European SMEs and the Future of (New) Space

European Investment Fund (EIF)
9 min readNov 9, 2023
Europe, New Space, SMEs, deep tech, EIF

What comes to mind when you think of “space?” A vast universe of stars or the latest Hollywood sci-fi thriller? The aerospace industry has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years, with European New Space SMEs at the forefront of small satellite constellations, launch systems and robotics, changing life on earth based on insights from space.

Do you ever have the sneaking suspicion that our days are getting longer or that the moon seems farther away each year? To be honest, neither do we, but scientists tell us that both are in fact true. They also say that our moon is shaped like a lemon; there are stars that we will never be able to see; and Venus spins backwards — the only planet to do so. Space is a weird and wonderful place full of extraordinary phenomena — just don’t ask us to define it.

From ancient Greek stargazers to the first European to leave Earth (Vladimír Remek from the former Czechoslovakia for those of you keeping score), Europe’s long history of space excellence is rooted in an abiding spirit of curiosity and collaboration. During the second half of the twentieth century, these two qualities were nurtured and sustained through pan-European initiatives such as the European Space Agency, but the space industry has experienced a paradigmatic shift in recent years.

New Space, Europe, SMEs, satellites, robots, rockets, data, EIF

Today, the stars above are accessible to a broader range of players, and a significant portion of this transformation in Europe can be attributed to the dynamic involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These agile and innovative companies have disrupted the traditional space industry, ushering forth an era of “New Space.” In the following article, we’ll take a look at this emergent era and some of the European SMEs working throughout the space sector in a variety of capacities to improve life on earth based on insights garnered from the outer limits.

What Is the New Space Economy?

A designation for the commercial space industry or private space sector, the term “New Space” (or “NewSpace”) refers to the emergence of private companies and startups participating in space-related activities. The sector itself has gained significant attention in recent years due to advancements in technology that have lowered the threshold for space accessibility.

Whereas space exploration and satellite launches were predominantly carried out by governments and large aerospace companies, the commercial industry has expanded rapidly, thanks in part to the entrepreneurial vision and innovative technologies of European companies, which have taken the lead when it comes to satellites, earth observation, and navigation.

For example, one of the most important drivers of the New Space economy is the increasing affordability and availability of launch vehicles. Private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX have developed reusable rockets and more cost-effective launch systems, significantly reducing the barriers to entry for smaller players in the industry, ultimately enabling a greater number of companies to enter the space economy in order to pursue various space-related activities.

New Space companies themselves are involved in a wide range of activities, including satellite launches, manufacturing and operating satellites, space tourism, asteroid mining, and space technology development, and these companies seek to leverage technological advances, such as miniaturisation, artificial intelligence (AI), and additive manufacturing (or 3D printing), to drive innovation and revolutionise the space industry.

European SMEs Leading the Satellite Revolution

Satellite spotters might remember the European Space Agency’s ERS-1 Earth observation satellite, a first-of-its-kind remote-sensing satellite first launched in 1991 that has been described as the ancestor of all modern European Earth observation satellites.

But times change — and quickly. Within a matter of decades, European SMEs have positioned themselves at the forefront of the satellite industry. Through pioneering research and development efforts, they have introduced smaller, cost-effective, and versatile satellites that cater to an array of applications.

With the world’s largest multipurpose satellite constellation, Spire provides Earth observing data that has a remarkable range of applications, from maritime, weather and aviation to space services, government and earth intelligence (e.g., surface data, weather patterns, atmospheric monitoring, etc.). Although the company initially set up shop in Luxembourg, it now has offices on three continents — in addition to its unrivalled presence in space.

“Setting up in a country that focusses on the space industry is a huge plus. Unlike other industries, only countries are authorised to operate in space, so we needed to team up with a country that understands the sector, the competition, and can provide an innovative regulatory environment and support for us to achieve our goals. We found that in Luxembourg.” Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire

Spire’s technology can identify, track, and predict the movement of the world’s resources and weather systems, which obviously empowers governments and businesses to make sounder decisions.

“When we started in 2012, nobody believed that this sort of thing could be done.” Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global

Also based on Luxembourg, GOM Space specialises in manufacturing and operating nanosatellites for applications in defence, education, government, and commercial markets, providing an array of services from systems integration and nanosatellite platforms to constellation operations management and miniaturised radio technology.

Finnish microsatellite manufacturer ICEYE aims to address the reliability and timeliness of and access to earth observation data through its ICEYE radar satellite constellation. Using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), ICEYE technology produces fine resolution images for data acquisition from the earth’s surface, and the resulting data is being used for a range of purposes (e.g., maritime domain awareness or tracking illegal deforestation).

Such tech has the potential to revolutionise Earth observation and environmental monitoring, providing for the acquisition of invaluable data for both scientific and commercial purposes.

Forging Technological Frontiers Across Europe

Innovation is the driving force behind European SMEs’ increasingly influential involvement in the space sector. These companies are at the forefront of technological advancements, fostering breakthrough solutions that enhance space exploration capabilities, with their focus spanning various domains, including propulsion systems, robotics, advanced materials, and space debris mitigation.

German firm Isar Aerospace envisions a future in which space flight will shape how we live, work, and travel, and their engineers are working on a launch vehicle that they hope will have a transformative impact on the future of spaceflight. After all, the ability to leverage the many possibilities of space will rely on convenient, reliable, and cost-effective access to the stars. The company is also a launch service provider for small- and medium-sized satellites.

