On the 9th of March 2022, ESA Space Solutions Portugal organized “3, 2, 1, Ignition! Lift-off to Space Solutions Business”, an event for University students to promote space curiosity, entrepreneurship, innovation spirit, communication, teamwork, problem-solving and networking skills. There were a total of 25 students participating, belonging to two different teams: Fenix Rocket and STRATOSPOLCA, both with great focus on space technologies, solutions, and awareness.
The event had two main parts: in the morning, a visit to IPN facilities and several talks and, in the afternoon, a space entrepreneurship workshop. At the start of the event, the participants visited the IPN Incubator and learned about the services, facilities, and R&D laboratories. This visit was followed by a set of talks from ESA Space Solutions Portugal, the Fenix Rocket team, the STRATOSPOLCA team, and Spaceway – a space startup incubated at IPN Incubator and participating in the ESA BIC Portugal incubation programme.
Fenix Rocket is a team of 40 university students from the University of Coimbra and the University of Beira Interior, which belong to the courses of Aeronautical Engineering, Physics Engineering, Biology, and Medicine. This group was created to participate in EuRoC 2022 – European Rocketry Challenge promoted by Portugal Space and the Municipality of Ponte de Sor. They are developing and building a rocket and its fuel, to participate in the 3000-meter launch category of this competition. The Fenix Rocket team is involved in other projects such as writing papers. One of their most recent was entitled “How to manage a rocketry student project while mitigating COVID-19” and will be presented at the 4th SSEA – Symposium on Space Education Activities organized by ESA.
Figure 1 – Fenix Rocket team talking about their rocket
STRATOSPOLCA (STRATOSpheric POLarimetry with Cadmium Telluride Array) is a team of students from the University of Coimbra who participated in the BEXUS/REXUS programme (Balloon Experiments for University Students) from ESA. This programme allows university students to conduct scientific and technological experiments in research of balloons. On the 29th of September 2021, the BEXUS 31 helium balloon took flight with the STRATOSPOLCA experiment, from the Esrange Space Center near Kiruna, Sweden, reaching 27.7 km of altitude during the 4-hour journey. This allowed the STRATOSPOLCA team to measure the background radiation at gamma-ray wavelengths as a function of altitude and multiplicity of events, ensuring that future experiments and simulations will have better statistics and analyses.
Figure 2 – STRATOSPOLCA team presenting their experiment
Spaceway is an incubated startup from the ESA BIC Portugal incubation programme. They are developing UNIoT: a self-sustaining edge device with satellite connectivity that enables affordable, secure, and private IoT communications anywhere. The founder of Spaceway, Jorge Monteiro, gave a presentation about his career and the path he took to become a startup founder and an entrepreneur. He talked about his academic background as well as his professional career, giving a very enlightened perspective about entrepreneurship, startups, and space technologies.
Figure 3 – Jorge Monteiro, from Spaceway, explaining his academic and profissional careers
During the afternoon it was promoted a hands-on space entrepreneurship workshop where the participants were divided into 5 smaller groups; it was presented an ESA space technology and the participants were challenged to develop a business idea of a commercial application on Earth; in the end, each group had to pitch their business idea in front of a jury from IPN and IPN Incubator staff. In the aftermath of the event, one of the participants stated: “I loved the experience of developing an idea related to the space industry in such a short amount of time. I’ve learnt so much about the space industry and entrepreneurship today. A memorable experience!”
Jorge Pimenta, the Coordinator of ESA Space Solutions Portugal and IPN’s Innovation Director, stresses the importance of this kind of events, especially to create awareness and generate leads: “Student engagement is critical for fostering new business ideas. This workshop is a great example of how amazing solutions can sprout from ideation exercises and shared challenges!”
ESA Space Solutions Portugal, present at IPN, was the first among 22 other European ESA centres to have the three areas promoting downstream businesses: ESA Business Incubation Centre, ESA Technology Broker Network and ESA Business Applications Ambassadors. ESA BIC Portugal has already incubated a total of 44 startups and is currently incubating 16 startups.