Technology transfer initiative to boost space industry

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A new initiative led by the European Science Foundation aims to identify how fast evolving fields such as photonics, nanotechnology, nuclear propulsion and robotics can benefit the space sector.

The initiative known as TECHBREAK (TECHnology BREAKthroughs for scientific progress) was launched at the beginning of a two-day conference in Brussels today.

Dr Alberto Tobias from the European Space Agency (ESA) said: ‘Space shares the technology and industrial base with other sectors and open innovation is the rule. In some domains technology advances faster in terrestrial sectors and if space enters the game, it can become a lead user. Bringing the two domains together offers many benefits: better products and lower costs for space; and an increased innovation for terrestrial industries, driven by space research.’

Over the last few decades, space research has tended to be cautious about using not yet fully proven technology. Feasibility and level of maturity are key criteria for selection of ESA missions, which sometimes leads science teams to rely on gradual technological innovation in their mission proposals.

This is why ESA says that in a rapidly developing field, it can be faced with dealing with obsolete technology, sacrificing competitiveness and leadership.

TECHBREAK’s backers say their initiative will combine a forward view of space sciences with the forward view of technology coming from non-space areas. It will use a classification of non-space disciplines under the broad headings of ‘Key Enabling Technologies’ that were identified in 2009 by the European Commission as being likely to be the driving forces behind future European developments.

During the launching conference in Brussels, 29-30 November, participants will be asked to present the different problems, their work, goals and limitations, and brainstorm and answer related targeted discussions.

Participants will then attempt to match key enabling technologies from both space and non-space and identify gaps. This will help them define whether further specialised workshops are needed to support this activity.