Another German company, RFA, has gained recognition for its contributions to propulsion technologies, working to create more efficient and sustainable low-cost launch services, including their RFA ONE launch vehicle. In a similar vein, the development of their next generation modular Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) targets the accurate and timely orbital deployment of payloads under a variety of missions and conditions.

Enhancing Earth Observation and Remote Sensing

As we’ve already seen, European SMEs are leveraging their expertise in earth observation and remote sensing technologies to monitor, analyse, and better understand our planet based on the collection of significant amounts of data, a process that is crucial for applications such as environmental management, climate change monitoring, and disaster response, among others.

Italy’s e-GEOS, for example, specialises in offering advanced geospatial solutions, managing satellite-based Earth observation data that empowers decision-makers in various sectors. Spanish company Deimos utilises advanced remote sensing technologies that transform Earth observation and environmental monitoring, allowing for the acquisition of data for both scientific and commercial purposes.

Lithuania’s NanoAvionics manufactures high-performance, multi-purpose nanosatellites, which can be used for earth observation, communications, remote sensing, and scientific research, while Dutch company ISISPACE has positioned itself as a leader in the small satellite market, offering solutions for turn-key small satellite missions from the initial launch to operations for in-orbit delivery.

Democratising Access to Space

The European SME landscape also features entrepreneurial space companies dedicated to democratising access to space by revolutionising the launch services market. These forward-thinking companies are developing small satellite launchers that enable affordable access to space for small payloads.

Spain’s PLD Space is making impressive strides with its Miura family of reusable launchers, poised to reduce costs and increase launch flexibility for SMEs and educational institutions. The company’s MIURA 1, for instance, is a suborbital, recoverable launch vehicle, one that has been designed to bring payloads into space and then back again to earth.

Unlike the earliest generation of space exploration, which relied on liquid-propellant rockets that were single-use only, in recent years commercial companies, most notably Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have pioneered the use of re-useable rockets, dramatically decreasing the costs associated with (re)launches.

The ongoing democratisation of space by Europe’s SMEs will include focusing efforts on commercial life (e.g., agriculture and fisheries), infrastructure and urban development, transportation and communication, banking and security, and public health and welfare.

EU SMEs as Catalysts for Space Exploration and Research

By now it should be clear that European SMEs are playing a pivotal role in enabling a myriad of space exploration missions and scientific research endeavours. These companies collaborate with leading institutions such as the European Space Agency (ESA) and other international partners, receiving support from bodies such as the European Investment Fund (EIF), to develop cutting-edge instruments, spacecraft, and technology platforms.

“When it comes to understanding our universe and what’s around us, the better we understand where we live, the better our understanding of where we fit into it.” Julian Cyrus, President of Lunar Outpost.

Despite being founded in the United States, Lunar Outpost established its European roots right here in Luxembourg. The company’s technologies aim to create a sustainable presence in space whilst having a beneficial impact here on Earth, and their activities range from the commercial development of robotics, such as their lunar rover MAPP, to research-based collaboration with NASA and MIT known as MOXIE — the 2020–2023 Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment that investigated and was involved in the production of oxygen on the red planet.

Julian Cyrus, Lunar Outpost’s CEO, has described the company’s lunar rover as having something akin to a catalysing effect.

“The rovers’ primary mission is to carry important payloads on the moon. From facilitating analysis of the lunar soil (regolith), to testing communication infrastructure capabilities, the rovers benefit from autonomous capabilities, mapping the environment around them, taking in information, learning and adapting with machine learning to make decisions on that basis — all in a very harsh environment.”

Their product line also includes the Canary Air Quality and Monitoring System, an IoT system that has collected over 20 Billion unique data points. Such achievements are not only emblematic of the tremendous work being done by European space companies, but they also facilitate ground-breaking discoveries in fields such as planetary research, space weather monitoring, and deep space exploration, thereby showcasing European SMEs’ expertise and capabilities on a global scale.

The Future of European Space Entrepreneurship

The New Space economy represents a paradigm shift in the space industry, one characterised by increased private-sector involvement, technological innovation, and a broader range of commercial applications. This rapidly evolving sector holds immense potential for scientific advancements and economic growth as well as the overall expansion of humanity’s presence beyond the confines of our planet.

European entrepreneurs have emerged as pioneers within the space industry, actively shaping the future of space exploration through their commitment to innovation and collaboration, which is underpinned by a demonstrable sense of social awareness. By fostering an ecosystem that encourages entrepreneurship and technical creativity along with social responsibility, these SMEs have unlocked new realms of possibility for humanity’s exploration of space.

Acknowledging this paradigm shift and the importance of the space industry for, well, close to everything we do here on earth, the EU dedicated a modest €100m in the form of a pilot project for investments into the venture capital industry dedicated specifically to New Space. Through taking cornerstone positions in VC funds, this has generated more than €300m in investments into the European New Space industry. On the back of this demand, the EU has now upped its game, directing more than €600m in this direction, aiming to mobilise more than €1.5bn in the next few years.

As we look to the future, the continued growth and impact of EU space SMEs promise to shape the trajectory of the space industry, driving progress and inspiring future generations to push the boundaries of what is possible for humanity.



European Investment Fund (EIF)

Europe's leading provider of risk financing for SMEs. Cornerstone investor in VC and PE funds. Making debt financing more affordable for entrepreneurs. @EIF_EU