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Satellite image processing gives sight to visually impaired

A collaboration between British AI company GiveVision and Austrian company Catalysts has resulted in life-changing improvements to headset technology for visually impaired people, thanks to image processing technology used on ESA space projects including Sentinel-3.

Hundreds of visually impaired people in the UK are now able to see clearly again using augmented reality headsets, thanks to expertise gained through high performance processing of satellite imagery. The latest headsets from GiveVision were significantly enhanced thanks to an introduction to Austrian company Catalysts made through ESA Space Solutions network.

Catalysts, which is now part of IT service company Cloudflight, has worked on several ESA space projects including Sentinel-3. The skills and knowledge it shared with GiveVision resulted in a new version of its low vision aids that has been described by users as “amazing” and “life-changing”. 


Maisy lost most of her vision around six years ago. At the Hay Festival in the UK, she was given the opportunity to use the SightPlus headset for the first time. Image credit: Tricia Yourkevich/BBC


Maisy lost most of her vision around six years ago due to a brain tumour. At the Hay Festival in the UK, she was given the opportunity to use the SightPlus headset for the first time in front of a live audience during an interview with the BBC. 

SightPlus enables people who have lost the central portion of their vision, due to conditions such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, to see in near real time. It does this by processing incoming images and projecting the augmented feed onto the working part of their retinas. The solution, which can be adjusted by the user, works at multiple focal lengths and replaces magnifier-style options that only work at close distances. It also works for people with conditions affecting the whole visual field, including albinism and optic neuritis.


The SightPlus device is designed to help with a range of day-to-day tasks, including reading, which is often very difficult, if not impossible, for people with degenerative eye conditions.


Turning functional into usable

By early 2018, the team at GiveVision had developed a fully working version of its augmented reality headset, based on a smartphone. The next stage was to reduce both the processing time and the load on the processor, in order to significantly reduce lag and heat output and increase the battery life.

It was at this point that GiveVision was introduced to Catalysts through ESA’s Technology Broker Network in the UK and Austria, as part of the ESA Space Solutions network. 

“GiveVision had a very clear technical challenge that they wanted to overcome,” says Helen Rogerson from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, ESA Space Solutions UK broker. “That’s exactly what we aim to help resolve with the ESA Technology Broker Network. I directed them to ESA’s Space Solutions portfolio where they identified a technology offering what they needed. Our Austrian broker Brimatech then put them in touch with Catalysts.”

“The broker involvement at this stage was critical,” explains Stan Karpenko, GiveVision’s CEO. 

“Our users need to receive the augmented video feed as if they’re looking at it with their own eyes, so there needs to be no lag. We were struggling to do this and to reduce the load on the smartphone’s chips. Catalysts, who we found through the Space Solutions programme, optimised the code so well that we now run our advanced vision processing algorithms at a fraction of the speed.”  


Minimising time lag is vital to make augmented reality headsets comfortable to use, including for activities such as watching television.


From space to sight 

The development by Catalysts was funded by ESA’s Technology Transfer and Patent Office through its proof of concepts call. 


“We analysed and optimised the core algorithms using know-how taken directly from our work on space projects, including the CAWA project,” notes Alessio Montuoro at Catalysts. 

CAWA is the Advanced Clouds, Aerosols and Water Vapour Products for Sentinel-3/OCLI. Led by Catalysts, the CAWA consortium is developing and improving algorithms related to atmospheric measurements. The company’s skills and know-how relating to high performance image processing are also used in Earth observation (EO) projects covering crop and wetland monitoring.

“With something like SightPlus, a high number of frames per second gives the image smoothness, low latency helps avoid nausea, and consistency in processing removes variability in the image quality,” explains Montuoro.

“Despite the relatively short project time, we managed to reduce the image processing times from 250-450ms per image to around 50ms, which is far more usable. Our work also cut down the heat that’s generated, which makes the headset more comfortable to wear, and has extended the battery life.”

Providing privacy and independence 

Over 400 people in the UK are now living with the enhanced SightPlus device. People using earlier versions can now see more, and see it more clearly. Others for whom the original version was too weak can now use SightPlus: this will benefit many potential users whose sight will continue to degenerate, because the upgraded version will provide a solution for longer.


SightPlus can be used by people of all ages and has been extensively tested.


SightPlus works at multiple focal lengths and replaces magnifier-style options that only work at close distances.


Globally, there are over 191 million people suffering from moderate and severe untreatable sight loss. The substantial performance enhancements from Catalysts’ work will support GiveVision’s aim of developing a headset that looks as close as possible to a pair of spectacles, rather than being based on a smartphone. This design approach augments the natural field of view without blocking any peripheral vision, and will be lighter and more comfortable; all of which should help to significantly increase the rate of user adoption of SightPlus. 

About the Technology Transfer and Patent Office

The TTPO's funding for demonstration activities aim at proving the relevance of transferring a given technology or know-how into the non-space context, reducing the technical risk and confirming the market opportunity. An annual open call invites the submission of proposals from industry for Feasibility Studies, Proof of Concepts and Demonstrators. These have been designed as a funnel of activities, de-risking the activities on a step-by-step basis. Please see here for more information. 

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life. Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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OroraTech launches commercial wildfire detection system

Hot on the heels of the worst bushfires in Australia for a decade, ESA BIC Bavaria alumnus OroraTech has launched a new wildfire management tool using global satellite data, enabling fires to be identified remotely and fire management teams to react quickly.


The 2019 bushfire season in South Australia was the most devastating in the last decade. Not only were animal populations and their ecosystems destroyed in the fires, but the air quality and local weather conditions were greatly altered, including a sharp rise in CO2 levels. The Government scrambled to make decisions when it came to fire management and exhausted first responder resources, incurring millions of dollars of extra costs. 

One potential aid for the future – in Australia and elsewhere – has been launched by Munich start-up OroraTech. Founded in 2018, the company specialises in early wildfire detection and monitoring from space using existing satellite data and advanced wildfire algorithms. 


The OroraTech system offers expert analysis, such as this image showing hot spot detection circle clusters in Chile across a time span of seven days.


OroraTech recently released the first early access version of its wildfire monitoring system that provides notifications of potential wildfires in a user’s area. Features include visualisation of a fire's propagation, satellite overpass projections and tools for scientific hotspot analysis. The system also provides numerous map layers, such as fire danger and fuel maps that are updated daily to incorporate the latest weather forecast.  


Early detection is vital and is provided here in the Heat Map layer showing hot spot detection in Australia.


The system’s Fire Danger Map layer shows the fire threat based on an area’s daily forecast.


Historical visualisation can be valuable. Here the Heat Map layer shows hotspot detection of fires in New South Wales, Australia, from December 2019 to January 2020.


Global satellite data fuels all-in-one fire management tool

OroraTech's wildfire system stands out from its competitors by combining a large amount of data from several satellites, including ones from ESA, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and EUMETCast, and through the subsequent analysis and presentation. 

The vision behind the system's creation was to help reduce CO2 emissions, conserve nature, and protect lives and infrastructure.

OroraTech's customers in forest services and commercial forestry have confirmed the system offers a faster update rate that has helped them spot fires remotely. 


The Wildfire System is available on all devices with a user-friendly interface.


“We are making a real difference in the rising global wildfire challenges with an all-in-one system that enables the fastest detection of wildfires on a global scale,” said OroraTech Lead Engineer and Co-founder Rupert Amann. 

'Eyes in the sky' set to replace 'boots on the ground'

With the effects of rising temperatures and longer dry seasons, wildfires are likely to become larger and burn longer in areas that do not have the capacity to maintain an early fire management and execution plan. This means fire management developers are searching for alternative resources for early detection, rather than only relying on watchtowers and boots on the ground. 

The satellite images in the OroraTech system, provided by the Copernicus Programme, enable users to monitor fires from a different perspective. 


Satellite sources show smoke plumes: here the smoke from Australia’s New South Wales fires are shown in Sentinel satellite images.


Multiple satellite sources provide the extensive data for the wildfire system, allowing customers to react before a fire becomes uncontrollable. The data is quickly processed through a cloud-based processing framework and is then accessible through a wildfire API and an innovative web-based interface. This combination results in a system that offers customers and researchers an advanced tool for fire analytics. 

The OroraTech system with all premium features is currently available for a free trial period, accessible at OroraTech.  

ESA BIC Bavaria

ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Bavaria promotes companies with disruptive products and digital businesses in areas like robotics, mobile, mobility, automotive, aviation and satellites. Since 2004, ESA BIC Bavaria, managed by Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), has supported more than 165 start-ups with an annual turnover of around €150 million (2018), creating more than 2,800 high-tech jobs in Bavaria and attracting over €50 million in venture capital (2018). For more information, see

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UK launches space-based response to Covid-19 pandemic

Some £2.6 million to develop space-enabled technology and services that can strengthen the NHS’s response to coronavirus has been launched today by the UK Space Agency in collaboration with ESA.

The UK government has called on industry and universities help develop technology and equipment – from hand sanitiser to ventilators – to support the NHS.

Space-enabled solutions could include satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation satellites or technology derived from human spaceflight.

Amanda Solloway, science minister, said:“The UK space sector is a world leader in applying satellite and data technology to challenges we face on Earth, from responding to natural disasters to managing outbreaks of infectious disease.

