Pedro Lacerda Joins NL Space Campus as Scientific Programme Coordinator

Pedro Lacerda, an experienced astrophysicist with an interest in innovation and technology, has recently joined NL Space Campus as the Scientific Programme Coordinator. With a strong background in astrophysics research and an appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration, Pedro brings a unique perspective to the space industry. Pedro has already made a mark in space, with an asteroid named after him. Find out what Pedro is working on and how you can benefit.  

The Nature of Innovation

When asked about his transition from academia to innovation management and technology transfer, Pedro offers a refreshing viewpoint. ”For me personally there is no transition “from academia”, in the sense that I will always be concerned with the pursuit of knowledge through research and education, which is academia. But I have always been interested in people and activities that are right up against the immediate problems faced by society. There is a lot of creativity in such activities, and I like creative people. There is also no transition “to management” because I am hopeless at it. Management reminds me of bureaucracy, meetings, reports, boards, and committees, for the sake of those things alone. If we take inspiration from the natural world (and we should because we, are it) there’s no real management to be done. There is just a constant exploration of what is possible, through mutation and innovation, and a natural selection of the best “ideas”. As part of the natural world, we have the same inner drive to iteratively explore what is possible, and have understood that adding honesty, transparency, and trust (nature also has no hidden agendas) helps us select the best ideas for the common good. If we want to call this management, then sure! Given my background in astrophysics research it was more likely to get involved in activities that have to do with space. Even though I often joke that the “space” that the industry talks about is what I call the onion skin of our planet, it is still a great field to look for solutions and possibilities. It helps consider the earth and people and as whole, which is important to make the parts contribute to the whole and vice-versa. ” 

Asteroid (10694) Lacerda: A Symbol of Recognition

Pedro modestly shares the story about the asteroid named after him. Discovered in 1981 by Bobby Bus at Siding Spring, the asteroid (10694) Lacerda orbits the Sun at a distance of 414 million kilometres, completing an orbit every 4.6 years. Pedro explains,’ Professional astronomers that have been around for a while have their names proposed as a sort of career award. That is how my name ended up on an asteroid in 2017 during the Asteroids, Comets and Meteors Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay”. Pedro emphasises that there are about 1.25 million main-belt asteroids are known and only about 25000 of those have been named, so there is a lot of room. The name must be proposed by the discoverers of the asteroid and goes through an approval process by a group of people within the International Astronomical Union. 

Joining NL Space Campus

Looking back on his path to NL Space Campus, Pedro recalls meeting Parya Pasha and Maaike Smelter during an ESA gathering, which marked the beginning of his involvement. As he made plans to return to the Netherlands, conversations unfolded regarding his potential role at NL Space Campus, primarily focusing on research and educational initiatives. Talking about the role of Pedro at the NL Space Campus, he says the following: ”We are setting up a new lab that brings together academia, research centres, national space centres, industry and private investors to explore new ideas in the space domain with a strong potential for commercialisation. My main task will be to interface with research teams and connect them to impactful commercial outlets.” 

Insights on ESA Technology Broker Networks: comparing Portugal and The Netherlands

As former ESA Technology Broker for Portugal, Pedro shares his vision of the challenges and opportunities in technology transfer and brokerage: ”Technology transfer and brokerage are extremely challenging. It requires seeing beyond fixed mindsets and convincing busy stakeholders that there may be better approaches. Progress can come as we move away from the constraints of the Industrial Revolution”. 

NL Space Campus and SBIC Noordwijk jointly operate ESA Technology Broker for the Netherlands. Pedro shared his opinion, what could these two countries learn from each other within ESA Technology Broker Network: ”Portugal and the Netherlands are both small countries facing the ocean, so there are parallels to be made. In terms of technological innovation, Portugal has more to learn from the Netherlands than vice-versa. Portugal has a longer coastline and a strong tradition of ocean-related industries, including fishing, aquaculture, and maritime transportation. The Netherlands has great expertise in offshore wind energy and in maritime logistics and port management. Portugal could learn from the Netherlands’ experience in these areas to enhance its maritime sector, improve port infrastructure, and develop renewable energy projects offshore. Agriculture is another sector in which the Netherlands is strong, with its advanced agricultural practices, including vertical farming, greenhouse technology, and precision agriculture. The Netherlands may be able to learn from Portugal in sectors such as tourism and dealing with a fast-ageing population.” 

Learn more about ESA Technology Broker in the Netherlands 

Vision for the Future of NL Space Campus 

Envisioning the future of NL Space Campus, Pedro shares: ”The more I know about NL Space Campus the more I like it. It is a kind of ambitious thread that weaves together the full chain of knowledge and applications relating to space.” He appreciates the campus’s inclusive approach, which encourages interactions among people from different backgrounds and fields of expertise:  ”It is very broad, starting from the education layer with efforts to stimulate and train school and university students to think about the role of the space sector in our common future, all the way to the creation of opportunities for traditional industries to connect to space technologies and know-how which they can turn into wonderful innovations. There is a sense of freedom to do and help others achieve good and beautiful things. The plans for the campus itself are fantastic, very much aimed at increasing the cross-section between people with different backgrounds and expertise so to act as an idea multiplier. On any given day, I see myself in the lab with other researchers puzzling about a new algorithm for scheduling train timetables, then walking to another building to attend an inspiring talk by a visiting innovator about a new coating polymer that collects solar energy twice as efficiently as current solar panels, then to go for lunch with an entrepreneur in need, whom I will connect to the right research team during the afternoon. Lastly, I will attend an event for schools where kids can interact with amazing tools and the smart people that made them, and then ask those typical disarming questions that may inspire new research. How cool is that? ” 

Talk to Pedro

You can contact Pedro for conversations about science and research and their societal roles. He enjoys discussing mathematics, music, language, food, culture, and history.  

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