ASCEND brings together space’s leading industry luminaries and thinkers, biggest companies, government leaders, top media outlets, educators and students, and serious enthusiasts. The event is taking place on 23–25 October 2023. Join the conference if you are interested in inspiring sessions and premium content, meeting valuable business leads, as well as to make meaningful connections.
Why you should attend:
Plot the course of the industry’s future
Pressure test ideas and forecast emerging trends
Advance your career and showcase your expertise
Reveal new ideas and technological prowess
Test new products and meet the people behind them
Connect and problem-solve with experts across every sector
Find non-endemic partners to expand your reach and broaden your market
More information about the event and the registration process may be found here.
With advances in space technology, we’re on the edge of the next gold rush—but not on Earth. Based on recent scientific and engineering breakthroughs and commercial interests, off-Earth mining is expected to begin in the next decade.
The motivation for off-Earth mining is multifaceted: access to an unlimited wealth of valuable space resources, the spirit of discovering new planets and the development of spin-off technologies to be used back on Earth.
However, off-Earth mining has many challenges: there are geological uncertainties—we don’t know exactly where the water is and how much there is; infrastructural needs such as landing pads; social considerations—people have a strong emotional attachment to the moon; and financial constraints, with high risk but high potential return.
Looking toward the future, the mining industry is working towards zero-entry mines (with no human access required) and invisible mines (low-impact, reduced-footprint mining sites) to reduce the effect on the environment, improve energy efficiency and achieve decarbonization.
Improved social acceptance and reputation are also critical for the mining industry’s future. The space resources industry is motivated by colonization and creating a market for its product.
Themining and space sectors both thrive in challenging environments, making collaboration essential. They can mutually benefit, with the mining sector gaining from systems engineering and autonomous technology, while space can leverage operational experience and market creation.
The path ahead is loaded with uncertainties, but merging mining knowledge with space exploration will be paramount in the years ahead.
After the landslide adoption of the position on the Secure Connectivity Programme in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), the Rapporteur GRUDLER (Renew) and Shadow Rapporteurs SALINI (EPP), HRISTOV (S&D), NIENAß (Greens/EFA) and TOŠENOVSKÝ (ECR) are ready for a swift negotiation regarding this new Programme.
MEPs send a strong signal with the adoption of their position on the Secure Connectivity Programme:
“Less than 7 months after its introduction by the European Commission, the European Parliament is now ready to engage in negotiations with the Council for an ambitious Programme, that should strongly reinforce the European strategic autonomy. If the ITRE Committee mandate for inter-institutional negotiations is not challenged, the European Parliament position will be considered as formally adopted next week during the plenary session in Strasbourg. After Copernicus (Earth Observation), Galileo/EGNOSS (Satellite Navigation), and Space Situational Awareness, it is high time for the European Union to build the 4th pillar of its space policy. We are committed to make it a success.”
The story of a martian geologist – Dr Tanya Harrison
By Hans Huybrighs, Batiste Rousseau, Nandita Kumar, Prasanna Deshapriya, Ottaviano Ruesch, and the EPEC future research working group. With special thanks to Jatan Mehta.
Academia or industry? A question on the mind of many early career researchers.
We spoke with Dr Tanya Harrison, a PhD Mars geologist, who now works as the Director of Strategic Science Initiatives at the NewSpace company Planet. We learned how we can keep our passion for planetary science and stay involved in the field outside of academia, how in industry your personal values also matter, and how important networking can be.
The difference between industry and academia: a trade-off in values
A move to industry from academia is often seen as a loss of ‘personal values’. We often think that there won’t be as much freedom to pursue our personal topics of interest in industry. How do you see this?
While I would agree that there is indeed less freedom to pursue one’s path in industry, there could be more space for other values. For example, I really value efficiency in getting things done, which is more important in industry than at universities. Also, in industry there is a much stronger link to your individual performance and career progression. In industry you can get promoted much faster and work your way up the ranks much more quickly. Generally speaking, you can make more money way more quickly.
It’s nice to feel compensated and rewarded for what I am so passionate about. That was not always there on the academic side, where it sometimes just feels like a slog where you’re pouring out your heart just to barely scrape by. You could be the most amazing researcher in the world and still not get grant funding just because there’s not enough funding out there.
So is industry better than academia?
I think it’s totally about your personality. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong decision. Either way it’s about where you personally feel the best. The question is: do you want to throw yourself into research and have a lot of flexibility at the cost of slower career advancement and probably lower pay, or do you want to throw yourself into a career to climb the ladder as quickly as possible in exchange for a potentially more stressful work schedule?
Did you have a “culture shock” when you transitioned to industry?
I think the only surprise was how much of my day would be taken up by Zoom meetings! — Even before the pandemic I spent a lot of time on meetings like sales calls. Meetings about annual contract values and license agreements are so foreign compared to what you’re used to in academia. It’s certainly educational but sometimes you think, “How am I supposed to actually get any work done when I spend my whole day on calls that are about the work I should be doing?!” Otherwise, I did not feel there was a huge culture shock even if I might be biased because I worked in industry before.
How did the work mentality change in industry compared to academia?
The mentality of how the work is approached is very different. I work way more hours in the day in my current job than I did as an academic. Academia was not a consistent level of crazy busy all the time, while I feel in my current job it is crazy busy all the time. Some of that is just being in the startup culture.
If you are somebody who wants to throw yourself into your work, startup companies can consume your entire life by doing that. That can happen in academia too but there you are generally representing yourself and your work. Being on the industry side, anything I do has my name on it too but instead I’m representing the company. That adds an extra dimension of stress because if I mess up, it could negatively impact the company. I don’t want to lose my job! [laughs]
Long term networking pays off
How do we get hired by the NewSpace industry?
Networking is extremely important, especially at smaller NewSpace companies. They hire people based not only on what’s on their CV but also on how much they like someone as a person and how much they think they will fit in the team. However, I wouldn’t say this is true for large companies like Boeing, Airbus or equivalents.
In the NewSpace companies, your reputation with other people in the community is important. You might get hired because someone knows you and recommends you for a job. These companies are so small and so new that they need good people to get off the ground. So these recommendations come with a lot of weight behind them.
How did you start networking with Planet?
The first connection I ever had with Planet was on Twitter, when one of their engineers asked a question about image processing on Mars. Based on my experience working in mission operations, they brought me to Planet to give a colloquium presentation. Later I got accepted into their science ambassadors program, and gave talks at conferences to demonstrate the potential of Planet data. The more I got to know them, the more interested I became in working for Planet.
Over a period of two years my connection with them developed further. I worked hard to get hired. I think that goes a long way with these companies. It helps to show that you care about the company. That way you won’t be just a faceless name on a resume. A lot of these people start these companies because they’re really passionate about it. They’re not necessarily just in it because they’re trying to make a lot of money, but because they want to change the game when it comes to rocketry or Earth observation.
So networking is essential. Where do we get started?
Going to conferences and any type of networking event is really helpful. The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) is an excellent conference to go to for new space networking.
“Change is possible”. A wide variety of career paths are possible after PhD because skills are transferable.
Do you think you will be able to come back to academia or to a faculty position?
I think so. My old boss tried to convince me that if I left academia I could never come back. Maybe 10-15 years ago that might have been the case. However, now people and universities across various domains are appreciating having a broader set of skills like being a better communicator or knowing how to work with more people. Going back is probably not as easy as staying in academia but I think it’s more beneficial in the long run. At least for me, when I went into industry the first time, it gave me a much clearer idea of what I wanted to do for my PhD. After my Master’s, I had no idea of what I wanted to study other than Mars in general. I came back four years later with a clear idea for a project! Working in industry could give you a perspective about how the world works and what you might want from your career.
Tips for transition
How do you transition to a role in industry as a planetary scientist?
It all ties back to knowing how to market the skills that you’ve gained as a planetary scientist in a way that is beneficial to the companies that you’re looking at. Companies aren’t necessarily going to be interested in your knowledge about ice on the moon or the dynamics of asteroids because it doesn’t directly apply to what they’re doing. In general it’s more about the skills that you learned while you were doing research. When you’re making your resume or your CV, it’s good to explain something you did and its result, so they can tangibly see your skills.
Would you recommend to early career scientists who want to switch from academia to industry that a combination of technical and scientific skills is something important to work towards?
Absolutely. If you have skills like analyzing huge datasets or programming that come along with the research you’ve been doing, you can market those and use them to your advantage when applying. It’s a huge thing if you understand the actual technicalities of the things that you’re working with.
You can still be involved in planetary science, but in a different way
We often hear about skills that are transferable to industry, such as data science, But, which jobs are there for planetary scientists coming from academia that are related to planetary science?
That’s tricky if you still want to actually do planetary science. The options are limited but they are growing. I recommend keeping an eye on opportunities at the companies that are going after contracts for NASA’s Artemis and Commercial Lunar Payload Services program or European equivalents. There is not going to be an explosion of these planetary scientists for now but that might change over the course of the next five to ten years.
Blending science and engineering to make space missions possible
The story of a senior planetary scientist in industry – Dr Beau Bierhaus
By J D Prasanna Deshapriya, Nandita Kumari, Hans Huybrighs, Batiste Rousseau, Ottaviano Ruesch, Carina Heinreichsberger and the EPEC future research working group.
Academia or industry? This is no doubt one of the topics that occupies the minds of early career scientists.
In a quest to gather some insights from someone who has had success in the both, we had a chat with Dr. Beau Bierhaus, who is now a senior research scientist at Lockheed Martin. He started off his career in academia with a planetary science-focused PhD at University of Colorado and later ended up transitioningtransiting to industry, where he works on both engineering and scientific aspects of space missions. Here is what we learned.
Engineering and science backgrounds merge to make a versatile planetary scientist
Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
I’m a senior research scientist at Lockheed Martin, which is a space company with activities spanning across the United States. I’m located just outside of Denver, Colorado and I work within Commercial Civil Space, which is a smaller part of the larger company.
What do you do for your job?
I partner with space scientists and instrument providers to put together NASA proposals for new mission concepts, such as Maven and Juno mission proposals. I work with the scientists to transform science goals into specific instrument measurements and mission requirements. For some missions I have the opportunity to be a member of the science team.
OSIRIS-REx is an example where I was involved from the very beginning with the first proposal. I was a member of the engineering team that put together the design of the spacecraft. I was also a member of the science team, thinking about all of the incredible science that we could do at the asteroid Bennu.
Tell us about your academic background
I was a physics major as an undergraduate and got a wonderful exposure to a broad array of concepts. In terms of graduate school, I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder in the aerospace engineering department. I really liked the school and the organisation of the department, because they had a lot of collaboration with the science departments, for example with the astrophysics and planetary science department. Despite being in the engineering department, I was able to take classes in planetary science and Earth’s atmosphere, among others.
Then I got lucky. Clark Chapman, co-investigator of the imaging-team for the Galileo Mission, was looking for help on analysis of the image data. Even though I was in the engineering program, I loved the science of the mission. I was interviewed for the position and fortunately got it. I started working at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) for my graduate research and ended up doing my PhD thesis on impact processes, Galilean satellites and looking at Europa in particular. So I ended up getting a planetary science PhD from the aerospace engineering department. I was a little bit worried that I might not get a good job somewhere because I was from an aerospace engineering department.
Fortunately, as I was finishing up my career, I met a scientist named Ben Clark with a long background in planetary science and instrumentation. At that time he was working at Lockheed Martin at the facility where I work now. He was looking for somebody comfortable and familiar with both engineering and planetary science. Again I was fortunate that somebody was hiring exactly when I was finishing up my degree, looking for my qualifications. I was very happy to take the job.
A childhood inspiration goes a long way…
You said that you were always interested in space. Was there any defining moment in your life when you decided that you really want to do this ?
Even as a very little kid I just loved space. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment where something happened, but I knew that I wanted to explore space. I’m old enough now that I was alive when the first Star Wars movie came out. I was only four, but I remember seeing the first Star Wars movie and just being amazed.