“We are all in this together and this new funding will help develop practical solutions from one of our most innovative industrial sectors to support our brilliant NHS.”

Nick Appleyard, Head of Downstream Business Applications at ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications in Harwell, Oxfordshire, said: “Even in normal times, satellites and space technology offer solutions to our needs in connectivity and inclusion, in resilience and logistics, and to support healthcare provision in even the most extreme situations.

“The current circumstances challenge the space business community to show just how much it can offer, to help us through this once-in-a-century event.”

The funding is being made available to support projects to develop hi-tech solutions that address: logistics within the health delivery system, for example, drone deliveries; managing infectious disease outbreaks; population health and wellbeing; recovering health system function and handling backlogs after the crisis; and preparedness for future epidemics.

To learn more about Space helping the UK on COVID-19 and other pandemics, please see here.

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Undersee – Improved decision-making with satellite observations and forecasting of water quality changes in marine environments

ESA Space Solutions Portugal alumnus Matereospace is forging ahead with its Undersee multi-sensor water quality monitoring project, designed to enable aquaculture companies to fine-tune management and plan ahead.  

The team at Matereospace have developed a dashboard-style interface for the Undersee service to offer a range of data on water quality in accessible form to users.

Entrepreneur Jorge Alexandre Vieira and Tiago Cristovão founded Matereospace in 2014 with the goal of monitoring environmental water quality. A two-year incubation period at the ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Portugal starting in 2016, helped them refine the business proposition and technology approach of their Undersee project to meet market needs. Subsequent support through an ESA Business Applications Kick-Start has seen the company receive investment from accelerator Katapult Ocean and sign up its first customers. 

The Undersee monitoring service integrates post-processed Earth observation (EO) data from Sentinels 2 and 3, numerical models from the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) and hydrodynamic models with data collected in situ using the Undersee_water sensing device. This is then presented to users through a dashboard-style interface. Currently, users can see real-time water quality data, but soon they will also be able to access water quality forecasts and alerts about possible water contamination and threats such as algae blooms.

Data collected from the Undersee devices is combined with Earth observation (EO) data from Sentinel 2 and 3, numerical models from the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) and hydrodynamic models.

Central to the project is the Undersee_water system, a ‘ferrybox’-style device similar to those used to collect automated measurements on ships. It can be positioned on boats, buoys or aquaculture cages and is provided as part of the service subscription fee.

The potential for such a service is demonstrated by a major fishing event that occurred in Norway last year. “In May 2019, an algae bloom in Norway killed almost eight million salmon. After demonstrating that our service could have predicted this and allowed action to be taken, interest in our monitoring service increased significantly,” says Jorge. 

Jorge estimates that the Undersee service could have saved businesses more than €200 million during that event.

ESA BIC support shows its value

Jorge and Tiago first applied to the ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Portugal, at Instituto Pedro Nunes at the end of 2015, but discovered their idea was too broad. With input from the University of Coimbra, they returned with a more focused approach to water quality and environmental monitoring in the form of Undersee – a multi-sensor water quality project.

After building and testing an underwater pilot vehicle to monitor water quality, the Matereospace team realised that the water quality and environmental monitoring sectors were tough to break into with such complex product. They changed course to focus on a new and more promising opportunity – aquaculture. 

With renewed motivation, Matereospace took a new approach based on a small multisensory box that would collect data in situ and upload it into a cloud platform. Here it would be combined with satellite EO data and made available along with forecasting tools to give actionable insights to aquaculture managers. 

Benefitting from ESA Kick-Start

ESA BIC Portugal is part of ESA Space Solutions Portugal. By the time the incubation in ESA BIC Portugal was over, the second working prototype had been tested and they had generated interested from potential customers. It was the perfect time to apply for ESA Space Solutions Kick-Start funding, especially as ESA had just opened a Kick-Start call on the theme of ‘Atlantic Area’. 

During the six months of this feasibility study, the team took the opportunity to strengthen their knowledge of the aquaculture sector as well as to assess the technical feasibility and economic viability of the envisaged solution. In addition, they secured their first monitoring contract and letters of intent from a range of stakeholders.

The Undersee water quality monitoring service includes data gathered in situ by what is known as a ‘ferrybox’, which can be attached to a boat, buoy or other underwater location such as an aquaculture cage.

The Kick-Start activity and visibility through the ESA BIC ecosystem brought Undersee to the attention of Katapult Ocean, an accelerator that helps build and scale businesses with a positive impact on the oceans. As one of 11 companies chosen from around 500 start-up candidates, Matereospace received €130,000 seed investment, mentoring and crucial introductions to stakeholders.  

