Malta exploring ways of collaborating with European Space Agency

The Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) is considering setting up a national collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) in yet another bid to raise the profile of science and technology in Malta.

Chris De Cooker from the ESA, addressed a joint press conference with MCST chairman Nicholas J. Sammut, a research engineer who worked on the Big Bang experiment last year – the largest and most expensive scientific experiment in history.

The ESA’s biggest activity is now Earth Observation, which will, in the long term, enable a reliable assessment of the global impact of human activity, and the likely future extent of climate change.

Dr De Cooker explained that the initiative for the establishment of a European capacity for Earth Observation (Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security – GMES), which is at a relatively early stage of development, could help further develop space tools used for maritime surveillance, which includes surveillance of sea-borders in Europe and further afield, maritime safety, illegal immigration, and illegal trafficking.

The aim of ESA is to provide for and promote cooperation among European states in space research and technology and their space applications with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space application systems.

ESA was founded on many principles of the model used by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the exception that the ESA does not perform most of the research and development in-house.

Instead it subcontracts its projects to European companies, hence generating a strong European space industry in the private sector.

Dr Sammut said MCST is still seeking ways and means of collaborating with ESA, but it has already held meetings with people researchers in academia and companies interested in working on cutting edge scientific research.

Although he stopped short of naming the companies, he said about 15 companies have expressed interest, with six being “very interested”.

He said MCST has also held meetings with researchers in the Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology, and the Faculty of Science.

“This is going to be challenging, and I’m not going to make any promises, but I’m hopeful that we can start working on something small and build on it,” said Dr Sammut.

A collaboration with ESA would give industry, Maltese students and researchers (independent ones or those in academia), unprecedented opportunities to work on projects that are on the very cutting edge of scientific research with the most advanced equipment on earth and with world class specialists.

The aim of the collaboration is to send students to the ESA labs for training and to get ESA related projects to Malta either in academia or in industry.

ESA is currently funded by 17 European member states and five cooperating states. It employs 1,900 specialists in engineering, computing and the sciences with 40,000 people directly in industry and 250,000 people indirectly in the private sector.

ESA has a budget of e3 billion per year, e800 million of which form part of the mandatory programme and the rest forming part of the optional programmes.

ESA has around 50 separate projects ranging over a myriad of fields. The mandatory scientific programme of which all ESA members are obliged to participate in includes studies of the sun and its effects on earth, studies of comets (fly through and landing), exploration of other planets (including breakthroughs such as the discovery of water on Mars and the furthest landing in human history on Saturn’s moon), studies of temperature extremes in the universe (from black holes and births of galaxies to background radiation and gravitational waves) and the new Space Telescope.

“Source Independednt-Malta”: