The importance of technological developments for space exploration
Space exploration uses the most sophisticated technologies and continuously expands the boundaries of what is currently possible.
Satellites and on-board instruments are expected to function flawlessly, often over a period of several years. For obvious reasons, repairs or maintenance in orbit are not possible. Satellites and instruments must be able to resist extreme vibrations during take-off. Once in orbit, they also need to withstand cosmic radiation and very strong variations in temperature. In addition to these requirements, they must be as light and as small as possible so that they may be put into orbit more easily.
The scientific instruments installed on satellites often use innovative observation methods and pioneering technologies. In order to match the above-mentioned specifications and enable the European space industry to remain competitive, the European Space Agency (ESA) has established long-term technology programmes to support research and development activities.
The constant development and standardisation of innovative technologies form the basis for long-term technological follow-up activities. The SERI's Swiss Space Office supports the drivers of technological development, enabling them to acquire and preserve the competencies needed to firmly establish themselves in a very competitive environment. Innovative technologies bring great added value when they make the transition from new to standardised technology.
It is not rare for companies or research institutes to apply competencies developed in the space sector to other fields. Referred to as "spin-off" or "technology transfer" operations, they often lead to the creation of new companies. In Switzerland, there have been several cases of successful technology transfer. One example is the Vibro-Meter SA company. After gaining considerable know-how developing high-performance sensors for rocket engines and structures in space, the company now builds sensors to monitor aircraft turbines and structures.
Main technological priorities for Switzerland
In line with its space policy, Switzerland also pursues a niche strategy when it comes to technological development. It seeks to achieve - or defend and consolidate - a leading international position in specific sectors. From this perspective, Switzerland has established five technological priorities:
- "Intelligent" and lightweight high-precision mechanisms and structures based on micro and nanotechnologies and built from innovative materials;
- Atomic clocks;
- Electro-optical transmission systems (laser, fibre optics) to transfer data and perform measurements;
- Computerised, electronic, mechanical and miniaturised optical equipment for high-precision instruments used mainly for scientific and Earth observation missions;
Development of new technologies for applications required by users in the fields of Earth observation, satellite navigation and telecommunications.