Skills? Build your own expertise and also have a sense of the big picture
Could you talk a little about the skills that are necessary for working in industry ?
Engineers have to make things that work in space, with no chance for repair after launch, except for software updates. This requires incredible attention to detail and a rigorous analysis and test program that evaluates the performance of individual subsystems — such as the power or propulsion subsystems — as well as how those subsystems interact as a system-level spacecraft. Nothing beats hands-on experience in actually building and testing hardware, even if it’s for something used on Earth, to appreciate the level of detail required.
I would encourage graduate students in science disciplines who are interested in missions, and spacecraft, to learn more about a specific engineering discipline as an entry point to the overall process of designing a spacecraft. It is also important to keep in mind that your particular subject does not solve the problem alone. Have a sense for community, and work together with people, as all parts of the mission are connected with each other.
I would say in terms of recommendations for interested students, if you’re a scientist, take engineering classes. If you are an engineer, take science classes. At the end of the day these missions are realized not just because of engineers and not just because of scientists but because of both. If you have exposure to those other areas as a student that’s just going to make you a better scientist in the long run, if that is the direction you want to go.
A postdoc looking to transition to industry? Go to conferences, be proactive and make contacts!
How can a postdoc, beyond taking additional engineering classes, get into industry?
It would be useful to go to conferences where science and engineering overlap because the industry representatives are usually present in such conferences and can be looking to hire. I would encourage you to go to booths of the commercial companies in the conferences and make contacts.
In a nutshell: scientists love ideas, engineers make those ideas work.
You talked about different working philosophies for engineers and scientists. Could you describe it a bit more of how these two sectors approach a problem?
When developing a mission, engineers work, live and design by requirements — that kind of discipline and rigor is necessary to make a mission work. Scientists don’t start out thinking about requirements, they start out thinking about what kind of fundamental questions that they want to answer. It can take a lot of work to translate the question and hypothesis-based ideas from scientists into mission requirements for the engineers.
Academia vs industry, a choice related to research freedom, teamwork and getting hands-on with stuff that go into space
You transitioned from academia to industry after your PhD. What changes did you notice in the way these two domains work?
In academia you have the opportunity to come up with your own problems and generally be in charge about what you want to do and what particular problem you want to solve. In industry, your individual efforts are more coordinated with problems that the organization is trying to solve. So I think you trade some intellectual flexibility by working for a company, but you have direct access, responsibility and involvement with actually building satellites that will go into space.
Fancy being a scientist in industry? The more ‘bilingual’ you are in science and engineering, the better the chances!
Could you reflect on future opportunities for scientists in industry in the next decade or so?
There needs to be a bridge that connects those two to make the missions work. I think it’s always important to have people who are comfortable speaking to both communities, probably because of the different working mindsets of engineers and scientists. So I think if you are interested in industry, I think that interface is really valuable and makes a mission successful.
The Living Planet Symposium 2022 (LPS22) is taking place now in Bonn, Germany. The LPS22 is one of the largest conferences dedicated to Earth Observations (EO) in the world, and brings together thousand of scientists and users of EO data. This year, it focuses on 5 primordial objectives, one of which is to nurturing public and private sector partnerships, its importance, expanding the EO user base, and increase access to funding and commercialization opportunities. This is synergistic to Europlanet’s interest in incentivising academic and private sector collaborations. The other five objectives are: understanding earth systems (climate and interactions), advancing future technology for EO missions (new era of observations instruments), enabling the digital transformation (data collection, processing, distribution and analysis), and supporting the green transition (for sustainable development).
You can find more information on this exciting symposium at: https://lps22.esa.int/frontend/index.php
Increasing interactions between the planetary science community and industry, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), can lead to numerous opportunities and synergistic relationships.
The expertise of planetary scientists in a broad array of disciplines, from atmospheric research to machine learning, can help industry to explore new product applications and markets, whilst industry’s focus on maximising commercial value from projects can support academics in accelerating and extending the impact of their work.
