The Catalan space race

There is no need, anymore, to go to Silicon Valley to take a career in space: here are settled the inventors of CubeSats and start-ups such as Zero2Infinity, Startlab or a European Space Agency incubator

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he astrophysicist Stephen Hawking stated on more than one occasion that the future of humanity, in the long term, would require “leaving” the Earth. It seems that Hawking’s thinking is getting more and more installed and most of the population can now recognize companies such as the SpaceX aerospace transport funded by Elon Musk with the goal of being able to bring human beings to Mars-, Blue Origin -powered by the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos– or Virgin Galactic -which is part of the Virgin Group conglomerate of the British tycoon Richard Branson-.

In our country there are not such popular companies, but still we can find some examples that are sowing the space race in the territory. The CubeSats, for example, are very small and reasonably cheap satellites to put into orbit, having also great potential. The co-inventor of the CubeSat standard is the Catalan aerospace technology developer Jordi Puig-Suari, one of the founders of Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, although established in California. The first CubeSats were put into orbit in 2003 and the number has grown considerably.

CubeSat Satellite The NBP
CubeSat Satellite. Source: NASA

But neither is it necessary to go to California to find companies devoted to the space race. In Catalonia we can find Zero2Infinity, founded in 2009 and established in Barberà del Vallès, they send polyethylene balloons propelled by helium into the stratosphere with technological devices to be tested before being sent to the space definitively. In addition, they place satellites in orbit at a much lower price than what companies such as NASA or ESA (the European Space Agency) have done until the present moment.

Startlab is also another high-tech company that has been innovating since 2000 in two different areas: space and neuroscience. Starlab Space, in this case, offers technical consultancy and value-added services Earth Observation (EO) to customers from all over Europe and significantly contributes to various technologies and applications of the European Space Agency (ESA) having their headquarters the Tibidabo Avenue of Barcelona.

This is just a couple of examples, since the area of ​​Barcelona and neighbourhoods has more initiatives, among which Pangea Aerospace, located in the Cibernàrium space of Barcelona Activa, a start-up that is working on the manufacture of a Rocket to place nano-satellites in orbit, for example.



Also, at Barcelona Activa, the local development agency of the City Council of Barcelona, ​​and at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) they have been able in the last years to realize this spatial tendency, being both involved at the ESA Business Incubation Center (BIC) Barcelona, ​​the first incubator that the European Space Agency established in Spain (since 2015 there is also one in Getafe, Madrid).

The purpose of this incubator is to facilitate the creation of companies that base their business in the use of space systems or technologies for land applications. Installed at the Baix Llobregat campus of the UPC, specifically in Castelldefels, and managed so far by Barcelona Activa, ESA BIC Barcelona joins the network of eight other platforms distributed in different European countries, such as Holland, Kingdom United, France, Germany, Belgium or Italy. These currently host 90 companies a year and, to date, have facilitated the creation of more than 250 technological start-ups in Europe.

It is clear that there is a rising trend of space companies -and that this tendency will be increasing- among others, thanks to one of the 4 Years From Now (4YFN) campaigns, the entrepreneurs’ fair that takes place during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) from February 25th to 27th of this year. There, together with Zero2Infinity, those who first answer where their start-up will be in four years can touch the stars in #4YFNtouchthestars. Paraphrasing Buzz Lightyear, and so that everyone understands it… “to infinity and beyond!”.