Science and research constitute the basis of technical innovation. According to economist Joseph Schumpeter, innovation means implementing a new technical or organisational feature in a production process. Innovation goes beyond invention pure and simple. Accordingly, innovations occur particularly frequently when there are new production factors or a change in their combination.
Most space equipment is highly advanced technology, testing the limits of technical feasibility. The extreme and extraordinary conditions prevailing in space, such as weightlessness, high temperatures, and extreme cold, mostly call for highly specialised and innovative solutions.
Innovations in spaceflight
In the space sector, innovations are technological developments or novel features with a high potential of supplanting current space technologies, products, and processes. Substitution occurs whenever essential advantages and benefits can be achieved. These include, for example, increased performance and/or efficiency, reduced energy consumption, improved package size or weight, optimised production processes, and reduced cost. Innovations are happening continuously in all segments of the space industry. One case in point is optical laser communication, which has opened up a new dimension in the speed and volume of data transmission.
Innovations and their transfer to the non-space sector
Innovations, in the sense of completely novel technologies or individual new features, can in certain cases be transferred from the space to the non-space sector where they are referred to as space technology spin-offs or transfers. Most of them make their way into terrestrial applications. Frequently, such transfers open up major commercialisation potential in non-space markets.
Innovations, transfers or spin-offs are generally not part of the original plan but emerge in the course of space-related developments and/or space projects. Examples for the transfer of innovations are to be found in a variety of industries, such as plasma technologies for applying surface coatings, robot systems used in medical technology and industrial production, and 3-D methods used in medical diagnosis.
Promoting technological developments and innovations in astronautics and translating them into marketable products, processes, or services constitutes an important aspect of the National Space Programme. The construction and operation of test fields for Galileo applications is an example. These facilities enable enterprises to test and optimise innovative developments in satellite navigation in land-, water- and air-based applications. A programme called On-Orbit Verification of New Methods and Technologies (OOV) is another important initiative. It provides research institutes and industrial enterprises with opportunities to test, optimise, and verify technological developments and products in orbit.
Innovation and innovation transfer is also supported by ESA's Technology Transfer Programme (TTP) under which there are continuous calls for proposals concerning technology transfer feasibility studies and demonstrations. Furthermore, ESA maintains a network of start-up incubators which, in Germany, are located on the premises of ESOC and DLR's Oberpfaffenhofen site, supported by the governments of Hesse and Bavaria, respectively.
The establishment of the Open Sky Technology Fund (OSTF) that is managed by the German Triangle Venture company has opened up the venture capital market for space projects. The scheme is also supported by the ESA Investment Forums.