Space is increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives, with telecommunications, navigation and environmental observation being prominent examples. Research and innovation in the space sector is developing at a rapid pace. Miniaturisation, better access to space and opportunities offered by an increasingly digitalised world have significantly transformed the space sector in recent years. Now, driven by global competition between countries and their private sectors, these advances continue unabated. The figures are impressive: in 2021 alone, nearly 150 launches took place worldwide, resulting in the placement of around 1,800 satellites (including nearly 1,700 'smallsats' weighing <500 kg) in orbit. These satellites offer significant growth potential for the space economy. For one thing, they drive the production and procurement of technologies. At the same time, they open the way for new business models focussing on data and the use of data.
How does Switzerland stack up against the competition? With around 250 institutional players, which include higher education institutions and specialised research institutes as well as small-, medium, and large-sized companies, Switzerland is active in a number of different fields. It stands out as a location for highly specialised research and industrial output where quality and innovation are key factors. Switzerland is therefore well positioned for sustained growth in the space sector. It can build on its previous achievements, e.g. the CHEOPS mission to study exoplanets, and can rely on a vibrant private sector, e.g. the company Swissto12', which aims to create new niches in the telecommunications market with 3D-printed antennas, or 'Clearspace', whose know-how and technology the European Space Agency (ESA) intends to use to eliminate debris in space over the long term.
The European Space Agency is vital for Switzerland and its stakeholders, who pursue their research and development activities largely within the framework of ESA activities and programmes. At the same time, the ESA recognises Switzerland's accomplishments and potential in the space sector. Emblematic of this is the signing of the Swiss-ESA cooperation agreement to establish the European Space Deep-Tech Innovation Centre (ESDI) at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). Materials research, data management and processing, quantum technologies and sustainable space ecosystems are among the initial topics to be explored in PSI platforms. Without a doubt, the challenges associated with these topics are just as great as the opportunities and prospects. The ESDI will coordinate and facilitate projects with a network of university and industrial partners both from Switzerland and ESA member states.
The Federal Council has issued various mandates to ensure that Switzerland will be prepared for developments in the space sector at both national and international level. SERI is currently preparing a preliminary draft for a National Space Act. The first step in this process will be to update the Swiss Space Policy adopted back in 2008. A wide variety of aspects need to be taken into account: the implementation of national and international programmes, the growing impact of the space sector on the economy, society and security policy as well as environmental and sustainability aspects of space activities. The range of topics to be addressed is so broad that success can only be achieved through interdepartmental cooperation.
State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation