Engineering and beyond
The Commercial Promotion Office interviewed Filippo Ugolini, CEO of the AGT Group and Professor of Biomechanics at the University Rome, about his visions of commercial exploitation of human spaceflight and the ISS.
What does AGT Engineering specialise in?
AGT is an engineering company that specialises in innovation in various areas of European industry. Our business covers technology transfer, engineering and production from a technical point of view, and marketing and consultancies from a commercial point of view. We supply these services to industries that need innovation to improve their products for their target markets.
What is your interest in space; where is the connection to AGT Engineering?
Our involvement in the space business started by chance. We developed a nano-structure material for one of our customers who had a space application. This material then ended up being used in Formula One. From there, I met some people from ESA, including Maurizio Belingheri, the Head of ESA's Commercial Promotion Office. When he explained his Commercial Agent approach, I applied thinking our offer could help to reduce the gap between ESA's scientific and technical position and our horizontal knowledge of the market. I did not foresee at the time that we would end up in food, health and nutrition, but as my department in the University of Rome is Biomechanics and Bioengineering, it actually fits very well.
So what is the niche of AGT Engineering in the Commercial Agent Network?
The commercial Agent Network is structured as a 3D matrix by skill, market areas and geographic areas. By skill, AGT is an internal consultant for the marketing activities for all the market and geographic areas covered by the other partners. By market areas, AGT covers the food Industries in Europe. By geographic areas, AGT covers Italy and Switzerland for all the Commercial Agent activities.
What was your motivation for joining the Commercial Agent Network?
There were two reasons, really. The first is cultural: it is a very interesting and innovative task – and a challenge. The type of professionalism embodied by ESA is not something you find easily in Europe. Therefore the second is: we thought our capabilities could help to fill some gaps. At the same time, we have the advantage of visibility and knowledge that we are definitely gaining from this application.
Is there a potential for industry in commercial human spaceflight?
Actually, this is the big challenge for the Commercial Agent. There are four levels of potential interest. One has been exploited and is obviously at the scientific level: basic research. Then there is the technical high-level interest: can companies send products into space and improve them via the space experience and transfer them to Earth? The third is what we call 'zero technology advantage', companies that want to show their name or their brand in space, and ESA may use this to its own advantage. The fourth is what I call 'special projects', which is the most challenging. There is especially one we are thinking about but it's so big and visible that it is still covered by confidentiality.
What are the first reactions you get from the Industries you contact?
The most interesting thing we found is that companies do not know that it is possible and easy to fly on the International Space Station. They do not have the faintest idea. Our first target is to tell them. Our second target is to help them understand what advantages they can get for each application. The third target is to get the companies whose products will benefit into space.
What will the future of commercial exploitation of human spaceflight look like?
There is no doubt it will be bright. When? It depends how far you want to think. If you think as far as a hundred years, we will possibly need energy to be generated outside the Earth and sent down to avoid pollution. So there is definitely an immense motivation for human beings to get out to space. Today, we are in a period when mankind knows it has to be done, but the companies need to be addressed properly and introduced step-by-step to each small, but steady, space technology gain. That is our challenge.
Is it an appealing prospect to firms to 'be the first' to exploit the ISS?
Certainly. Look at today's largest global firms. Ford started serial car manufacturing 80 years ago and is now the number 3 in the world. IBM was first in computer manufacturing in the 1950s, and is now one of the largest. Boeing started building aircraft in 1916 and is still the world leader today. Vision clearly drives mankind's targets. Need I say more?
Filippo Ugolini (CEO)
10 Via Vigliena, 00192 Roma, Italy
tel: +39 06 45437023
fax:+39 06 32609007