Space Research and Technology: Establishment of a European Space Deep-Tech Innovation Centre ESDI in Villigen (AG)

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On 17 May 2022, State Secretary Martina Hirayama and Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) signed a Memorandum of Cooperation between Switzerland and the ESA establishing a joint Centre of Excellence at the Paul-Scherrer Institute (PSI).

This Centre, named ESDI for European Space Deep-Tech Innovation aims at closing the gap between academic research and economic developments in space. It is intended to structure the ESDI around thematic platforms involving partners inside and outside Switzerland. The centre’s activity will focus on identifying challenges resulting from ESA-s own needs or from the space community at large. Material research, data management and processing, quantum technologies, as well as sustainable space ecosystem are planned to be among the first thematic platforms to be established to address these challenges. The ESDI will play a coordinating role and facilitate projects by leveraging existing infrastructures with a network of partners in universities and industry across Europe.

At the occasion of the signing ceremony, State Secretary Hirayama recalled in her intervention that the support of ESA and its Member States for the ESDI is a recognition of Switzerland as a reliable and competitive partner. At the same time, the establishment of the ESDI is seen as an encouragement for Switzerland to engage even more strongly in space, and to contribute its share in the efforts to rise to and overcome the many challenges Europe faces.

The signature event at the PSI represents the starting point to elaborate an in-depth implementation concept for the ESDI, with the objective to put in place the necessary ESA programmatic framework at the upcoming ESA Council at ministerial level in November 2022. This in turn will make it possible to engage in the first projects in 2023. During the ceremony, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher emphasised that the mix of infrastructures and competences within the ETH Domain have been considered by ESA to be of particular interest for space and the worldwide unique large-scale infrastructures at PSI make it an ideal place to establish the ESDI.

Switzerland is a founding member of ESA and contributes CHF 190 million to its programmes and activities every year. Scientific excellence and technical innovation in the space sector at national level, as well as the close collaboration between research institutes and industry, are important factors for economic growth. Switzerland makes a significant contribution to European space flight through its membership of ESA and participation in EU programmes. Switzerland is internationally competitive in the space sector and adds unique contributions.