CHEOPS space telescope ready for launch

“Switzerland's reputation for excellence is recognised in the space industry.”

Renato Krpoun, SERI
Head of Swiss Space Office
Photo: Beatrice Devènes

Led by the University of Bern, CHEOPS is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Switzerland. The aim is to study planets outside our solar system. After several years of preparatory work, the launch into space is scheduled to take place in December. “We are delighted that CHEOPS has given Switzerland the opportunity to lead an ESA mission for the first time”, states Renato Krpoun.

How important is the CHEOPS mission for Swiss space activities?
Renato Krpoun: The University of Bern's project was selected and implemented in cooperation with ESA. CHEOPS is in itself a success story for ESA, for the European space industry and, as you point out, for Switzerland in particular at various levels. The mission brings together many stakeholders from the Swiss space sector, including universities, large companies and SMEs. Led by the University of Bern, this achievement was the result of a combination of scientific and technological excellence, large-scale international project management, intensive cooperation between the academic and industrial worlds. The project demonstrated that Swiss stakeholders were able to fill an existing gap in the sector: that of planning a mission with a satellite like CHEOPS within just a few years.

How would you describe Swiss research and innovation activities in the field of aerospace?
Switzerland has been involved in space activities for over 50 years and has developed areas of excellence, which are also recognised by major space agencies such as ESA, NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russian Federation). Switzerland is a highly valued partner, as shown by recent successes, including the Mars camera CASSiS and SEIS, a seismometer used to measure quakes on Mars. Composed of different entities, Swiss tier-one universities, universities of applied sciences, SMEs and large companies, the Swiss space sector possesses a wide range of diversified and complementary expertise that, when combined, can lead to success. CHEOPS illustrates this perfectly and even goes beyond this: the project not only brings together actors already within the sector, but also others from outside whose skills are also needed.

The CHEOPS telescope in the University of Bern’s clean room
Photo: Thomas Beck / University of Bern

What challenges is Swiss research and innovation likely to face in the coming years?
There are always challenges because this is a very competitive sector that pushes the limits of our knowledge and technologies and where quality is paramount. Switzerland's reputation for excellence is also recognised in the space sector and our stakeholders continue in this direction, transforming challenges into opportunities. The fast pace at which Swiss skills are incorporated into the network and of technology transfer reflects the increasing number of new players, and therefore of competitors in this sector. There is a need to change the traditional way in which entrepreneurship evolves. Space data is essential for the global digital infrastructure and our stakeholders need to be more agile. A global challenge that unfortunately also affects Switzerland is the lack of young people in STEM subjects even though space exploration and scientific research remain as fascinating as ever.

What support does SERI give to Swiss stakeholders in the space sector?
Switzerland's participation in ESA is our most important means of ensuring that our stakeholders have access to international cooperation initiatives. SERI actively supports the Swiss space community within the framework of ESA and our bilateral relations! We defend Switzerland's interests within ESA, in line with our areas of excellence and in response to various developments. We are also involved in bilateral scientific and technological missions with other countries, on the sidelines of ESA activities. Our work within the ERI system is based on an excellent foundation of training, research promotion and industrial innovation. We also encourage interaction and the transfer of scientific and technological expertise. SERI ensures that the general conditions are optimal and that stakeholders are able to seize opportunities.

What experiences have you had with the PRODEX programme?
ESA’s PRODEX programme (PROgramme de Développement d'EXpériences scientifiques) is intended to provide participating countries with ESA expertise in project management and technology for the purpose of developing scientific instruments. Switzerland launched PRODEX about 30 years ago with the aim of transferring knowledge between universities and industry. PRODEX also sets the stage for the development of advanced space technologies for common applications. The PRODEX programme has given rise to a wide range of different Swiss scientific contributions, illustrating the know-how acquired in the process. We ensure that this know-how, which is an additional asset for our research and innovation landscape, continues to evolve.