Earlier this month, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation Silvio Schembri announced the creation of Malta’s National Space Fund. Supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) is seeking public, private, research and academic entities to apply for grants before the July 2nd deadline. Funding will operate between 2018 and 2022, providing a total of two million euros to selected applicants.
The fund is the first of its kind on the island, and targets projects focused in the downstream Earth Observation (EO) sector. Schembri hopes it will boost the nation’s fledgling space industry as part of a greater shift toward a knowledge economy.
Shifting to a Knowledge Economy
Of the many benefits thr fund will offer the island nation, an undoubted economic boost is near the top of the list. During his announcement, Secretary Schembri noted that the fund is a “modest start” to capacity building in Malta’s space sector. It supports the competitiveness of Maltese industry within a new economic activity, stimulating national innovation while fostering international cooperation.
Malta’s National Space Fund also supports portfolio diversification and the creation of high-quality jobs in the country. That growth ultimately translates to prosperity for Maltese citizens. This aligns with MCST’s National Space Policy, which states a focus on space applications to everyday life and benefits to the average citizen.
Sights Set on Satellite Data
MCST is specifically looking for applicants that process and exploit data collected through EO satellites. Satellite imagery is a valuable tool for making informed decisions about land use, transport infrastructure, migration, environmental protection and crisis response. These grants can help organisations explore answers to the nation’s current and future challenges.
The fund also hopes to encourage commercial efforts that capitalise on EO data, especially in the realm of telecommunications and high-tech engineering. These have been goals of the Malta Space Programme since its launch. Since the EU’s Copernicus is a leading provider of free and open earth observation data around the world, satellite imagery is a smart space for Malta to enter. The raw information is there; it just needs to be applied effectively for the end user.
Malta in Space
This latest boost to space exploration will help EU member states stay competitive with countries like Russia and America, that have long had considerably larger space exploration budgets. It also aligns with current EU space policy, which focuses on market uptake of space data and services by both public and private sectors. In fact, EO efforts account for the largest chunk of the European Space Agency’s budget at 26%.
Discussions with the ESA started at the Maltese Embassy in Paris in 2004, when the MCST was appointed as official counterpart. Ever since, the organisation has handled all space affairs for the country – including relations with foreign entities. In February 2012, the MCST signed a cooperation agreement with the ESA to foster opportunities for Maltese students and researchers and encourage collaboration amongst other European nations. It also grants access to the ESA’s state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
MCST signed a similar agreement specifically with the French space agency, Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales, in 2017. Malta also collaborates with Italy’s national space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, and the University of Bologna. These relationships have proven very effective in recent years, like when China’s Tiangong-1 space station re-entered Earth uncontrolled with the help of Maltese-developed technology.
Promising Future Prospects
Malta is not yet an official ESA member, but this new space fund and resulting developments could help them get there. Becoming a member could build political bridges at both the national and international level.
Space is a very horizontal subject, with potential to bolster a multitude of sectors. Just look at computer microchips and satellite television. Conducting this research within Malta could bring the nation to the forefront of highly competitive markets, ranging from biotech and health to telecommunications and environmental efforts.
Shortly after the fund’s allocation, MCST will begin a Space Education Programme to educate the nation’s youth about space and satellite technology. By fostering interest in a younger generation, the council hopes the fund will promote space innovation well into the future.