May 28, 2024

Taylor Daily Press

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Space travel is a strategic growth sector

Space travel is a strategic growth sector

Space generates 10,000 jobs in Belgium, especially in the south of the country. There is more and more good news to be had in this sector in the future. For example, Belgian company Sonaca plans to build a factory in space.

The first man to reach the moon was Tintin. Comedian Hergé predicted this with his album Rocket to the moon In 1953 on the American mission on July 21, 1969. Since then, the red and white rocket from the comic strip has become one of the symbols of Belgium.

Federal Secretary of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermen (PS) wants to turn this fantasy into reality as part of the federal recovery plan and in view of Belgium's bicentenary in 2030. Among the candidates for the European Space Agency's future moon mission is a Belgian. Raphael Liegua of Namur may be the first citizen to set foot on the moon in 2030.

Behind all this lies Belgian space policy. “It's a dream, but it's a dream with great economic potential,” says Thomas Dermin. “It is a priority for the Wallonia region, rooted in a well-established ecosystem,” adds Walloon Economy Minister Willy Borsos (MR). “For us, this is an important growth driver and part of our diversification strategy,” says Yves Delat, CEO of Walloon aerospace company Sonaka.

Important return on investment

On 23 and 24 January, a large number of players from the space world met in Brussels for the 16th European Space Conference, organized as part of the Belgian Presidency of the European Union. Joseph Aschbacher, Director of the European Space Agency, and Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, stressed that space is one of the keys to our future, whether it is about the climate challenge, European defense or our economic future.

On the sidelines of the conference, Belgium signed the Artemis Agreements with NASA and the United States, cementing the dream of a Belgian astronaut on the surface of the moon. State Minister Dermin stressed that “this is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient to achieve this goal.” “But it is important and helps promote science among young people. Space travel creates an extraordinary number of jobs.

Belgium is the fifth largest contributor to ESA, and it is the largest of the small countries, so this has a huge influence. “Each Belgian resident pays between 25 and 30 euros for the space programme, compared to the European average of 12 euros,” explains Thomas Dermin. “This is much less than what the Americans and Chinese pay, who pay between 100 and 150 euros per inhabitant. Investing in space is a practical option, especially in the context of the European Space Agency. Every euro we spend comes back in the form of contracts. Independent economic analyzes have shown that the volume of business generated It is factor 3.

7,500 job opportunities in Wallonia

The space economy generates more than 10,000 job opportunities in Belgium, including 7,500 in Wallonia. “These are direct and indirect jobs,” says Willy Borsos. “Wallonia has around forty major players in the space sector, both companies and research centres. This represents 2,000 direct jobs and €300 million in turnover. It is a rapidly growing sector and a priority for the Wallonia region.”

“As part of the Walloon recovery plan, our priorities are Earth and launch vehicle monitoring, and especially the sustainability of the launch vehicles,” adds Willy Borsos. Thanks to New Space and Next Space, important Walloon players like Aerospacelab can develop. The Space Research Center of the University of Liège and the European Space Center in Rideau are also important players.

“Thanks to the continuous Belgian contribution to the space programme, we have been able to build a fairly complex ecosystem in Belgium,” says Thomas Dermaine. “We are working on launch components and satellite programmes. Excellent teams at universities are working on observations, such as the Juice mission to Jupiter. Thanks to our contribution to ESA, we can count on competitive funding. Although the sums involved are modest, the announcements are The recent launch of Sonaka and its space application services attest to our strengths in the space sector.

Factory in space

Sonaca, an important player in the aviation industry, has just introduced two new products. “These are exciting projects that are in line with the diversification strategy I launched when I took office,” said Yves Delat, who became CEO of the Belgian group in September 2021. “This also shows that the Belgian ecosystem is working well. We are working closely with the Space Application Services for both projects. There is often a tendency to pit the Walloon, Flemish and Brussels populations against each other, while cooperation at the international level is our strength.”

The first project is commercial and has nothing to do with the government, says Yves Delat: “It is an articulated arm project for the lunar space station. It must be able to crawl over the station to make repairs or connect the satellite. Sonaca is responsible for the box in which the tools are stored and for the interface that supports the camera and attaches the boom head. This project represents approximately 15 million euros.

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The second project is more exciting: building a factory in space. “Admit it, it gives you stars in your eyes,” says Delatte. “There are thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth. Once their batteries run out or they are faulty, they are useless. The factory will make it possible to repair them. The goal is also to manage the waste so that it can be compressed or returned to Earth. The third and most beautiful part is a solar power plant in Space. Solar panels would capture rays there without filters, 24 hours a day. This would generate 100 to 200 times more energy than on Earth. Studies indicate that one kilometer of solar panels in space would generate energy equivalent to Generated by a nuclear power plant, without carbon dioxide emissions or radioactive waste.

“One kilometer of solar panels in space would generate as much energy as a nuclear power plant, without carbon dioxide emissions or radioactive waste.”

Belgian astronauts

“This is not science fiction, it will actually happen within our lifetime,” Yves Delat confirms. Sunaka makes the first contribution to building the factory: the logistical warehouse for the tools and raw materials needed to build the factory. “We take care of the structure, and Space Application Services takes care of the robotics,” says Delatte. “There were a large number of candidates from all over Europe for this project. We are proud to present the best technical proposal. In Belgium we are often very humble. We are pioneers: a Belgian consortium at the forefront of the new space economy!”

Is the new space economy an engine of growth? “This project will not significantly impact our sales in 2024 or 2025,” Delati said. “It is part of a broader plan. Sunaka is committed to redeveloping its space activities. We have almost forty years of industrial experience and a history of very good products, but we have never reached critical mass. I have made diversification a priority, focusing on aerospace, defense and systems.” “And urban air mobility. The path has been charted and there are more decades on the way. This opens doors.”

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For Willy Borsos, the development of Sonaka fits perfectly into a broader ambition. “This shows what the new Walloon industry will look like,” he says. “When we talk about the need to re-industrialize in Wallonia, we are of course not talking about heavy metals, but about emerging sectors and cutting-edge technology. Moreover, aerospace is not a sector that operates in isolation: it is very close to aviation and defence. Cooperation is self-evident.”

The space sector in Wallonia has at least 10,000 jobs. “This makes us a global hub,” Yves Delat adds. “Wallonia is the driving force behind the Belgian aviation industry. Before the crisis, we generated €200 million from business in Flanders. This sector is a driving force that we must continue to develop while helping it become carbon neutral. A lot is invested in space research, but Aviation is just as important. We need help to create tomorrow's sustainable aircraft. If we don't, the Chinese or Indians will take over and continue to produce polluting aircraft at a lower cost.

The key to our safety

In an uncertain world, threatened by climate change and geopolitical chaos, space becomes a refuge. European Commissioner Thierry Breton stressed at the Space Conference in Brussels that “space entrepreneurship is a priority.” European space law, which should regulate these new activities, will be at the top of the European agenda in the coming months. “Space is also the key to our security and defence,” the French commissioner said.

“This is another reason why we should invest more in space,” agrees Thomas Dermin. “Belgium also has an important ecosystem in that region. Converting civilian technology into military technology in space is easier than converting a jeep into an armored vehicle: the information protocols and tools change fundamentally, but the technology is largely the same.

“Our strategy focuses on aerospace and defence. “There is a clear synergy,” emphasizes Yves Delat. “The major technological leaps forward have often come from aerospace and defence, and have led to major economic benefits. Europe was too naive. I am a pacifist at heart, and if I had a magic wand, I would disarm the entire world. But we live in a world where there are warlike nations on our doorstep. If we can't defend ourselves, where will we end up? “The European defense industry is essential.”