WASHINGTON — The government of Luxembourg has invested in a new fund intended to support space startups, a move that will be one of the last for the country’s most prominent backer of the industry.
Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister of Luxembourg and the country’s economy minister, said Jan. 16 that the government invested an undisclosed amount into Orbital Ventures, a new fund based in the country. The fund, the government said in a statement, will invest in “early stage space companies with ground-breaking ideas and technologies.”
While Schneider did not disclose the amount the government is putting into Orbital Ventures, he said the fund had reached an “initial closing” of 70 million euros ($78 million.) Other investors in the fund include several financial firms, European space companies OHB and SES, and Promus Ventures, an American venture fund that has invested in a number of space startups.
“We look forward to working with our partners to back the most promising companies developing technologies in order to further promote commercial space activities,” Schneider said in the statement. “We are proud to leverage our longstanding expertise and international partnerships to set out the business case for commercializing space activity.”
Schneider and other Luxembourg government officials have been talking about establishing an investment fund since the early days of the country’s SpaceResources.lu initiative, which sought turn Luxembourg into a hub for the emerging space resources industry. Plans for the fund continued even as the country shifted into supporting a broader range of space startups than those interested in space resources.
In an October interview during the International Astronautical Congress here, Schneider said he expected the fund to be ready by the end of the year, but declined to go into specifics at the time since the fund was being put together.
Mario Grotz, director of research in Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy, said in the same interview that the fund would look at space startups in general, and not just those involved in space resources. “You need a deal flow of companies, and of course today the deal flow just for companies focusing on space resources is not enough,” he said. “So, we have broader interests.”
In the statement about Orbital Ventures, the Luxembourg government said the fund will support companies with “disruptive technologies, products and services” in the space industry. “In order to deliver a return to investors, the Fund will prioritize innovative companies with products or services either already generating revenues or set to do so in the near term.”
The Luxembourg government also announced Jan. 16 a five-year “national action plan” for space science and technology in the country. That plan emphases work in telecommunications, from optical space communications to secure government satellite systems. It also retains an interest in space resources, primarily by contributing to the development of a cubesat called Juventas that will fly with the European Space Agency’s Hera mission to the asteroid Didymos.
The space venture fund and national action plan will be among the final achievements for Schneider in his political career. He announced Dec. 23 that he planned to step down from the country’s government on Feb. 4 after concluding that eight years in government was enough. He told local media he was not being forced out of the government and planned to spend more time with his family before deciding on a post-political career.