Next step – an ESA Business Applications Demonstration Project

Now, in 2020, three Undersee monitoring projects are underway in Portugal, with more to follow. MARETEC (Marine, Environment & Technology Centre) is using an Undersee_water unit installed on a passenger boat to carry out environmental monitoring of the Tagus estuary in Lisbon and another unit installed on a stationary station to monitor oyster production in Sado estuary. The Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere, I. P. (IPMA, IP) is also using the Undersee service for environmental monitoring of the Portuguese coast in the OBSERVA.PT project (Observations on board national commercial vessels to support the protection and restoration of biodiversity in the marine ecosystems of the Portuguese Sea).

Following the encouraging outcomes of the Kick-Start study, the Undersee team successfully applied to an ESA Business Applications’ Open Call for proposals.  

“Within this framework, the Undersee team will develop an end-to-end service with an integrated offer of hardware, software, installation and customer support. The integration of in-situ data (such as water temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity/conductivity, turbidity, chlorophyll-a, oxidation/reduction potential) and satellite data processed through ad hoc numerical models will offer both higher accuracy and enhanced temporal resolution,” said Cristiano Cialone, Technical Officer for ESA Business Applications.

“Furthermore, the integration of numerical models for water quality forecasting as a commercial daily management tool is a huge step forward in the field of marine environments, allowing a paradigm shift from reactive to predictive operational approach. This will enable functionalities such as risk alerts and early warnings. The Demonstration Project will be developed within the next 18 months.”  

Among the data being collected in the Portuguese estuary projects are: temperature; dissolved oxygen; pH; turbidity; and levels of chlorophyll.

The Demonstration Project will follow a staged approach, which includes the definition of user requirements as well as the implementation and testing of the related functionalities. More importantly, it will include development of a pilot project to be used by customers for four months to validate the commercial value proposition.    

"The Business Applications and Space Solutions programme offers the opportunity to start-ups and SMEs to successfully develop their ideas, thanks to the technical and business guidance received from ESA, in addition to the easy access to funding schemes such as Kick-Start," stated Rita Rinaldo, Head of the Institutional Project Section at ESA. "Furthermore, this structure strengthens a company's capabilities, helping them in the journey towards commercialisation and roll-out of space-based applications. We are pleased with the success of Matereospace in a domain like aquaculture that is so crucial in addressing the challenges related to sustainability of food production, which aligns with two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – SDG 2 Zero Hunger and SDG 14 Life Below Water."

In the near future, Matereospace plans to expand its activities to Norway, Scotland and Canada and is also planning to explore opportunities in Chile and New Zeeland. 

“When you see the path of companies that have benefited from more than one ESA programme at different stages, and the maturity they reach, it’s clear that ESA Space Solutions is the key to a successful network,” said Carlos Cerqueira, Coordinator of ESA Space Solutions Portugal. 

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life.  Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications programme. Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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Funding Calls: Space in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

ESA Space Solutions helping to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak

Through the different elements of the ARTES Programme dedicated to the development and validation of new Applications and Services in the downstream sector,  ESA has been active for several years in the forefront of promoting the utilisation of space technologies and know-how to support the improvement and development of solutions for the Health sector.

To respond to the unprecedented effort to contain and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemics, a number of initiatives in ESA Business Applications, which is part of ESA Space Solutions, have been launched or are under preparation.

This page provides a simple orientation portal to inform about the different opportunities.

The opportunities listed below are ordered by status of advancement (newer on the bottom):

  1. AO10314  - Space in response to COVID-19 outbreak (targeted to Italy)
    Developed in cooperation with the Italian Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitization (MID) and with ASI. This call is now closed, it was open from 31/03/2020 to 20/04/2020
    Information Page
  2. AO10336  - Space helping UK on COVID-19 and other pandemics (targeted to UK)
    Developed in cooperation with UKSA. Open Call for Proposals is open until 15/01/2021.
    Information Page
  3. AO10377  - Space based services-applications addressing COVID-19 outbreak
    Open Call for Proposals - Opening date on 14/05/2020 closing on 15/11/2020
    Information Page
  4. AO29224 - Path to post COVID-19 recovery
    Feasibility Study: this call is now closed.
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OilX – Providing fast, transparent data on the oil supply chain

The oil storage and shipping market is notoriously opaque. But that’s about to change, thanks to a new global oil market analytics platform based on Sentinel data, developed by UK start-up OilX with the support of ESA Space Solutions. 

In September 2019, drones were used to attack the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil-processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia. The facilities were shut down for repairs, resulting in Saudi Arabia's oil production, which represents about 5% of global crude oil, being cut by half. When the financial markets re-opened, the price of crude oil registered its biggest ever increase due to uncertainty surrounding the disruption to supplies. 

This was a key moment for OilX and its new Oil Trading Analytics Monitor (OTAM) platform, as the company was able to assist oil traders around the world with fast and detailed analysis of the balance of global oil demand and supply. 


