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Curiosity Series: Philab looks at societal impact outside of the traditional space box

20 december 2022

The Netherlands has just subscribed to the Scaleup Programme of ESA, where SBIC and the ESA Technology Broker, as well as the Philab initiative, are part of. The latter was also featured recently at the LDE Space Day. The event provided the perfect setting to host a Curiosity Series about Philab and to challenge participants to bring forth ideas. What better way to receive concrete proposals than to have an exploratory session with a group of (space) researchers and members from the space industry? What ideas can they come up with that might one day become reality through the Philab?

Challenging ideas with Curiosity Series about Philab

At NL Space Campus we tend to think and go out of the traditional space box to make a wider societal impact and how to steer actions towards that goal. The Curiosity Series is a recurring meeting of (space) researchers discussing current challenges in the field of space, from different perspectives. The Series focuses on stimulating knowledge sharing and strengthening the network of researchers and open innovation. Earlier sessions covered quantum sensory payloads, space radiation, and the first Digital Twinning discussion at the CDF in ESTEC. During LDE Space Day 2022 there were two sessions of the Curiosity Series. One was the second edition of Digital Twinning of Earth, while the other was about the future Philab initiative. Philab is an initiative that offers a platform to support the most innovative and impactful ideas. It is supported by the Scaleup Programme of ESA.

Navigation, Laser Communication and Earth Observation as topics

Twenty people with very different backgrounds formed five groups to brainstorm ideas. Participants immediately explored the boundaries of the programme with questions such as: is Philab only for university R&D or does it also apply to other parties (companies, institutes, private) R&D? All kinds of ideas and concepts are welcome for evaluation, but they must be able to see a TRL 4-5 to start with, a background in space, and a clear societal impact as a result of the Philab support. 

The difference between ESA BIC and Philab

Another striking question was about the difference between Philab and the ESA Business Incubation Centre. NL Space Campus Commercial Programme Manager Raoul Voeten explains: “Philab looks at ideas and concepts and helps them to reach TRL 8-9 (ready for market). But it is not said that the inventor or developer or researcher (or team thereof) is also the entrepreneur that brings the technology, service or product to market. In Philab, technical and marketing experts prepare a concept for maximum impact in the target market. At ESA BIC, business experts support a start-up to create a business, and can therefore easily follow up on what Philab does. It is a perfect fit.”

Participants also inquired about what ‘impact’ exactly means. Is it only a financial impact? Raoul explains: “High societal impact (for example use of metal fuel technology in terrestrial energy storage scenarios) or inspirational impact (for example students planting a Dutch flag on the moon) are both important evaluation criteria for Philab. The business impact is found in the ESA BIC programme.”

See your wildest dreams go to market

We focused the brainstorms for ideas on the current themes we want to offer in our proposal towards ESA, consisting of Navigation, Laser Communication and Earth Observation (EO). The latter focuses on monitoring emissions and air quality. Navigation was themed high-end Regulated Service-signal applications, where Galileo generates for example a timestamp through which you can read and link all kinds of energy flows. Laser Communication focused on safety, smart production and ground terminals. We asked them: what are your wildest dreams, concerning these topics, that you would like to see go to market? After an exciting brainstorm, their best ideas were presented to the group. 

Some ideas were on how to help TRL 4-7 get access to ESTEC experts. But also: could there be a place to validate data where we combine satellite data with drones? How about improving measurements on asbestos? Can we offer school kids a platform to use the Da Vinci Satellite commercially? Is it possible to detect microplastics? Can we create a deployable space telescope for thermal infrared? Can we make Earth Observation an actual commodity and how can space data further contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals? And this is just a fraction of the ideas. 

The value of Curiosity Sessions

For the future of this series, this is very valuable information. First, because we directly got some concrete ideas. But most of all, we experienced how a Philab could actually work and what kind of support the ideas should get to bring the ideas to market. This was an important session to bring the challenge of creating a successful and valuable Philab proposal to offer the best platform for the commercialisation of the space industry in the Netherlands. 

Curiosity Series in 2023 

In 2023 there will be more sessions hosted with challenges gained from researchers who participated in earlier sessions or from the community. If you have a research challenge that you would like to discuss with a variety of research backgrounds, receive innovative ideas for your research and grow your network, please reach out to our community manager (m.smelter@nlspacecampus.eu) and she will contact you.  


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