Space-related innovations can have global significance, and SMEs can be an important link in channelling these innovations to the economy of participating countries and into everyday life. Industry-academic collaborations can open new doors for funding, broadening eligibility for grants and participation in programmes, as well as co-funding of staff and PhDs. These partnerships can also facilitate pathways for academics that wish to transition to industry careers and provide opportunities for graduates and doctoral candidates to be involved in applied space research and innovation activities with an industry perspective.
The success of the Horizon 2020 EXPLORE project is one recent example of what is possible when industry, with its product-orientated vision, combines with academics’ expertise in innovative, complex processes. EXPLORE has received 2 million Euros of funding from the European Commission to develop scientific data applications using state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) and visual analytics to enhance science return and discovery from planetary and space science data. Technical developments from the project will be adopted into the commercial partner’s product line and will potentially provide additional products and services for the industry.
The EXPLORE consortium has largely come about through collaborations developed in the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) programme, which has demonstrated how fostering industry and academic interactions is central to the work of Europlanet in supporting the community. To facilitate the formation of more such partnerships, a company database that includes up-to-date technical domains and contact details for private sector organisations with an interest in planetary research is being developed by the Europlanet industry team and validated through the Europlanet Society’s network of Regional Hubs.
Networking events and workshops organised in collaboration with the Regional Hubs, the annual Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC), and the Europlanet policy team, all provide opportunities to bring together academics, industry and policymakers, and for the planetary community to get involved. These activities put emphasis on the involvement of under-represented countries, linking them to leading European technological partners and, overall, widening participation in European planetary research and innovation.
EXPLORE project launched to develop AI and interactive visualisation applications in astrophysics and planetary science
An international consortium has been awarded 2 million Euros by the European Commission to develop novel applications that use artificial intelligence (AI) and visual analytics to exploit the vast datasets generated by astrophysics and planetary missions. Over three years, the EXPLORE project will develop these tools on a new virtual platform to create services and enhanced scientific datasets focused on galactic and stellar research, linked to the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, as well as lunar exploration. The tools will be made available to the community through different cloud science platforms using open source licenses to stimulate uptake and ensure sustainability.
The EXPLORE Consortium is led by the French company, ACRI-ST, and includes eight partners from six countries. The interdisciplinary project brings together astrophysicists, planetary scientists, computer scientists, IT engineers & software developers.
At today’s kick-off meeting, Dr Nick Cox, the EXPLORE Project Coordinator, said: “The sheer volume and increase in complexity of data from space science missions, as well as the need to combine multiple data sets, requires an increase in both data management and processing capabilities. AI-based solutions and interactive visualisation techniques for big data are not just useful tools to explore the Universe but are becoming a necessity.”
EXPLORE will develop six scientific data applications to test methodologies and tools for space data exploitation on a collaborative cloud environment, the EXPLORE Thematic Exploitation Platform (EXPLORE-TEP).
Rather than focus on one main scientific topic, EXPLORE aims to foster synergies between different areas of space science. Four of the applications will leverage data primarily from Gaia, supplemented with data from other surveys, developing tools to help understand the evolution of our galaxy, the 3D distribution of interstellar matter, as well as to support the discovery, classification and characterisation of stars. The remaining two applications will integrate data from a range of international lunar missions to focus on characterisation of the Moon’s surface and potential human landing sites. A key objective will be to facilitate integration and visualisation of multiple datasets.
Prof Dovi Poznanski of Tel Aviv University, who leads EXPLORE’s AI methodology development, said: “By putting together different experiences and backgrounds we introduce diversity and interdisciplinarity in the analysis of space science data. Today’s big datasets in imagery, spectroscopy and 3D mapping require sophisticated tools. However, there are common basic principles among the different fields, which means there is a vital need for cross-fertilisation if we want to optimise the most advanced tools.”
EXPLORE-TEP builds on the heritage of a platform designed by ACRI-ST and funded by ESA to facilitate and expand the use and uptake of Copernicus-Sentinel Earth Observation mission data.
