While the traditional space actors remain stable (the European Space Agency (ESA) with its flagship Ariane program), or are losing ground (NASA with shutdown of the shuttle program), the space industry is facing the arrival of new stakeholders that are willing to disrupt the launch satellites market (Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin) or to a lesser extent are willing to democratize the space tri (Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic).
By gradually getting moe and more public budgets from the Pentagon, these new players undermine the longevity of the traditional launchers by capturing a large part of their turnover. They also challenge traditional models and technologies in favor of smaller, more reactive structures that put technology at the service of reducing the cost of launching satellites with a barely veiled ambition to democratize this activity. Yes tomorrow everyone will be able to launch their own satellite for a few thousand euros, it is the promise that these new actors make.
A reorganization of the space industry is therefore underway and Europe does not seem to be on the cutting edge. We use the term “does not seem” because in fact there is a country that has fully understood all the interest that it can find to launch itself in the battle of the space. This country is Luxembourg. How does this small European country seem to be poised to play against the great historical leaders of this activity? This is the question we will answer here.
Created in 1985 in the Grand-Duchy, the satellite operator SES Astra has risen to the rank of world number two. This pillar of the Luxembourg economy with its 1,200 employees and hundreds of subcontractor employees manages all activities from the design, manufacture and operation of communication satellites. The sub-contracting cluster (Luxembourg Space Cluster) is present in all businesses, from the construction of satellites, to IT, thus developing a breeding ground of skills that can not imagine on the part of a so discreet little country, all under the impulse of the governmental body LuxIMPULSE.
In a sector as demanding and capital-intensive as the space industry, the availability of financing appears to be crucial for its development. Luxembourg is well known worldwide as a financial center and the largest banks and venture capital companies are present to finance major local and international projects. This capital availability and expertise on risky investments is a prerequisite for the development of the space industry in Luxembourg, it has proved its worth over the past 30 years and will continue to do so over the next 30 years.
And if we look beyond the country’s narrow borders, we see the emergence of venture capital companies specialized in space, either as subsidiaries of traditional constructors / operators (ESA has its own venture capital subsidiary Since 2010), or as new entrants pure players whose founders have a recognized experience in this industry. The latest and probably one of the most promising is the Starburst Ventures fund, which has $ 200 million in capital, and whose goal is to find (and invest in) the next SpaceX. Needless to say, investments in Luxembourg will most certainly be announced soon.
Luxembourg surprised the international space community in 2016 by announcing an innovative and unique legislative framework on extraterrestrial mining, a first in Europe. The aim of this legislation is to provide a legal framework for the mining of asteroids, rich in rare metals such as platinum for example. And with this legal framework Luxembourg wants to embark on a new space conquest in order to exploit natural resources for its benefit. The Grand-Duchy has partnered with the American company Deep Space Industries as part of the project spaceresources.lu. As usual, the Grand-Duchy does not seek to attack the major operators on the front, but rather shows a desire to be complementary and attractive, just as the Grand-Duchy did in the 1970s for the banking industry and becoming the fifth largest financial center in the world.
Under the leadership of the government for more than 30 years, the Luxembourg space industry is today a global player. Its ambition is growing even today with the project of extraterrestrial mining which is led to forced march thanks to an innovative legal framework and partnerships with leading companies of the sector. This will undoubtedly allow Luxembourg to become a reference in this new mining activity and thus achieve the international reputation that this small country deserves.