Winds of change

Exploring new business for Earth and beyond (NASA – Don Pettit)

From the Space Station to the Moon, a deep-space gateway and a Mars landing. Europe’s ambitious roadmap for the next decade has yet another revolutionary ingredient that is leading to innovation and business opportunities – the private sector.

The new scenario for exploration activities brings ESA to the stage as “a facilitator and catalyst. Space agencies are no longer just funding entities,” points out ESA Director General Jan Woerner.

The shift invites industry and citizens to join a dialogue about commercial opportunities in Earth’s orbit, an exciting return to the Moon and deep space missions.

The way forward

“Exploration is a combination of curiosity and opportunity,” said David Parker, head of human spaceflight and robotic exploration, during the Revolution in Space event. The two-day meeting took place earlier this week at ESTEC, ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands.

Parker shared with over 100 representatives from space and non-space companies what ESA and international partners have on the drawing board. While there is a push for new ventures orbiting our planet beyond the Space Station’s lifetime, Europe is preparing for a Moon landing in partnership with Russia as early as 2022.

The next decade will also see the ExoMars rover scouting and drilling the surface of the Red Planet. NASA’s vehicle Orion, with a European service module at its core, will build bridges to Mars.

New opportunities, new players

ESA wants to keep the industrial ecosystem and exploration ambitions alive with new prize schemes, commercial partnership agreements and business opportunities. Cost-efficient solutions for non-frequent space flyers include flight tickets to attractive microgravity conditions.

The latest challenge for game changers is to produce water or oxygen on the Moon by 2025. ESA announced the intention to set-up a demonstration mission with partners to provide the logistics. Transportation and communication, for example, could be developed as a commercial service.

From think-tanks to do-tanks

Entrepeneurs presented fresh and sparkling ideas during the pitch battles of the event. Real business plans envisioned innovative wastewater treatment plants, fuel stations in the solar system and wound healing with the touch of a button.

More than 20 proposals stood out in the judges’ views – ESA and industry – for their combination of creativity, feasibility and market credentials.

Relive the event and watch the discussions. You can also check out who was there in this gallery.