Redazione Open Innovation
The aerospace sector is considered by many as a relevant asset for the innovative development of global economy. And this is not only due to the long tradition of research and innovation in this field, but also and most of all due to the potential of industrial applications that emerge from these innovations (Harvard Business Review, The commercial space age is here, February 2021).
Aerospace: an industry that opens up new markets
This industry, in fact, traditionally managed by government bodies also due to the significant investments necessary in terms of frontier research, today is increasingly opening up opportunities to companies and private initiatives, which work on the one hand on products and services related to space exploration missions, on the other hand, to the applications that arise from these technologies to support our daily life.
Even though the sector is innovation-driven, it's structured into three reference areas:
- the upstream, which includes launchers, launch services, manufacturing of components for satellites and other aircraft;
- the midstream, which, on the other hand, relates to infrastructures and ground management;
- the downstream, that includes all the potential and the varied fields of application called space-based, that add value to our daily life. Consider, by way of example, the processing and enhancement of data for numerous uses, from the prediction of catastrophic risks, to agriculture, to logistics, to name a few.
A sector has therefore gradually emerged that already in 2019 - as highlighted in the aforementioned Harvard Business Review article - reached an added value of over 360 billion dollars, with evident growth prospects considering the possibilities that these technologies have to fertilize numerous sectors and generate new business models and competitive advantages.
The positioning of Italy and Lombardy
The Italian space industry has a history and tradition which began a long time ago, as early as the 1960s, starting with university research. Today Italy is the third contributor of the European Space Agency, after France and Germany. The ecosystem - made up of research centres, large companies, technological startups and scale ups, positions Italy as the fourth European power and the eighth world power in terms of the aerospace industry (ICE, Italian Space Industry, 2021).
This industry is then organised into clusters, centres of competence, organisations, i.e. coordination tools, to seek complementarity - of production and skills - existing both in geographic proximity networks, but also in long networks.
In a similar ecosystem such as the Italian one, Lombardy certainly occupies one of the first positions among research, large companies and startups, which preside over both the typically upstream and midstream areas, but also the downstream ones, reaching over 16 thousand professionals in the sector. A cutting-edge position that is consolidated and developed through the Lombardy Aerospace Cluster.
Enhancing the cross-industry potential of the Space Economy, the Smart Specialization Strategy 2021-2027 of the Lombardy Region invests in various applications of the aerospace industry that it deems strategic, such as those related to connectivity through satellite telecommunications, those relating to the monitoring and enhancement of potential of data (as mentioned before for the prevention of catastrophe risks, rather than to support smart cities), up to the development of increasingly eco-sustainable aerospace factories.
A set of priorities that are absolutely synergistic with the investments envisaged by the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.
The acceleration offered by the RRP
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan provides investments in the space economy for almost 1.5 billion euros through the Component 2 of the Mission 1.
In addition to these, the National Plan for investments complementary to the RRP defines an increase in funding for the space economy for additional 800 million euros spread over the next 5 years (Law 1 July 2021, no.101).
These investments, according to the lines defined by the RRP, can be exploited in various technological and application areas, such as those summarised below.
- Earth observation. The goal is to improve forecasting capabilities and enable applications aimed at risk prevention. More generally, useful ways to support the management of future digitised companies can be hypothesised, through the development of space-based structures and services, which allow the collection and enhancement of data in real time.
- Space Factory. In the space upstream sector, in this case, the intent is to develop increasingly intelligent factories. On the one hand, through digitisation, the increase in the use of rapid prototyping, the use of virtual reality, etc. On the other hand, by responding promptly to the new frontiers of sustainability, through green designs to define future generations of space applications.
- Satellite telecommunications. The intent is to allow, through the terrestrial and satellite infrastructure, full coverage of communications throughout the country, ensuring their robustness and resilience, and overseeing their sustainability through the enhancement of infrastructures that are already available.
- The so-called In-orbit Economy, or that set of technologies for tracking space debris for services in orbit, with the ability to locate orbiting objects and intervene on them (removal, modifications, repairs).
In summary, it is clearly an enormous potential, outlined in this first study, but which will be disseminated in these web pages with the important contribution of the Lombardy production and research ecosystem, that works daily to advance these innovative technologies and applications.