Minister of Science at the event.

“We have to enable visionaries, and this we can do by space. Space can deliver fascination, space can deliver business and also societal values for the future” - ESA General Director, Coimbra 21st December 2018.