Dr Jeronimo Bernard-Salas, of ACRI-ST and Deputy Coordinator of EXPLORE, said: “For astronomers it is becoming increasingly difficult to simply download all the data to their desktop and use their favourite analysis tools locally. Through EXPLORE, we aim to bring processing and analysis capabilities, accessible via existing and new collaborative working environments, to the data. This allows any user to exploit space mission and supporting ground-based data more efficiently and to effectively share their methods and results, thus ensuring science becomes more open.”
Ultimately, EXPLORE aims to apply the tools to other areas of space science, as well as to map business opportunities for potential market entry in other domains.
About EXPLORE Innovative Scientific Data Exploration and Exploitation Applications for Space Sciences (EXPLORE) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004214.
The six scientific data applications developed by EXPLORE are:
Galactic: • G-Arch: Galactic Archaeology • G-Tomo: Interstellar 3D tomography of dust and gas in the Galaxy
Stellar: • S-Phot: Stars and their blue infrared colour excess: signs of activity and circumstellar material • S-Disco: Spectral discovery of stars
Lunar: • L-Explo: Global multi-scale compositional higher-level products for the lunar surface • L-Hex: Human lunar exploration landing site characterisation and support
Launch of EXPLORE project demonstrates benefits of academia and industrial collaboration
In this guest post, Jeronimo Bernard-Salas of ACRI-ST introduces the EXPLORE project and explains the mutual benefits of industry-academia collaboration.
Academics often ask why they should collaborate with industry and vice versa. However, there are many advantages, opportunities and synergies that come out of academic and industrial collaboration.
Firstly, these collaborations can help identify and exploit the financial value of research. Companies are more product-orientated and are closer to the market, so they are well-suited to understand how researchers can valorise their work to increase the impact of research and innovation investment. These insights can in turn enable researchers to write better impact cases in their funding proposals, so they have more chances of success in future bids.
In addition, industrial collaboration can lead to new avenues of funding for academics. There are many calls now that are specifically targeted at industry-academic collaborations and others where they are clearly encouraged.
Participating in one collaborative project can also lead to other opportunities. ACRI-ST is part of the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI), participating in the machine learning work package as well as the industry task to promote collaboration between industry and academia.
When we joined Europlanet, we thought that the best way to highlight the industry academic collaborations was to lead by example. ACRI-ST coordinated a proposal that has resulted in a success story with the EXPLORE project, launched this week. EXPLORE is a 2 million Euro project funded by the European Commission through the Leadership in Enabling Industrial Technology (LEIT) and Space programme in Horizon 2020. The project has eight beneficiaries, four of which are from Europlanet 2024 RI. Thus, being part of Europlanet 2024 RI facilitated putting the EXPLORE consortium together
EXPLORE’s main objective is to deploy machine learning and advanced visualization tools to achieve efficient, user-friendly exploitation of scientific data for astrophysics and planetary science. We will do this by developing six science applications related to lunar exploration as well as on Gaia galactic and stellar science. EXPLORE sits between data collection from space and ground segments, and the provision of these science data products to the science archives on cloud platforms. This example of an industry-academic collaboration that brings together different expertise, knowledge and backgrounds was very positively reviewed by the evaluators of the proposal.
From an industrial perspective, ACRI-ST and companies with similar backgrounds can see that the era of big data is transforming the way of how scientists approach their research and how data is analysed. New missions and facilities are generating a lot of data that are becoming too large and complex for local analysis. These advances in observations require equal advances in data management, analysis, tools and cloud computing. It’s in this spirit that ACRI-ST and other companies can provide services in different areas related to these new developments, for example, providing the support or data processing for mission facilities and ground segment services for new space, developing scientific data applications and automatic exploitation platforms.
Companies may also support research in other ways, for instance by funding or co-funding PhD students.
Finally, not everyone can get an academic job. If academics work more with industry, the transition for researchers who need to find a job in industry will be much easier. The skills that are required to become a successful scientist are very similar to those that are required to be successful in industry. It’s a really important message for early career researchers that there are many opportunities in industry and there are many different kinds of jobs, so if they can find what they like or what they’re good at, it’s possible to make the transition.
Innovative Scientific Data Exploration and Exploitation Applications for Space Sciences (EXPLORE) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004214.
About Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies
Aiming at new and breakthrough technologies, this part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme contributes to boosting competitiveness, creating jobs and supporting growth.
The emphasis is on areas of research and innovation with a strong industrial dimension and where mastering new technological opportunities will enable and drive innovation. The objective is to achieve the EU Industrial policy goals, which represents an important component of the EU Strategyfor Key Enabling Technologies (KET).
The emphasis for Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEIT) actions will be on:
Research and innovation to strengthen Europe’s industrial capacities and business perspectives, including SMEs
Public-private partnerships (PPPs)
Seizing the ICT opportunities
Contributions to solving Societal Challenges and to Focus Areas
Cross-cutting aspects, like international cooperation and responsible research and innovation.
The involvement of industrial participants, and of SMEs in particular, is crucial in maximising the expected impact of the actions.
In the news, we often hear about New Space companies and their goals to ‘revolutionise’ the access and use of space. Think, for example, of Blue Origin and their planned Blue Moon lunar lander. These new opportunities to access planetary bodies are not, however, always considered in the planetary science community as serious options.
We wonder: are private space companies overlooked because there is some uncertainty as to whether they will eventually launch? Is it worth considering such opportunities when we think of the future of planetary science?
Here at the EPEC Future Research Working Group, we want to explore whether New Space companies will affect how we do research in the future. To find out more, we spoke with Dr Thorben Könemann, Deputy Scientific Director of the ZARM Drop Tower Operation and Service Company at the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen, and Dr Erika Wagner, payload sales director at Blue Origin in Kent, Washington.
‘Complementary’ is the keyword that Dr Könemann uses to describe the opportunities provided by New Space companies. His engineering team at ZARM integrates and supports microgravity experiments that have also flown onboard Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle, New Shepard, and Dr Könemann has been involved in those experiments from the beginning.
‘Blue Origin provides complementary access to space with a different set of boundary conditions for the payload than was previously available,’ Dr Könemann says. ‘Examples of such boundary conditions are: payload mass, duration and quality of microgravity, performance of the vehicle, and finally pricing. The availability of a new option increases the chance of finding a launcher that meets the requirement of an experiment and thus the chance to obtain an opportunity to fly.’
Although those experiments are generally more focused on microgravity research and less on planetary science, ZARM’s experience of becoming involved with Blue Origin still gives us lessons that can be applied to planetary science.
Through talking to Dr Könemann, it is clear that today, we are not necessarily witnessing a radical change in how space missions are developed, but rather an increase in the ways that space can be reached and studied. Flights provided by Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard rocket are an example of such new methods.
Dr Könemann states, ‘ZARM reached out early to potential new launch providers a decade ago. We not only contacted Blue Origin but also spoke to other upcoming companies, some of which don’t exist anymore.’
Therefore, even though the flight opportunities from new space companies for planetary science beyond Earth do not exist at present, it does make sense to establish relations with these companies early, so as not to miss out on these new opportunities later down the line.
Looking at the future and at rockets that can reach deep space, Dr Wagner says, ‘Blue Origin will be able to bring a considerable mass and volume of payload onto the surface of the Moon with the Blue Moon lunar lander. This would offer the opportunity to build heavier and more voluminous instruments.’
This is somewhat contrary to the trend of miniaturisation. It is the view of the EPEC Future Research WG that being aware of these opportunities from now will enable the community to develop instrumentation that makes optimal use of the new diverse platforms when they become available (and planning space missions is a long process – check out our series on the ESA Voyage 2050 white papers).
Dr Wagner also explains that of the 100 experiments to have flown on New Shepard, only 3 were funded by European agencies. Thus, it seems that there is a slower uptake on commercial opportunities in Europe when compared with the USA.
Dr Wagner suggests, “If early career researchers want to see an increase in this uptake, they could enable this change by advocating for the potential use of these new opportunities.”
We conclude that new space companies could provide further opportunities in the future to reach our planetary destinations. To make the most of these opportunities, however, it helps to establish connections early, and early career researchers can encourage a move in this direction by advocating for links between planetary science and future launches by private space companies.