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This is Rocket Science

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at Space Day 2013 6 May 2013 in Copenhagen.

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I hope you had an interesting morning program. I am sorry - I was supposed to be here earlier. Something came up - but it is a pleasure finally to be here.

And I am delighted that so many students, researchers and companies are present here today at Space Day 2013. When something is not really that complicated – we often use the phrase 'this is not exactly Rocket Science'. But today it is. This is Rocket Science!

And yes, it is complicated. It is advanced. And perhaps it's not that easy to understand what it is all about. But space based services have become an integral part of our daily lives.

Satellites are used to monitor changes in Earth's climate and ocean circulation, for weather forecasting, in aviation and marine navigation. Not to forget the navigations system that helps most of us get around in our cars.

Devices that were designed to keep track of the astronauts' health while in space are now used in hospitals to monitor patients.

And on an even more daily basis; instant coffee, the microwave oven and the handheld vacuum cleaner are all spinoffs from space activities.

I do not neglect the basic research that is embedded in space research. Through space we get more insight about the Earth. How did it all begin? How old is our planet? And how big is the universe?

But space technology has at the same time yielded many – and some unexpected - advances in science and technology on Earth.

Space based activities generate a lot of innovation and a lot business opportunities for Danish companies. 

Denmark in space

Pushing the boundaries of knowledge by looking to Space is not new to Denmark.

Back in the 16 century, the Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, was setting new standards for precise and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations. And it is worth mentioning that Tycho Brahe lived before the telescope and did his observations with the naked eye.

Things have changed. Activities in space require cutting-edge technology. But despite our size, Denmark has found niches where we can compete globally in space technology. For instance in developing star trackers, nanosatellites, software and power management systems for space utilization.

Some of these products stem from Danish universities, where scholars and students have thrown themselves into realizing their high-flying ideas.

And the industry in the field of space is important to the economy. Studies show that when a space industry wins a contract from the European Space Agency the investment is generated indirectly 4.5 times in activities that benefits society as a whole.

There are some overall characteristics about space research and space technology in Denmark.

  • It is distinct by a relative high degree of Public-private cooperation.
  • It involves international co-operation.
  • And there is a strong interaction between basic research and technology development.

Compared with other European countries there is a relatively large share of space activities in Denmark at the universities. This makes public-private cooperation in space even more important.

A good example of such activity is the Danish-led ASIM instrument [Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor].

ASIM is a space-based climate observatory to study special lightning phenomena in Earth's upper atmosphere. The instrument is going to be installed on the outside of the International Space Station in 2017.

ASIM is developed in collaboration between DTU Space and the company Terma A / S and a number of Danish suppliers within the framework of the European Space Agency (ESA).

I had the pleasure of visiting Terma back in September last year and saw how they worked with this instrument.

DTU Space offered for the first time last year a new Master program in "Earth and Space Physics and Engineering" that focuses on development, design and application of technological solutions for the monitoring and exploration of Earth and space.

I understand that the Master program is in contact with a number of businesses who have expressed that they are interested in cooperating on graduate projects.

I can only embrace cooperation between education and industry. In fact this is what Space Day 2013 is all about.

And I hope that Space Day will help to create a platform for collaboration between students and high tech
businesses and facilitate possibilities of carrying out
student project in collaboration with industry.

No doubt that both students and industry will benefit from this collaboration.

Students as an innovative resource

The technologies used in space are highly specialized and often involve the development of new materials, new techniques, new software and new methods of working.

Space science is almost per definition innovative.

Normally people tell you to think outside the box. In space science and space technology it kind of comes with the territory.

We need innovation and new ideas. Ideas are what power our economy and develop our society.

Just before Christmas last year the government launched a national innovation strategy; Denmark – a nation on solutions. The innovation strategy will ensure that more of Denmark’s knowledge and business positions of strength are translated to new jobs and growth.The aim is to support a more goal-oriented Danish approach to creating innovative solutions to global societal challenges.

One of the main pillars is that Education is to increase the innovation capacity in Denmark. We need a change of culture and initiate an education system that will focus more on innovation.

More focus on innovation in education is the first step on the path towards more innovative employees and to increasing the motivation of students to become entrepreneurs.

The ability to be innovative should be a fundamental element of all education from primary school to PhDs.

Students are an innovative resource. And it is my impression that there is a good tradition in the field of space research at Danish universities to involve students in research projects.

Let me shortly mention an example from Aalborg University.

On February 25 this year a rocket was launched from India by the Indian space agency. Included in its payload was a student satellite from Aalborg University.

The satellite was built by around 100 students from the university over five years. And it now helps the Danish Maritime Authority to increase security in the waters around Greenland. The satellite will help to monitor ships and vessels in the waters around Greenland.

Observations in space can help us here on Earth.

In this connection I have to mention that Danish astronomers in the future will have access to the largest telescope in the world.

As you might know the University of Aarhus, the University of Copenhagen and DTU Space have agreed to invest a total of 37 million kroner in the telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT.

The telescope will be able to show whether there are living organisms on the surface of planets in other solar systems.

This is great for science. But I also hope that Danish companies will contribute with innovative solutions for the E-ELT, which will be realized with the most advanced technology in the field.

The opportunities in space science are endless

The opportunities in the field of space science are
endless. Some scientists see for instance an opportunity in the
future to cure cancer using technology from space

Who knows what incredible discoveries, are waiting just around the corner. And what revolutionary new technologies may appear as a result of space activities?

I believe that even Tycho Brahe, who just used the naked eye to observe the skies above, would be impressed by the technological development.

Today for instance you can get an app where you can point your smartphone at the night sky and get the names of the various stars and planets on your display.

Surely new technologies are fascinating. And so is space.

I would like to thank all involved in the arrangement: The Confederation of Danish Industry, Copenhagen University, Technical University of Denmark and Aarhus University.

And finally I wish you all – students, researchers and businesses a successful matchmaking this afternoon.

Thank you.

last modified May 10, 2013