OilX’s OTAM platform clearly showed a significant fall in Saudi oil production in September 2019, coinciding with the date of the reported attack on two state-owned Saudi Aramco oil-processing facilities

Revolutionising oil markets with up-to-date, accurate data

OilX’s OTAM platform is an oil market data analysis solution in the form of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, which was an ESA Business Application Demonstration Project (part of ESA Space Solutions), supported by the UK Space Agency. The aim was to create more transparency in the oil storage and shipping market, which it does by providing a digital twin of the global oil supply chain, all the way from the oil fields to the tanker or pipeline, and on to where it lands and is transported to refineries.  

Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications at the UK Space Agency, said: “The UK Space Agency is the leading investor in ESA’s Business Applications fund to support commercial projects which will grow the UK’s thriving space sector and the wider economy. Working with ESA and industry our combined knowledge and expertise is delivering exciting, sustainable projects such as OilX."

OTAM uses Sentinel Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and optical data to estimate variations in crude oil stocks by monitoring floating-roof tanks. In addition, it fuses Earth Observation (EO) data with automatic identification system (AIS) cargo vessel tracking data to plot the movement of oil supplies. Together, these help to monitor the complete oil supply chain and offer actionable insights to oil traders, in near real-time. 

The attraction of a product like this for oil traders is gaining an edge through information. For many years, this came from their vast global network of contacts and assets. Today, remote sensing from satellites is enabling a transition from ‘boots on the ground’ to ‘eyes in the sky’, enabling tanker traffic, pipeline movements and the status of storage facilities to be monitored remotely. 

However, data alone is not enough, as most investors lack the expertise to transform raw optical images and large databases into useful datasets. OTAM does exactly that for them.  

Another issue is that the current system of collecting global oil inventories by national statistics and agencies lags by 1 to 2 months and is incomplete. This results in oil traders and analysts at oil majors, trading houses, banks and hedge funds being heavily dependent on historical data, leaving them struggling to assess oil supply–demand balances in a timely and accurate fashion. The inclusion of SAR satellite data significantly enhances the existing oil analytics process by offering near real-time measurements instead, leading to better and faster decision-making and more transparent markets. 

Florian Thaler, CEO and Co-Founder of OilX said: “The attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure required a quick and comprehensive analysis of the impact and duration of the disruption. Through the unique approach of OilX, supported by ESA Space Solutions and its Business Applications program, it allowed us to combine various remote sensing technologies and create a comprehensive Saudi Arabian oil supply demand balance. ESA played a key role in enabling and facilitating the OTAM project, which brings together domain experts from oil analytics OilX, SAR processing (Aresys) and shipping intelligence (Signal Ocean) to produce unparalleled insights for oil markets.”

OilX’s OTAM platform was used to generate data insights into the state of Saudi crude oil stocks in the aftermath of the attacks on Saudi oil-processing facilities in 2019

Nick Appleyard, Head of Downstream Business Applications at ESA added: "Insights from space guide global industries, helping businesses to improve the speed, accuracy and efficiency of their decisions. At ESA we are always looking for businesses with innovative ways to put space to work. This project is a great example. It shows how satellite data can help financial markets to continuously and quickly adjust their pricing and risk as circumstances change. Now the company is ready to take this Space Solution to the market, and we wish them every success."

Solving the Saudi puzzle

Crucially, OilX had developed its OTAM product to be able to offer oil traders and analysts clear and timely insights into last September’s events in Saudi Arabia. 

OilX used oil storage monitoring based on SAR and optical satellite data to detect changes in oil storage at key locations and tracked crude oil exports vessel by vessel using AIS data. 

The OTAM platform uses SAR data to detect tank levels at oil fields and refineries, and combines this with AIS cargo vessel tracking data to provide near real-time insights into the complete oil supply chain.

Thanks to the support provided by ESA Space Solutions, the OilX team already has paying clients and has added an extra data scientist to its team. In the future, OilX’s ultimate goal is to enable users to monitor the stock levels of oil storage tanks at tank level granularity worldwide.

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Denmark throttles up on space entrepreneurship with ESA

ESA’s latest Business Incubation Centre (BIC) was recently inaugurated in Denmark to welcome entrepreneurs with business ideas using smart technologies developed for Europe’s space programmes.

The new ESA BIC Denmark was opened on 4 March 2020 by Danish Minister of Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, ESA Director General Jan Wörner, Technical University of Denmark (DTU) President Anders Bjarklev, CEO at Industriens Fond Thomas Hoffman-Bang and ESA BIC Denmark Manager Sune Nordentoft Lauritsen. 

