Review of Europlanet Virtual Industry-Policy session at EPSC 2021

The Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) is the annual meeting of the Europlanet Society and is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe.  In 2021, EPSC was held as a fully virtual meeting from 13-24 September. TheIndustry-Policy session was among many highly successful sessions, with a variety of participants and keynote speakers.

The Industry-Policy session focused on:

  • Painting the Landscape of Planetary Research in Europe
  • Bringing our 12 Stars to the Stars – Europe’s Future Space Industry
  • Open Access to JRC Research Infrastructures
  • Europlanet Industry Community Survey Results
  • Industry and Planetary Science Collaboration on Data Services
  • Experience and Challenges Setting Industry/Academic Collaborations
  • Storytelling as “My Experience on Building a Planetary Science Research and Training Company in Europe”

This was a high-level event featuring among the main speakers MEPs, EC officials, agency representatives, SMEs and other stakeholders.

The role of Space industries in Europe and the need to maintain as active as now, was initially highlighted in the session by Prof. Nigel Mason, President of Europlanet Society. Prof Mason stated that the current challenge is to improve the collaboration between academic and industry sectors as well as encourage the space sector to remain such an enormous employer for graduates who wish to expand their knowledge and capabilities in space research. Furthermore, Prof. Mason described how the inspirational nature of space can attract the next generation into STEM careers, which is vital for the socio-economic future of Europe. However, his call was for how to improve collaborations and effective partnerships between the Academia and the Industry sector which, along with the Missions and Exploitation, they form a vital ‘European Space triangle’.

Niklas Nienass, MEP, pointed out that despite the importance of space technology, infrastructures and scientific know-how for Europe, European space industries  still seem to lose out compared to American space industries. To achieve European leadership, besides financial support there is a need for clear regulation for all member states, researchers and companies. A confident European space sector can influence international space legislation in a fair way. MEP Nienass stressed that Europe needs more competition and more investments in the space industry, increased commitments to ESA, and an additional education program – a European Space Academy. To achieve these goals we need to lobby politicians while in parallel educate people about the social benefits of space endeavors.

The open access to Joint Research Center (JRC) Research infrastructures (RIs) was outlined by Andreas Jenet, representative of JRC. Mr. Jenet analysed the importance of the JRC science services for the EU Commission, and provided an overview of the current network of open access RIs and the main research facilities throughout Europe, some of which are relevant to the planetary scientific community.

Marcell Tessenyi, from Blue Skies Space, shared first results from the Europlanet Industry Community survey. The survey  of the Europlanet scientific community aims to gather information on experiences and perceptions of academia-industry collaboration. The results, stemming from an initial pool of 40 respondents indicate a peak of interest among early career-stage scientists mostly. Reported collaborations involved mainly SMEs, even though other type of industries were also mentioned. The survey further maps the different types of career impact and other benefits ensuing from the collaboration with industries. The challenges that these entail were discussed in quite some detail, as well as the misconceptions that often prevent such collaborations from developing. The essential role that Europlanet can play in  challenging some of these misconceptions and for providing information and assistance to the scientific community to initiate and further such collaborations was highlighted. 

Jeronimo Bernard-Salas, from ACRI-ST, presented the view point of an SME’s interest to collaborating with academia. He focused on the synergy between his SME’s activities related to Copernicus EO data and planetary research and innovation,  e.g. in data processing and analysis, which can apply to both industry and academia. A successful case study was presented, involving the SME’s participation in the consortium of the EXPLORE H2020-funded project.

Antonio Caciolli, from University of Padua INFN, presented the largest EU project for nuclear astrophysics, ChETEC INFRA,  which offerstransnational access (TA), joint research (JRA) and networking activities (NA).The project involves research and industrial partners in a pan-European context, thus presenting many opportunities, benefits, but also challenges, which were highlighted by Dr. Cacciolli.

Finally, Luca Montabone shared his experience about building a planetary science research and training company in Europe and beyond, named PanEureka. He focused on the challenge of ensuring sustainability, funding opportunities, and a clear path for academia to provide “services” to industry.

A debate, moderated by Prof Mason, followed the main deliberations, focusing on how Europe’s planetary exploration programme can drive innovation and competitiveness in European research and industry, impact the society, and inspire the next generation of Europe’s STEM workforce. The audience submitted questions via the Q&A facility in Zoom and through the conference Slack channel. 

The recording of the full session can be found here.

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