Scientific curiosity has to begin with wonder. For the entire history of humankind, we have looked up at the night sky in wonder. For most people, it begins and ends there. And then there are the others, those who instinctively question why and how. If they’re lucky, they can dedicate their lives to understanding more about the universe – and bring the answers back to the rest of us.This content was published on December 13, 2020 - 14:15
I admit that I am one of the uncurious. I’ve never been excited by the topic of space and I take for granted all the amazing progress that’s been achieved in my lifetime. The involvement of satellites alone in our daily lives is mind-boggling but I hardly give it any thought!
That’s why I’m handing over to my colleague Marc-André MiserezExternal link, swissinfo.ch’s resident space groupie who has been writing about the topic for a long time, and bringing back the answers to underserving readers like me.
“Switzerland is going from strength to strength in space. In 2009, I followed the adventure of Swisscube, the first 100% Swiss-made satellite, not much bigger than a milk carton. Ten years later, the Swiss could take credit for a space telescope (CHEOPS) and a joint Nobel Prize, awarded to astrophysicists Michel Mayor and Didier Quéloz for their work finding exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars other than our sun.
The latest star in Swiss space research is ClearSpace, which has recently been making headlines with at least four world firsts: The European Space Agency (ESA) buys a turnkey mission, pays more than CHF100 million to a start-up, the start-up is going to build the first collector of space debris and this will be the first satellite to try to remove a piece of space junk from orbit in a non-controlled flight.
That should be the beginning of a long series because it is high time to clean up the great junk highway that the Earth’s orbit has become, putting in danger all the spacecraft that travel there. (Here’s my story about the world’s first space “garbage truck”).
None of this happened by chance. Switzerland has a long association with space research, going back 60 years to the Apollo missions and, later, the founding of the ESA. I followed this history as a child, dazzled by the glorious era of exploration – some highlights from which I cover in a special serious of articles here: – In space exploration, Switzerland punches above its weight.
But space is not only about idealism, technology, courage and dreams. It’s also about money, lots of money. Gone are the days when states alone financed the race to the moon which was primarily driven by prestige. Today, European satellites are launched from Russian or Indian rockets, American astronauts travel to the International Space Station in private spacecrafts and space tourists can reasonably dream of real hotels in orbit – or even on the moon. Space has become a multi-billion-dollar market.
Raphael Röttgen, a former banker based on Zurich’s famous gold coast who is also a science fiction fan (the good stuff, not Star Wars), knows the market well. He has just written an impassioned book (currently only available in German) on the opportunities opening up to investors in this area. The book covers the vast panorama of space exploration, from the first rockets to the far-off prospect of colonising the Moon or Mars. You can read my interview with him here.”
Many thanks to Marc-André for his expert contribution. For more reading on the Swiss players in the space sector, check out the Swiss Space CenterExternal link, which helps academic institutions and industry to connect with space missions. They even have a “careers in space” page for those who are drawn to the path of curiosity.
I’ll be back with one more bonus newsletter before the end of the year after which I’ll be handing over to the journalists on the swissinfo.ch science team for 2021. Season’s greetings to you all!