ESA BIC Denmark was opened on 4 March 2020 by (from left) Technical University of Denmark (DTU) President Anders Bjarklev, Danish Minister of Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, ESA Director General Jan Wörner, CEO at Industriens Fond Thomas Hoffman-Bang and ESA BIC Denmark Manager Sune Nordentoft Lauritsen. Image credits: Kaare Smith

“ESA BIC will empower Danish businesses and universities to bring more products based on space technologies and satellite data to market. Interdisciplinarity, knowledge transfer and data sharing are pivotal in order to solve the world’s climate crisis,” said Danish Minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen at the opening.

“Space technology – in particular satellites with their huge capacity for Earth data – can make a fundamental difference in the battle against climate change.”

Danish Minister of Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen at the opening of the new ESA BIC Denmark. Image credits: Kaare Smith.

ESA Director Jan Wörner welcomed this new “member of our Europe-wide initiative to spin off space technology to terrestrial sectors – spin-offs that build on innovations to explore space and offer smarter, better and more efficient solutions here on Earth to improve quality of life.”

“To support progress and growth across Europe, we make our knowledge and technology available to be used outside space. At our business incubation centres, entrepreneurs and start-ups are supported to create innovative solutions using satellite services and space technology.”

“To support progress and growth across Europe, we make our knowledge and technology available to be used outside space” says ESA Director General Jan Wörner. Image credits: Kaare Smith.

DTU President Anders Bjarklev emphasized the value of ESA BIC Denmark for both start-ups and existing companies: “With this new centre, we wish to strengthen and create even more start-ups related to space and thus strengthen our industry and create value and growth in Denmark.”

“We will also foster more corporate innovation and create even more technology transfer. Through collaborations between industry and our high-tech entrepreneurial ecosystems, we will see more commercialisation from space technologies.”

Wörner, Halsboe-Jørgensen and Bjarklev. Image credits: Kaare Smith.

Forty new start-ups plus boosts for existing industry

ESA BIC Denmark is the 21st member of ESA’s pan-European network of Business Incubation Centres. It will offer entrepreneurs support at its three hubs in Aalborg, Aarhus and Kongens Lyngby, close to Copenhagen. Here, start-ups will be provided with a free-of-charge package of business coaching, technical support and cash incentives during an incubation period of up to 2 years, as well as office space and logistics support at favourable rates. 

Over the coming 5 years, ESA BIC Denmark will foster 40 start-ups turning space tech and satellite data into innovate business solutions improving life on Earth, as well as introducing novel space solutions based on the re-use of leading-edge technologies from other sectors. This will result in 400 new jobs and an increase in turnover in space-related technologies of more than €20 million.

ESA BIC Denmark becomes the 21st in the pan-European network of ESA BICs. Image credit: Kaare Smith.

Existing Danish companies will also benefit from the new centre, through initiatives to increase the re-use of space technologies and patents from ESA programmes and the use of satellite data. They will also profit from matchmaking with over 800 existing start-ups from other ESA BICs and over 500 ESA Business Applications projects.

Having been jump-started last year, ESA BIC Denmark is already working with several Danish companies to take advantage of space technology transfer opportunities.

ESA BIC Denmark will contribute significantly to growing clusters of space-based companies in Denmark, driving cross-fertilization from ESA space-related companies to Danish non-space companies and facilitating space technology transfer from ESA to existing companies, as well as the use of satellite services.

Start-ups demonstrate innovation

Neonatal care. Image credits: Fourth State Solutions.

At the opening event, entrepreneurs from five potential Danish ESA BIC start-ups presented innovative solutions, including: national level optimisation of wind turbines; smart data connections for Earth’s most remote locations; an origami-designed moon habitat that is soon to be tested in Greenland; custom-analysed cloud-based satellite maps; an intelligent cane for blind people; and innovative ship-to-ship communications. 

Fourth State Systems, a start-up from ESA BIC Sweden, also showcased its space spin-off potential at the launch with a development for the medical sector. It applies a technology for planetary exploration to transcutaneous blood gas monitoring, where carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in blood and tissue are measured through the skin. This type of analysis is very important in many branches of medicine and vital for modern neonatal care.

ESA Business Incubation Centres

With ESA BIC Denmark, the pan-European network of ESA Business Incubation Centres operated under ESA Space Solutions has now grown to 21 in 18 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and UK. Together they form the largest ecosystem in the world for space-related entrepreneurship. Over 800 new start-ups have been fostered and another 180 are taken in annually at the network’s 65+ business incubation sites.

ESA Space Solutions 

Since the early 2000s, ESA Space Solutions has sought entrepreneurs with innovative ideas using space technologies and data in a non-space environment. Initiated as support to Europe’s space programmes, these technological innovations have resulted in many successful solutions for terrestrial markets. 

