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Interview with Mr Michal Brichta, Director of the Slovak Space Office – Industry Branch (SARIO)

Michal Brichta is a co-founder of the newly-established Slovak Space Office and the head of its Industry Branch working under the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO). In 2019 he initiated a new strategic approach to the comprehensive development of national space industry capabilities. Building on this approach, his team works today to support the further development of the Slovak space sector and its internationalisation with a focus on full utilisation of the country’s strong industrial and R&D potential as well as on the 21st century‘s newspace trends.

Context: Slovakia is not new to space. Already in seventies, our researchers and engineers were participating in international missions to develop space hardware. Since then, there has been a continued involvement of Slovak research and development in major international space missions such as Rosetta, Bepicolombo or JUICE. Today, the sector is still benefitting from these decades of experience which helps the emerging space industry. Currently, Slovakia counts more than 40 established companies actively involved in the space sector. Half of them focus on the upstream segment, but most of the space-related revenue is concentrated in software applications using Earth observation or navigation data. On top of that, there is a strong potential for future sector development coming from the industrial base as well, with key pillars of the Slovak economy including IT, electronics, high-precise machinery, or automotive.

Question 1- Could you introduce the Slovak Space office and the current Earth Observation (EO) landscape in Slovakia?

The Slovak Space Office consists of two components. The Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic is responsible for inter-ministerial political coordination and multilateral international cooperation (European Space Agency, European Union, United Nations). Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency – SARIO covers the implementation part of the agenda, especially developing the space ecosystem, local and international partnerships. We engage in a wide variety of activities ranging from sector-entry support, start-up creation and technology transfer activities, through international network creation, awareness building, and matchmaking, to local outreach activities focused at future generations of space professionals.

Downstream EO is currently the domain with the highest number of Slovak companies involved. More than a dozen of companies work on a wide variety of highly interesting and competitive solutions including infrastructure and land deformation monitoring, solar radiation monitoring, meteorological forecasting and modelling, forest disturbance mapping and monitoring, natural habitat monitoring, or early warning systems. 

Question 2- What are the objectives and the main priorities of SARIO?

Slovakia has recently become the newest associate member (AM) of ESA, which opens new possibilities for international cooperation. Over the past three years, our priority was to make our ecosystem ready for this transition and develop the necessary international network and support. Now with AM in force, our new priority will be to go through this transition as efficiently as possible.

In general, our main objective is to ensure that the Slovak space ecosystem systematically grows its capabilities and is considered a relevant and reliable international partner within the 21st century space economy and research. For that we have developed a three-point strategic approach consisting of maximising the utilisation of the space ecosystem’s full potential, diversifying the funding sources and markets to create a stable and resilient space ecosystem prepared for the opportunities and challenges of these days, and building a strong international position in the sector both in technological and non-technological areas.

Question 3- How do you envision the inclusion of EO for both public and private

We find the overall topic of promoting and facilitating the use of space technology for terrestrial applications very important. Satellites provide us with large amounts of data that are easily accessible for researchers and companies transforming them into useful applications in a broad range of areas including transportation, finance, agriculture, energy and infrastructure or environmental protection, making them an important part of our everyday lives.

Downstream, and EO segment in particular, has grown into a strong part of the Slovak space economy and it also draws significant interest of young entrepreneurs and researchers as we could see during our CASSINI hackathon in November 2021 or the first batch of our newly-launched incubation programme.

Question 4-  How can EARSC support your activities and missions?

With EARSC we share an important part of our mission objectives. One of them is promoting the value of Earth observation and creating business and R&D opportunities in this dynamically growing domain. Another crucial one is promoting internationalisation of space collaboration. Here we do not only engage in activities focused on helping our companies and researchers to find new partners and get involved in international projects and value chains. Understanding the importance of democratisation of space for the benefit, resilience and efficient development of the European space sector as well as global space community, we also carry out our systematic undertaking aimed at supporting the development of emerging space ecosystems and bridging them with well-established players of the global space economy. Along with our flagship event Emerging Space, we have already brought this important topic to various major international platforms including UN COPUOS, IAC, or World Expo, and we are dedicated to continue in this endeavour. I truly look forward to further exploring all these synergies we have with EARSC and working on joint activities.