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The 2021 edition of Space Resources Week saw five graduating students from the Interdisciplinary Space Master (ISM) holding sessions at the conference. The week-long event, which took place on April 19-22, brought together experts from the aerospace industry, financial institutions, research institutes and academia to understand the technical and economic challenges facing in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU). It also explored scenarios for the future development of the sector.

One of ISRU’s most immediate applications consists in the resupply of spacecraft. “ISRU opens new scenarios in which satellites, spacecraft and probes can extend their operational lifetime by accessing needed resources from their surroundings,” says graduating student and speaker Natalia Stepanova. This alone would mean extending space missions well beyond what is currently possible, allowing companies and scientists to make the most out of the current spacecrafts, all while reaching new research frontiers.

At the event, the students presented research they carried out on the potential of ISRU-based resupply in the framework of the ISM. Characterised by a project-based learning approach, and a double focus on technical as well as business aspects of space missions and operations, the Master is designed to prepare students for a wide range of professions in the space industry, including entrepreneurship. The five speakers held sessions about three studies they conducted on past space missions, namely:

–       Bishwajit Gogoi presented “Study into In-Orbit Servicing of the Rosetta Mission”, an analysis of the Rosetta mission with a specific inquiry into potential benefits of an ISRU use-case scenario;

–       Rui ZongRod Weber, and Mariusz Ludwikowski held a session about their “Analysis of a Modified ESA Mars Express Mission with Use of Lunar Space Resources”, whose hypothesis consists in a modified Mars Express mission leveraging a Moon-orbiting post for refueling (with fuel being produced from lunar resources); and

–       Natalia Stepanova presented her “Herschel Re-Supply Mission Feasibility Study”, a study on the resupply of Herschel, a space observatory that was switched off in 2013 as a result of increased internal temperatures due to lack of liquid Helium. The study proposes resupplying Herschel with 4Helium from lunar regolith mining, as well as its in-orbit servicing.

Over the two-year programme, ISM students learn about different subjects in space system engineering, space informatics, business management and entrepreneurship, gaining the competencies to design and conduct in-depth analysis of space missions. “During the past two years, we acquired theoretical knowledge in topics such as astrodynamics, space mission design, and more. We also gained practical experience by designing missions in the framework of the CubeSat laboratory and the Spacecraft and Subsystems Design course,” said Zong. The five speakers are part of the first cohort of students of the Interdisciplinary Space Master, and will be the first graduates of the programme launched in 2019 by Prof. Tonie van Dam and currently led by Prof. Holger Voos. They are part of a generation that will lead the space sector – in Luxembourg and abroad – into the most exciting phase in its history.

Some of the graduating students have already decided to stay in Luxembourg, also thanks to the opportunities offered by the Master to develop relationships with the local industry. In fact, in addition to featuring C-level executives from the space sector as lecturers, the ISM includes a number of regular events and meetings with representatives of local companies. In the same spirit, the students have the chance to conduct an internship at a local company in their final semester, gaining a first professional experience on the field.

This close contact with industry, in addition to the opportunities offered by the Grand Duchy – which has been supporting the commercial space industry with ground-breaking policy and funding initiatives – have already inspired some of the Master students to start their own journey into entrepreneurship. In a world that is about to establish a permanent presence on the Moon, some of them already look to Mars.