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Erik Behm on the space cluster: ‘We have unique capabilities’

22 September 2020
Gothenburg and West Sweden have a long space-related history and a prominent position in the international space industry, with companies both large and small, outstanding space research and world-class education. More than half of the people working in the Swedish space industry are found here, and West Sweden accounts for two thirds of the Swedish space industry's turnover.

In a new article series, we provide insight into West Sweden’s space cluster and industry. First up is an interview with Erik Behm, area and investment manager for ICT at Business Region Göteborg.

Why did a space cluster emerge here?  

“Fault tolerant computer systems has been the biggest area from the beginning for space activities in the region. And there has always been strong connections to Chalmers University of Technology’s research around computer technology and fault tolerant computers. Saab located part of its development activities in Gothenburg and this was driven by access to engineers from Chalmers, not in the least within electronics. The company’s defence operations became engaged in Europe’s first space project and it was given the responsibility for the satellite’s data handling system; and shortly after for the fault tolerant computers. In the 80s the company’s space activities were formed into Saab Space.”   

“Since then, much has revolved around antenna and radar technology. Sweden managed to obtain German radar antennas directly after the Second World War. This combined with that Chalmers invested in radar research was why Ericsson relocated its radar development to Mölndal in 1956. Then when Ericsson went from landline telephony to wireless solutions and later defence – step by step it became the cluster it is today. In the early 90s Saab and Ericsson put their space activities together and formed Saab Ericsson Space.”     

“Parallel to this we have had Volvo Flygmotor/Volvo Aero in Trollhättan, which has worked with the space industry since the 70s and since 2012 has operated under the name GKN Aerospace.”

Describe our space cluster and who are some of the key actors?

“Here we have three very big companies – RUAG Space, or the old Saab Ericsson Space, which was acquired by Swiss company RUAG in 2008. Then we have Saab AB, which in recent years has broadened its product portfolio and has expanded its space activities. And the third is GKN Aerospace which makes civil and military engines as well as rocket engines.”

“Then there also a number of smaller companies like Cobham Gaisler, Omnisys Instruments; as well as a number of start-ups and spin-offs like Forsway, Satcube and Low Noise Factory. In addition, we have a space incubator at Innovatum in Trollhättan. Chalmers University of Technology naturally plays a very important role in the space cluster with high-quality research in microwave electronics and antennas. Here we also have research within computer technology, which previously focused on fault tolerance, but more recently on AI applications. Within AI we have the Space data lab at the AI Innovation of Sweden located at Lindholmen in Gothenburg. Finally, we have the Onsala Space observatory, which is world-class.”     

How is our space cluster positioned internationally?

“Today there is a whole cluster of companies that work with microwave technology. Combine this with the actors within the automotive industry that work with microwave technology plus all the research at Chalmers and we have unique capabilities. Within microwave and antenna technology, we are at the forefront with California and Boston. Overall, Gothenburg is among the best regions in the world in terms of space technology, alongside California, Colorado and Toulouse. A key reason is that we have a university that continually provides new engineers.”

How does the region and West Sweden benefit from having a strong space cluster?

“Space gathers the brightest minds within industry, research, development and innovation. If there are advanced jobs, you retain skills in the Gothenburg region, it's that simple. The existence of competence is also important for academia, and it means that Chalmers can have this advanced space research and assert itself internationally. Furthermore, the strong space cluster in West Sweden creates synergies with other industries and we are constantly learning new things that can have side benefits, such as spin-offs of technology and materials.”

 How does society benefit from the space industry?

“Space based services are used within areas like communication, navigation and measuring climate and environmental impacts. In addition, space infrastructure and space data are an important strategic resource in crises and catastrophes that can help protect vulnerable societies and reduce human suffering. Space based services are invaluable particularly at sea and in alpine areas, as well as in parts of the world where there is no 5G, 4G or 3G and where satellite solutions are the only option for accessing the internet. Forsway, which provides connectivity in rural and remote areas, is a good example. Research and innovation within space has a profound effect on people’s everyday lives and future.”

How is Business Region Göteborg involved in the space cluster? 

“I sit in the steering committee for the national association Rymdforum (Space forum) and I have long worked with the network Microwave Road where space is an application. In addition, we work together with Innovatum in Trollhättan, which runs the space incubator, to help space companies develop, which in turns helps the cluster grow.”

“In general, we work a lot with developing the networks and meeting places, to strengthen the ties between industry and academia, and encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration. Another important aspect is our work with investment promotion, where we focus on attracting competent companies and individuals to the region.”

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