Starting a space business: initiatives that can help you

Space is widely associated with science. Indeed, space and the technology around it imply a lot of research and testing. Public or international organizations such as ESA, NASA or many other national space organisations are important players in the space sector. They launch proper space programs and often have their own satellites. Funded by public they provide the benefits of the space technology to the society. However, the technology behind space highly involves the private sector too. Starting at the ground station and ranging from launch vehicles, satellite launchers to the satellites themselves the space subjetcs are manifold and so is the palette of companies that engage in the space sector. A respectable number of satellites, mostly high resolution satellites such as WorldView, Spot, Radarsat, etc. are even completely privately operated.

One important field of work in earth observation is the exploitation of data produced in space. While private satellite companies use their data themselves, the information of public satellites is accessible to everybody. The Copernicus program of ESA will provide an unprecedented amount of data from space that is free to all of us, once all satellites are launched. The palette of data will cover different radar and optical products generating around 1TB of information each day. The exploitation of this amount and variety of data is far not exhausted yet. In contrast, the ideas of data usages are beginning to be developed. The intention behind this open data policy from ESA is to stimulate new usages of earth observation data within non-space applications that will be beneficial to our everyday lives. In order to facilitate that process, ESA has founded the Business Incubation Centers.


ESA’s Business Incubation Centers (BIC) were initiated by the Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO), which addresses to people that have innovative ideas for using space technologies and space systems in a non-space environment and thereby demonstrating the benefit of the European Space Program to (European) citizens. The scope of the BICs is to support entrepreneurs to turn space-connected business ideas into commercial companies by providing technical expertise and business related support. 12 BICs are spread over Europe (Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, UK, Belgium, France and Sweden)  providing selected entrepreneurs with comprehensive commercial and technical assistance in order to enter the market. – Four additional BICs are planned in Austria, Ireland, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Submissions of business ideas can be sent at any time. Each center has a specific procedure concerning the Call of Proposal and the required Proposal Template to be used. Please, find specific information upon each BIC here.

Act in Space

Beyond the ESA BICs there are other initiatives that aim to support space related business ideas in Europe. The Act in Space contest is a yearly workshop aiming to create business ideas around space technology and space systems. It is organised by the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), ESA and ESA BIC Sud France and was held the second time this year. The setting of the Act in Space event is a weekend, where entrepreneurs, students, developers and any other creative users come together and develop solutions for space challenges proposed by the organizers. Within 24 hours the participants have to come up with commercial ideas for everyday uses of space technologies or space acquired data. In this year’s edition workshops were simultaneously held in 24 cities spread over 12 countries in Europe and Brazil. Over 1400 participants subscribed for the 86 challenges. The winning teams proceeded to the national and international finals that took place in Toulouse in June 2016. Besides the prizes for the winning teams, all realistic projects will receive support via the ESA BICs and partners incubators to foster the emergence of new start-ups. I was offered the possibility to participate at one of the workshops as technical supporter and was impressed by the motivation and spirit of the attendees. Surprisingly the participants not only came from a typical space related background, but were experts in other disciplines (business, law, natural sciences) with a strong interest in space technology. For more information upon Act in Space click here.

Map of ESA's space business

Map of ESA’s BICs in Europe. Source: ESA

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New ancient monument found in Petra, Jordan using satellite images and drones


The lost city of Petra in Jordan, one of the new 7 Wonders of the World also known from being featured in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie, is a majestic ancient place half-built, half-carved into the rock. Who would suppose that this one of the world’s most famous archaeological site still holds hidden secrets waiting to be unveiled with the use of new remote sensing technologies.

According to a study published recently in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, a group of researchers led by Sara Parcak, a National Geographic fellow, and Christopher Tuttle, executive director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, managed to discover a new massive monument at the city of Petra.

In a collaborative project supported by the BBC and Digital Globe, the goal of the researchers was to test new technologies at well-known archeology sites. As many other projects they’ve started with Google Earth Pro to identify potential sites. Google Earth Pro is now free allows teams to download high-resolution imagery, which can be georeferenced. The problem is that this imagery cannot be manipulated like raw satellite data so it’s is visual tool only. Once the sites were identified Archaeologists used high-resolution satellite images from WorldView-1, and WorldView-2 sensors provided by Digital Globe (the cost of these images is between $8 and $24 per km2 with minimum order of 25 km2). WV-1 provides panchromatic (black and white) images with a 0.5 m pixel resolution, and WV-2 has eight data bands with a 1.85 m multispectral pixel resolution.

UAV composite image created by I. LaBianca; S. Parcak overlaid the data on the WV-1 satellite imagery

UAV composite image created by I. LaBianca; S. Parcak overlaid the data on the WV-1 satellite imagery

The researchers applied different remote sensing techniques to analyze the images and they discovered 4 groups of potential findings that could not be seen with Google Earth. Among several smaller sites they identified a huge 56 x 49 meters size monument  that encloses a slightly smaller platform.

The next step was a ground-truthing trip to investigate the features in the field. The field team used maps created from the satellite data containing details about the GPS coordinates of the central point and four corners of each potential site. The field visits proved that something was there but in practise very little information could be gleaned from it. The last part of the process was a UAV fight to obtain aerial photographs. Drones allow to obtain unprecedented resolution levels of up-to 1 cm that allow to map and at the end confirm the new discoveries.

Detail of monumental platform from UAV composite, with architectural details and measurements shown. (Photo by I. LaBianca; graphics by J. Blanzy)

Detail of monumental platform from UAV composite, with architectural details and measurements shown. (Photo by I. LaBianca; graphics by J. Blanzy)

Archaeologists will always need to survey and excavate to confirm their findings, but the new data acquisition tools like satellites and drone-mounted sensors as well as new technologies of analysing the remote sensing data are already revolutionising their work. This project proved that there might be still a lot of  hidden secrets waiting to be unveiled even after two centuries of fieldwork.

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