STORY INLINE POST
By night from space, it is possible to identify two places on Earth: Las Vegas for its flashy casinos and Belgium for its illuminated highways. That’s not a reason to develop a strong aerospace industry. Neither is the fact that the Hergé comic Les Aventures de Tintin “Objectif Lune” was published in Belgium in 1950, 19 years before Neil Amstrong first stepped on the moon (although this might have inspired some vocations).
So, what is behind the space ecosystem in Wallonia that has allowed it to become one (including aerospace) of the six major industries in the Southern Region of Belgium?
History, as always, plays a part. Wallonia was the cradle of the industrial revolution in Europe. Metallurgy was the main industry until it was recently overcome by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Many companies had been shaped to provide the technologies and the materials that the big metal producers needed. At the turn of the last century, these subcontractors felt the need for diversification and the growing aerospace industry filled that need.
The Walloon authorities have fostered an aerospace industry, supporting a cluster of SMEs and four major players: SABCA, Thales, Safran Aero Boosters y SONACA. The latter two also have activities in Mexico (Queretaro and Mexicali).
We could spend a great deal of time explaining the richness of the private sector and how innovative it has been with the support of the Walloon/Belgian authorities (direct shareholders of Sonaca and SABCA), but let’s focus on structural initiatives in the space industry.
Wallonia is only 16,844km2, barely the size of the state of Hidalgo, but a territorial approach has taken place to centralize some of the research centers, including a European center of operations, and a specialized industrial park in the Belgian province of Luxembourg (not to be confused with country). Galaxia is an industrial park that focuses on the space sector and the European Space Agency (ESA) is also based in the same province with an excellence center renowned in the sectors of security and defense. The European Commission has chosen the Galaxia site as an Earth-grounded platform for the maintenance of the Galileo constellation (a group of satellites). A video says more than a thousand words: Le Centre ILS Galileo s’implante à Galaxia - YouTube
Less than 100km away, in the Province of Liege, you can find the Liege Space Center, the foremost institute for the technological research and testing of space instrumentation. CSL is the applied research center of Liège Université, specializing in the design, development, integration, qualification, and calibration of space instruments: .
Not far from the CSL, in the economic pool of companies surrounding the University of Liege, you can also find the AMOS company . They offer optical, mechanical and observation solutions using leading-edge technologies, for astronomy, space, science, and industry. AMOS is a spin-off from the University of Liege and a good example of a commercial success from which technologies were developed thanks to public funding and e support from the ecosystem in Wallonia. A recent success story in India reinforces the viability of the method.
The space community in Wallonia is in orbit around the aerospace competitiveness pole of Wallonia, Skywin. Over the last 20 years, the Walloon space sector has more than tripled its turnover (€350 million (US$378 million)) and its number of stakeholders: 48 companies, research centers and academies from the sector are now members of Skywin. It is an important part of the Belgian sector, which occupies fifth place in terms of investments in space research in Europe.
You can find on their website all their members and the future research projects they are launching.
Last but not least, the largest satellite manufacturing plant in Europe is being built in Wallonia, with a capacity of 500 satellites per year.
The space industry is capital intensive. But when asked, the authorities are convinced about the high return of investment. Each year from 2023 to 2027, the federal government of Belgium plans to invest €325 million (US$351 million) in the sector, most of it being a contribution to the European Space Agency. According to Secretary of State Thomas Dermine, each euro invested has a return of 3.35 euros. One of the reasons is, of course, the fact that the ESA has an important presence in Wallonia.
To sum up, history, presence of foreign investors, public support, research centers and specialized universities all participate in the success of the sector in Wallonia. They are all interdependent and a strong cluster, such as Skywin, can help articulate the different actors and the different needs.
For more information about the space industry in Wallonia, do not hesitate to reach out to our commercial office in Mexico City:
+52 56 25 86 86 86