by Maija Lönnqvist, Chief Specialist, Team Leader of the Space Office at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment
You may know Finland from its stable society, digitalization, innovativeness, even from being the world’s happiest nation, but did you know that Finland is also a rising star in space activities?
Recent years have seen the first Finnish satellites, revision of the national space strategy, the first national space legislation and a great boost in building up a vivid space ecosystem. But then again, you may expect a lot from this Northern European state, whose most popular children’s book is on Near-Earth Objects (Comet in the Moomin Valley by Tove Jansson) and whose most famous citizen, the Santa Claus, finds space solutions essential in navigating from home to home at Christmas time.
Finland is not new actor in space, however. For decades, high-quality space research has been done in Finland first in bilateral collaboration with its neighbours since 1970s, and from the end of 1980s more and more in the context of the European and international frameworks. Several Finnish payloads and instruments have been flown in well-known European and international missions. Since the recent years, this long history has been turned into a vivid progress introducing new companies, new top-level research and new public measures to support the development of the sector.
Ambitious space strategy paves the way to success
The national space strategy was updated in 2018 as a response to the disruption in the space sector. The ambitious goal of the Finnish space strategy is to ensure Finland as the world’s most attractive and agile business environment by 2025. The strategy sets up concrete measures to promote the sustainable growth of the space sector and to foster world-leading space research. Qualitative and quantitative goals are defined to measure the success of these measures. The national Space Committee is systematically monitoring the implementation of the space strategy.
Several space strategy’s measures have already been completed. One of these is the revision of the national space administration to ensure stronger coordination with all the national actors. While Finland does not have a national Space Agency, it aims to build a flexible space administration that is able to quickly react and adapt to the needs of the space sector.
The Finnish space policy is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, hosting the Finnish Space Office, which has a main role in coordinating of the national space administration. The Space Office acts as the secretariat of the National Space Committee. The national Space Committee operates as an advisory body under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and brings together the perspectives of relevant Ministries and Agencies, as well as the industry and science communities. Besides setting up the national space strategy and ensuring its implementation, the Space Committee defines the priorities of international collaboration and develops consistent space policy, success of the sector as its guiding principle.
Fostering the new space economy
The Finnish space activities have emerged and increased in rapid pace, and there are currently eleven satellites registered in the Finnish Registry of Space Objects. All of these have been launched since June 2017. These satellites include both missions by scientific institutions as well as commercial companies.
However, the growing Finnish space sector does not only include the new satellite operators: the ecosystem is built up from highly skilled system and instrument developers as well as innovative space data utilizers. Since 2018, strengthening of the Finnish space ecosystem has been the objective of New Space Economy program of Business Finland, the Finnish innovation and export agency. The program plays a key role in implementing the national space strategy, particularly fostering the market entrance, facilitating investments and accelerating networks and new business models. In January 2021, the program published a comprehensive catalogue of Finnish space companies and research organisations. Among these success stories, you can find the constellation of radar imaging satellites of Iceye, space weather service PECASUS of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, instruments on NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance Mars Rovers by Vaisala, virtual astronaut training by Varjo or the world’s most accurate space environment simulation, Vlasiator, by University of Helsinki , to name only a few.
The objectives the New Space Economy program are further supported by the establishment of the European Space Agency (ESA) business incubation centre (BIC) Finland, which offers a good platform for growth-seeking companies for a lift off to the international markets in the coming years.
The annual start-up event SLUSH in November, the greyest time of the year in Helsinki, gathers every year a wide selection of space companies. While not arranged in 2020 due to the pandemic, SLUSH in 2019 featured the European Space Agency, ESA BICs and their companies from several countries and several other eager space start-ups presenting their innovations ranging from propulsion systems to a Mars rover.
In under to ensure a robust framework to the growing space ecosystem, the first comprehensive national space law – the Act on Space Activities and a supplementing Decree entered into force in January 2018. The Act establishes authorization and supervision process for national space activities as well as a national space object registry. The objective of the national legislation is to create a predictable and legally transparent environment for national space activities and to ensure the safety of the activities as well as the sustainable use of outer space. This latter aspect is being highlighted by the inclusion of requirements for mitigation of space debris and minimizing adverse impacts of space missions to the Earth, atmosphere, and the outer space in the law.
To develop the legal framework, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment established in March 2021 a ministerial working group to assess the need to regulate distribution and use of satellite data, taking in particular into consideration the balance between the possible national or international security interests and commercial interests.
Sustainability in the heart of international collaboration
Space for climate action and sustainable development, space for renewal and growth and for Arctic needs, as well as sustainable use of space are the core of the Finnish space policy and are reflected in Finland’s objectives for international collaboration as well.
Finland is a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) since 1995, and the Finnish industry and research organizations continue to participate actively in various ESA programmes especially in the thematic priorities of Finland, such as climate change mitigation, development of the Arctic region, sustainable use of space, development of satellite 5G, autonomous transport and cyber security. In the 2019 Ministerial Council, Finland increased its subscriptions to ESA programmes by almost 50 per cent from 19 million to 28 million euros annually.
Finland’s application to join the Committee for Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS) of the United Nations (UN) was accepted in 2018. Advancing sustainable use of outer space, framework for new space economy and rule-based international frameworks through multilateral, international discussion, are important themes for Finland. Finland is also actively looking into implementing the guidelines for the long-term sustainability of Outer Space in its national policy.
Ensuring the sustainable development of Arctic is one of the general political priorities of Finland and well reflected also in the space policy. During its two recent presidencies, the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council 2017-19 and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union of the second half of 2019, Finland promoted the importance of space solutions for the Arctic, stressing that space can act as a true enabler in the Arctic, ensuring economically, socially and environmentally sustainable growth in the area.
Maija Lönnqvist is Chief Specialist, Team Leader of the Space Office at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. She has been closely involved in key space policy projects of recent years, including drafting of the national space legislation, update of the national space strategy and revision of the space administration. Currently, she acts as the chief secretary of the Space Committee and chairs the ministerial working group on satellite data regulation. She represents Finland in ESA Council and EU Space Programme Committee, and co-chaired the Space Working Party of the Council of EU during the Finland’s Presidency of the Council of EU in autumn 2019.