European Space Agency and the Open Sky Technologies Fund: "Space technologies for terrestrial applications"
– An Interview with Dr. Bernd Geiger
(University Journal, June 2010)
June 18, 2010
In March 2010, together with the European Space Agency (ESA), Triangle created OSTF - Open Sky Technologies Fund which will invest a target volume of €100 million in "space technologies".
Mr. Geiger, what is Triangle up to – do you intend to build rockets?
We’re not building any rockets, and no satellites either. But we are utilizing the technologies for space exploration to design new products for applications here on earth.
So why “space,” specifically?
Sending something into space has two serious consequences: 1) the environmental conditions out there are the most extreme that anyone can even imagine, vacuum, the lowest temperatures, high-energy particles and radiation that constantly bombard spacecraft and 2) once they’re in the outer space, repairs are ridiculously expensive.
Because of these challenges, completely new technologies have to be developed that simply did not exist before. The budgets for this development are huge – nearly €4 billion a year – and the best scientists and developers in Europe work for ESA in research clusters and high-tech firms to implement the diverse space programs. The bottom line is that we have here the biggest and highest-performing development center in Europe!
Considering the huge amounts that have to be raised to finance space programs, will your fund’s volume be enough?
Keep in mind that we are operating on a different level – the space technologies have already been researched and are fully developed. Now they essentially have to be transformed into products that can be used on earth and will find buyers. That is no different from other start-ups, except that we have a better starting position.
What products are being envisaged that are built on the basis of space technologies?
There are already a few success stories. The best known by far is computer tomography, also known as CAT Scan (or CT for short). The underlying algorithms for it came from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Another example is miniaturized gas sensors, an array of which are arranged to utilize just the right angle for re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. Down here they are used to determine the composition of compressed air for patients in intensive care or for elite athletes.
But even the use of satellite signals offers great potential. One of Triangle’s start-up companies, iOpener, uses a high-definition satellite positioning signal with data from speed sensors in a highly compact measuring box that can be built into Formula 1 race cars, for example. The data from many of these measuring boxes is compiled centrally during a race, and “virtualized” through a server, that is, fed into a computer game, allowing millions of online gamers to drive in the race in real time.
Is the Fund open only to already existing companies or ones that generate revenue?
Just the opposite – we help start up the companies and build them. Not because we have too much time on our hands, but because it makes good sense to do everything correctly from the very beginning, before company founders have to try out various things. We sort of have the blueprint for “mini-Google” in our hands and can begin immediately.
What does Triangle do to help make the start-ups successful?
Our main contributions are: a) a thoroughly professional company setup, b) teams comprised of the best people we can find, c) a broad network ranging over the various global markets to identify quickly the first customers, who might be located anywhere in the world.
Of the many European VCs, why was Triangle selected to manage the OSTF Fund?
Many VCs don’t actually participate in early phase company development even if their websites say they do. Then typically the reasons for refusal given are: too early, first show that you can make a turnover, etc. Even technology investments attract only the very fewest investors. But space technologies aren’t a social network – they require somewhat greater understanding than just copying Facebook does. Since 1997, Triangle has been doing nothing but creating start-ups in the technology sector from university and research spin-offs. That fairly prominent distinction makes us uniquely qualified throughout Europe.