The transfers from space to Earth enhance the know-how and competitiveness of Europe by creating new start-up companies and leading to new jobs and growth. The programme provides multiple entry points, including: ESA BICs, where entrepreneurs can further develop their business plans and grow their new ventures; the ESA Business Applications programme that supports businesses from ideation to pre-commercialisation; and ESA Technology Brokers, which provide solutions to the industry through access to a wide range of advanced technologies developed by the space industry.


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Space and health collide for sustainable development

A number of ESA Space Solutions services and products are uniting space with health in creating apps and services that use satellite data for a myriad of medical benefits. This crossover of health and space aligns with the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the United Nations: Good health and wellbeing.  

Bringing Health into the Future with Space’ was held at ECSAT in February 2020 to connect stakeholders and showcase some of these projects – collaborations which demonstrate how Harwell campus cross-pollination has helped a lot of it to get off the ground… 

The universe rings true whenever you fairly test it” was Dr. Emilio Simeone of siHealth’s opening gambit as he used C.S. Lewis’ famous quote to present the first connectable, stretchable UV patch to a conference room of space and health stakeholders. The potentially life-saving patch that monitors solar radiation and UV visible infrared in real time (helping protect against sunburn, photo-aging, and DNA damage) is now well on its way out of the lab and about to hit the shelves. 

More than 80 ESA Space Solutions projects have a demonstrated  link to SDG 3: Good health and wellbeing. “Innovation is coming from companies of different sizes that are joining the 1,700 + strong ecosystem we’ve managed to create. An impressive 90 per cent of these are SMEs. We see larger corporates, such as BASF, looking into the future to find space applications and opportunities in their operating verticals.  ESA Space Solutions remit hinges strongly on the sustainability elements highlighted by the UN.”  Elia Montanari, UN SDGs Framework.

“This is where ESA is really helpful for companies, not just in getting to this level, but the next level; in supporting certification, marketing, advertising.” Dr. Emilio Simeone, siHealth. 

Next to present, BASF (the German company who put the ‘blue’ into jeans when they launched the first synthetic indigo dye) explained how they spotted the potential of space and promptly invested in siHealth. With this collaboration and space data, BASF have been able to link up consumer smartphones and wearable devices to personalise cosmetics and create tailor-made products (adapting to light, pollution, humidity) all then conveniently ‘downloaded’ from a natty Nespresso-style machine (to be launched this month) that concocts a completely customised capsule in just one click.

Martin Widmann, Senior Vice-President for Global Strategic Marketing at BASF explained: “We try to look one step further down value chain at what consumers want.  With cosmetics it’s personalisation – something we couldn’t solve ourselves. So we looked for external partners. With ESA’s support we can offer a complete ecosystem to our customers; the cross-functional cooperation approach has brought something very interesting to our company.”

 “Campus adds creditability to what you want to do and your choice for collaboration. We help to support the commercial development of new ideas and expose small companies to collaboration with larger corporates.” Barbara Ghinelli, Director of Business Development and Clusters at Harwell Campus.

The developments with siHealth and BASF come on the back of several serious success stories for health/space-based applications eased off the launchpad with the support of ESA Space Solutions. Telemedicine took a leap into the future with the development of Tempus Pro – a device which is used globally by civilians and military healthcare personnel to measure and transmit life parameters  (e.g. heartrate, blood pressure, respiration rate and temperature) to remote medical specialists.

State-of-the-art proactive mosquito prevention VECMAP® software which combines Earth Observation imagery with statistical models can now provide vector disease risk maps and other value added services helping locate pests as well as ‘smart’ data-driven control measures that dramatically reduce the use of insecticides. 

B-Life is ESA and the University of Louvain’s pop-up bio lab that’s fully operational in a few hours with an inflatable satellite antenna. B-Life was used successfully during the Ebola crisis, halving the time required by conventional labs to make an area 'Ebola-free'. Healthcare is clearly an area where innovation and cross-sector initiatives are critical in meeting current global challenges. 

“Healthcare is one of top three areas in cross-government priorities. The UK has policy of innovation, take gravity out of the equation there is a real opportunity for the UK to take a lead and develop services at the forefront of global possibilities."  Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications Strategy, UK Space agency.

Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA closed the workshop summing up the Organisation’s role: “We are actively supporting the development of the downstream sector and interactions between various clusters on campus. Through telemedicine we have already seen the value of Space for medicine in remote areas and are aware of the potential we can unleash with closer interactions between these two sectors.  We are at your disposal… ESA Space Solutions is the ‘gateway’ to space for the non-space people.” 

Find out how Space supports the SDGs…

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European space start-ups boost collaboration opportunities with Israel tour

In late January, a delegation of companies from across Europe’s space sector travelled to one of Israel’s leading annual space events, the Ilan Ramon International Space Conference, visited local space companies and benefited from a space entrepreneurship masterclass.

