Europe’s space players met this week in the Netherlands at ESA’s Industry Space Days 2006, a major forum for those operating in the space sector. An estimated 400 participants from European small and medium sized companies attended, together with representatives of the major space industries and agencies.
Industry Space Days 2006 (ISD2006) took place at ESTEC, ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre from 29 to 31 May. It is the fourth time this bi-annual event has been organised by ESA.
During the three-day meeting, speakers from ESA, the EC and industry brought participants up to date on the latest developments in the space industry and on business opportunities within the space sector.
The conference proved particularly fruitful for participants from European small and medium-sized companies (SMEs). More than 6000 business meetings were pre-arranged and 30 SMEs participated in the technology exhibition organised during the event.
In his opening address, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, highlighted recent European successes in space stressing that “all these successes are the success of European industry, because European industry is reliable and competitive.”
His address was followed by keynote speakers: Françoise Le Bail, EC Deputy Director General for Enterprise and Industry; Pascale Sourisse, Alcatel Alenia Space CEO and President of Eurospace; and Michel Courtois, ESA’s Technical and Quality Management Director.
A common European space policy
Françoise Le Bail spoke of the EC initiative to define a common space policy to enable government bodies and their suppliers in the private sector to plan ahead. “There is a recognised need to develop an industry policy specific to the space sector, enabling Europe to maintain know-how and independence in critical technologies as well as competitiveness,” she said.
Le Bail made particular reference to SMEs and the Commission’s efforts to stimulate their role. “This is particularly important in the space sector; a large number of key contributors to the European space industry fall within the definition of an SME,” she said.
She went on to describe the 7th Framework Programme for research and development, expected to come into operation at the beginning of 2007. This will allocate funding to support small innovative groups to solve common and complementary technological problems and research. “The amount of money likely to be available for space through the 7th Framework Programme will be €1.4 billion for the period 2007-2013”, she said.
“In addition there is a specific initiative from the Commission, the 'Competitiveness and Innovation Programme'. This supports intermediate releases and national schemes for actions to anchor and facilitate the participation of SMEs in different work programmes.”
Innovative SMEs: the key to Europe’s economy
Dordain also emphasised the importance of SMEs when speaking to the Portal prior to the meeting. “Innovation usually comes from SMEs” he said, and as they are more widely distributed in Europe than the big industries “involving SMEs is one way of increasing European interest in space”.
Le Bail also stressed the importance of SMEs for the European economy. “There are 23 million SMEs in Europe and 99% of European companies are SMEs”, she said.
In a four-hour conference three leading industrial groups, EADS, Alcatel Alenia Space and Safran, presented the business opportunities available in the European space sector, both as partners and subcontractors in ongoing and future programmes. CNES, the French space agency, illustrated business opportunities, particularly for SMEs, in national programmes.
Particular mention was made of two of the largest European space programmes: Galileo and GMES, as they will provide openings for new business opportunities in the coming years. ESA representatives also spoke about business opportunities within ESA’s research and technology, and telecommunications programmes.
Other meetings held during ISD2006 covered diverse areas such as best practices when approaching large industries and the synergy across sectors in research and development. Several specific examples were given of how to take advantage of these and create new businesses by transferring technology between different sectors.
A useful round table discussion took place on the third day, during which participants discussed some of the problem areas in doing business with large industries and agencies and spoke about the lessons learned.
SMEs at ISD2006
Many SMEs expressed their satisfaction with the ISD2006 event, particularly the opportunity it offered to make new contacts and obtain new business.
Jean-Claude Schumacher of Gradel S.A., Luxembourg, said “we are doing milling and drilling, high-precision machining for space or for anything else, down to microns. We work in many materials, steel, aluminium and carbon and carry out laser welding and laser cutting.”
“It is the first time we have attended ISD; around 15 companies visited our stand and we made some interesting new contacts, not only in space. We were asked to participate in an offer for machine parts for a satellite.”
SINEQUANET – helping SMEs enter the space business
One of the latest initiatives to support SMEs and increase their performance in the space sector is SINEQUANET (Space Intelligence Engineering and Quality Network), initiated at the end of 2005 by ESA’s SME Unit and co-financed by the EC Directorate-General, Research and Technology. On the second day of ISD2006 a special session was dedicated to presenting this project and what it offers to SMEs.
SINEQUANET will use engineers and other experts to support SMEs, to help them improve their skills, lower their entry barrier to space and foster their competitiveness in the space and non-space markets.”
“We will focus on engineering and processes specific to space, of which many SMEs lack knowledge. SINEQUANET’s objective is to ease SMEs' entry into the space business by providing assistance through training and hands-on support from space engineers”, said Nora Bougharouat, head of ESA’s SME Unit and instigator of the project.
“Space is not an easy business to enter. SINEQUANET will make a valuable impact on the SME sector and SME participation in European space programmes," Bougharouat emphasised.