This article was published on June 17, 2024

TNW Conference 2024: A spotlight on the EU’s space ambitions

And how it'll impact its burgeoning spacetech scene

TNW Conference 2024: A spotlight on the EU’s space ambitions

As we count down to TNW conference in Amsterdam on June 20 and 21, we’re previewing the sessions that we’re most excited about.

This year, we’re seeing the EU take several big leaps toward building a stronger and more competitive future in space.

In an ambitious step towards greater autonomy, the EU issued a call for bids to develop its own constellation of communications satellites, dubbed IRIS². This €6 billion ($6.6 billion) project is aimed at curbing the bloc’s dependence on SpaceX’s Starlink satellite system after Elon Musk blocked Ukrainian forces from using its services in 2022.

The interesting thing about this tender is that it encourages collaborations between large-scale industry giants and smaller businesses by stipulating that successful bidders subcontract out at least 30% of contracts. This could really help to stimulate the EU’s growing spacetech startup scene. In fact, Europe’s largest space giants recently came together to form a consortium along with smaller startups.

On July 9, the much anticipated Ariane 6 heavy-lift launch vehicle is set to launch, ending an ‘unprecedented crisis’ for the EU’s space ambitions. Ever since Ariane 5’s retirement last year, the EU has been dependent on SpaceX to send satellites into orbit. After several delays, the European Space Agency is hopeful that this step forward will allow the bloc to undertake more ambitious initiatives in space.

“Ariane 6 marks a new era of autonomous, versatile European space travel,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.

In light of the increasing momentum being seen right now in Europe’s spacetech scene, one of the sessions that I’m really looking forward to at TNW 2024 is: SpaceTech: The Now Frontier June 21 from 15:15 – 15:55 on the Growth Quarters stage.

During this session, industry experts will discuss what they see as a coming golden age in space exploration, some of the trends and challenges that could shape the EU’s space industry, and the need to create closer links between the commercial and private sectors.

Panellist Helene Huby, former executive at Airbus Defence & Space and ArianeGroup, and current CEO of The Exploration Company, which builds reusable space capsules that carry goods and humans to space stations around the Earth and to the Moon, will be able to shed light on what the deployment of Ariane 6 could mean for the bloc’s future and how collaboration across stakeholders could help stimulate the industry.

While the launch of Ariane 6 represents a giant leap forward for the EU’s spacetech capabilities, many challenges still remain. One being how to align Europe’s space ambitions with its commitments to building a sustainable, net-zero future.

Space junk is already polluting lower earth orbit and threatening new initiatives with potential collisions. Not only is this an environmental problem, it will also put our telecoms and future endeavours at risk.

Panellist Chiara Manfletti, Professor of Space Propulsion and Mobility at the Technical University of Munich and CEO of Neuraspace, a company focused on providing better space traffic management to help fleets navigate potential debris collisions and avoid service disruptions, will be able to provide a unique outlook on the potential of AI and machine learning to innovate in this area.

Another major challenge will be investment. A research and hardware-intensive industry, spacetech startups will require significant investment opportunities to ‘lift off,’ something that has been a challenge for European founders in general.

To discuss this very important side of the coin, we’ll have Bogdan Gogulan, CEO & Managing Partner at NewSpace Capital, a space-focused private equity firm, and Ekaterina Almasque General Partner at OpenOcean, an early-stage venture capital investment firm focused on data software startups.

Looking for more spacetech talks? Be sure not to miss Revolutionizing Space Connectivity on June 20 from 12:20 – 12:30 on the Masterclass stage.

During this fireside chat, my colleague and reporter, Siôn Geschwindt, will sit down with Dr Sethu Saveda Suvanam, CEO of ReOrbit, to talk about how the company is revolutionising the satellite industry by developing satellites that are adaptable for different missions, equipped with autonomous orbital capabilities, and aimed at expanding universal coverage.

If you’re interested in attending TNW Conference (and saying hi to our editorial team) we’ve got a special offer for our readers. At the ticket checkout, use the code TNWXMEDIA to get 30% off your business pass, investor pass, or startup packages (Bootstrap and Scaleup).

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