Several companies from the European Space Agency Space Solutions community travelled to Israel last month to meet their Israeli counterparts. ESA Space Solutions aims to maximise the business opportunities for companies it supports, and this Israeli tour was one of a number of initiatives being run to provide bridges to potential markets outside Europe. The trip was enhanced by a visit to a school science lab that is running space-related activities and included many opportunities for networking.

The tour started with a space entrepreneurship masterclass, in the centre of Tel Aviv. This included presentations from ESA and NASA, heads of space agencies, and an opportunity to present the entrepreneurs companies to everyone taking part. 

The attendees started their Israel tour with a masterclass in entrepreneurship, held in Tel Aviv

The trip was facilitated by Ran Qedar, co-founder of start-up company SPiN, an alumnus from the ESA Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC) programme that has designed a multipurpose plug and play adaptor to connect and integrate satellite components. Among several space players, there were ESA Space Solutions start-ups alumni on the trip: Valispace, CrystalSpace and Hyperion. All the attendees were selected from the upstream sector (satellite hardware, software and ground segment) based on the maturity of their concepts or products.

Space conference

The following day saw the delegation attending the Ilan Ramon International Space Conference in Tel Aviv on 28th January 2020. Named after the Israeli astronaut who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003, the conference is the main event of its kind in the Israeli space sector calendar. 

“The conference showcased the strengths of the Israeli space industry and gave valuable insights into their ambitious projects. The event provided excellent opportunities for sharing ideas, meeting people and connecting with businesses,” said Matthijs Klein from Netherlands-based start-up Hyperion.

Meeting local space businesses

The tour also included visits to three local space businesses, including SpacePharma, a start-up that designs and operates satellite payloads focussing on chemical and pharmaceutical experiments. Next stop was start-up company NSLComm, which develops deployable antennas. Here they heard about NSLComms’ technology and ground segment work, and the company’s plans for a satellite constellation that will provide data communications services to remote areas.  

The visit included a trip to the Herzliya Space Laboratory where students have built a 3U CubeSat

The final company to be visited was Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which builds, launches and operates low Earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous (GEO) satellites, and was responsible for developing the Beresheet moon lander with SpaceIL.

“Both the conference and meetings with the Israeli aerospace industry provided extensive insight into country’s aerospace business, generating new ideas and cooperation opportunities,” explained Jaan Viru from Estonian start-up CrystalSpace. 

The European companies also went to the Herzliya Space Laboratory where local school students have built a 3U CubeSat, which they are operating along with eight others. After presentations by the students, the delegation was shown the ground station used to operate the satellites and the lab where the satellite was built. 

Israeli students use their own ground station at the Herzliya Space Laboratory to operate their 3U CubeSat and other small satellites

Valuable networking 

Over the course of the whole tour, participants had plenty of opportunities to exchange experiences and network with their Israeli counterparts. These included an exclusive gala dinner, hosted by the Israeli science ministry, and an evening drinks event with members of the Israeli space community and representatives of different companies.

The European companies were joined on the trip by Frank M. Salzgeber, ESA’s Head of Innovation and Ventures Office: “Supporting innovation is our main goal. This can be also be fostered by cooperation between start-ups from different countries. Providing opportunities for collaboration, access to new markets and engagement with international communities is a great way to support these ventures, and we are proud to work in this context with the Israeli Space Agency (ISA)."

The Senior Advisor to the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science, Ofer Lapid, was also shared: “I'm grateful to ESA for endorsing our Entrepreneurial Space Workshop through the know-how and experience shared by some of their senior team. This is the second year our workshop has run alongside the Ilan Ramon International Space Conference. It proved yet again that entrepreneurs speak an international language that transcends geography, nationality and culture, and that when we get them together and give them the gift of time and mentorship, magic happens. We look forward to welcoming more European entrepreneurs to Tel Aviv next year for the 16th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference and the third Entrepreneurial Space Workshop.”

During the Ilan Ramon conference, individual meetings were held with local companies, allowing the European companies to present their products and services. They also had the opportunity to repeat this in front of teams from IAI and its suppliers when visiting the company. 

Among the companies visited during the Israeli tour was SpacePharma, which focuses on chemical and pharmaceutical experimental satellite payloads

The European visitors toured NSLComm, an Israeli start-up specialising in deployable antennas

Stefan Siarov from Valispace explained the value of the trip: “Understanding the business opportunities, the current status and local needs is instrumental to growing as a start-up. We’re currently expanding into new markets and Israel offers a great high tech scene which we can add value to. So it has been valuable to learn about the people, the culture and the way business is handled, which ultimately leads to a better and more professional way of building relationships for both sides.”

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