A column by Marco Fuchs: thoughts about time and space

Luxembourg – a small country that plays a big role in space

OHB subsidiary Luxspace has been active for 15 years now

February 6, 2020. These days, I am being moved by a small country in the heart of Europe, to which OHB has been linked as a company for many years. The country I’m referring to is Luxembourg. There are several reasons why the Grand Duchy – located as it is in the triangle of Germany, Belgium and France – is in my thoughts at the moment.

For one thing, there’s the fact that the Luxembourg Minister of Economic Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider resigned on 4 February after announcing in December 2019 that he wants to devote more time to his private life and his family. In any case, he thinks that eight years spent in key positions in his country’s government is enough.

I have great respect for this decision. By the same token, however, I freely admit that I regret it. For one thing, I have frequently met with him, shared ideas and pushed for joint initiatives. These were without exception pleasant and, at the same time, inspiring exchanges that I look back on fondly.

Schneider’s services cannot be rated too highly. He has succeeded in making the small country of Luxembourg a major European space player. I still vividly remember his visit to our company in Bremen together with a large delegation. Incidentally, that was exactly four years before his official departure from politics – on February 4, 2016. At that time Schneider came to the OHB headquarters for talks accompanied by the then Bremen Senator for Economic Affairs Martin Günthner. The minister raised a topic that I found very fascinating at the time, namely space mining. He called his initiative “spaceressources.lu”. Schneider wanted to make Luxembourg a hub for companies seeking to explore and utilize resources from space. For this reason, Luxembourg was the world’s first country to adopt space legislation at the end of 2017 to give researchers and investors legal certainty about the ownership of materials from outer space. The topic was extremely exciting – and at that time nothing short of visionary. I was immediately won over by the idea and supported Schneider to the best of my abilities.

With this initiative, he showed courage as this involved a considerable legal risk for him in the face of the mockery and ridicule that he experienced at the time. Yet, his courage was rewarded.

I also fondly remember standing next to Etienne Schneider during the Asteroid Day events over the past few years. This day, which aims to raise the world’s awareness of the consistently underestimated risk of an asteroid impact, has been taking place regularly in Luxembourg since 2016. The issue is now known to a wider public in Europe as being of some urgency, not least because of the Luxembourg initiative. Minister Schneider and I also jointly announced the establishment of a new OHB subsidiary based in Luxembourg: Blue Horizon, a company that addresses issues in life sciences and, for example, engages in research into technologies for growing plants on lunar or Martian rocks.

Generally speaking, it is fair to say that, cultivated and decisively driven forward by people such as Etienne Schneider, an environment has arisen in Luxembourg in which visionary topics of relevance for the future, especially in space, have been able to flourish. Years ago, for example, he pushed forward efforts to create a fertile incubator for start-ups in our industry. Long pursued by Etienne Schneider, the space start-up fund Orbital Venture Fund came into existence at the end of 2019. It has seed capital of EUR 70 million. In addition to the Luxembourg government, a number of private companies, such as financial investors, the satellite operator SES from Luxembourg and the US investment company Promus Ventures, are also involved. I’m proud to be able to say that OHB is also participating in the fund – in fact, with an interest of EUR 7 million, we are the largest private-sector shareholder. I am convinced that this initiative will also be successful over time. Over the years, a very creative space community strongly geared to the future of space has been established in Luxembourg.

Luxspace is celebrating its birthday

By the way, OHB is celebrating a small anniversary in Luxembourg in 2020: our subsidiary LuxSpace in Betzdorf has been active there for 15 years now. After being registered in December 2004, it started operations in January 2005. Since then, many exciting projects have been initiated in Luxembourg. I would like to highlight one particular success for OHB in this connection: for many years LuxSpace has been responsible for processing AIS (Automatic Information System) ship positioning data. Satellites operated by the OHB partner company Orbcomm receive the AIS data and pass it on to the data processing center at Luxspace via a network of ground stations, from where it reaches the customers. Around 30 million items of AIS data, identifying around 200,000 ships, are processed each day. With this service, LuxSpace is thus one of Europe’s market leaders.

To further improve this service, LuxSpace has developed and built the Esail microsatellite for the Canadian operator exactEarth as part of an ESA project for the purpose of providing even more accurate AIS positioning data. Scheduled to be launched at the end of March, Esail will be shipped by air to the European launch pad in Kourou in mid-February. At the same time, LuxSpace is enhancing the Triton X microsatellite platform. These developments in Luxembourg are strategically important for OHB as an end-to-end space company. In this way, we are able to build satellites ranging from 5 kg to 5 tonnes in weight – and are therefore also well positioned for the rapidly growing microsatellite segment.

All this goes to show that the small country of Luxembourg is a big player for the OHB Group. We have constantly expanded our activities there, because the underlying local conditions have always been advantageous. This, in turn, is not least of all due to Etienne Schneider’s contribution and passionate commitment. Accordingly, he richly deserved the “Government Leader of the Year” award bestowed on him by US technology magazine Space News at the end of 2017. Incidentally, his work also led to the establishment of the Luxembourg Space Agency in 2018. So, for me, Etienne Schneider is one of the defining figures in European space over the past decade, and I wish him all the best for the future and hope that he will continue to play a role in the European space industry as we move forward.

Personal details:

Born in 1962, Marco Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE since 2000 and of OHB System AG since 2011. Marco Fuchs is married and has two children.

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