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Space Café WebTalk with Christian Hauglie-Hanssen: Norway today – 33 minutes with the Director General of the Norwegian Space Agency

By Luisa Low

Christian Hauglie-Hanssen; Photo courtesy of him

During this week’s Space Café, SpaceWatch.Global Publisher Torsten Kriening got the chance to speak with the Director-General of the Norwegian Space Agency, Christian Hauglie-Hanssen.

With a career spanning more than three decades, Christian has held executive positions across the defence, aerospace and space sectors, predominantly while at Kongsberg Gruppen – an international technology group that supplies high-technology systems to customers in the merchant marine, defence, aerospace, offshore oil and gas industries, and renewable and utilities industries.

A physicist, engineer and self-confessed lifelong space enthusiast, since joining Norway’s Space Agency in 2018, his focus has been to promote the development of the country’s space sector.

This week, he and Torsten discuss where Norway sits in the EU’s growing space economy, how the space sector can help to diversify and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and what’s next with a new federal government at the helm.

Where is Norway today?

For the past half-century, Norway has built its wealth and success on its expansive oil and gas exports  – which are estimated to comprise 20 percent of its economy.

However, like every other major fossil-fuel export nation, the winds of climate change are working up a storm.

From all angles – including environmentally conscious voters, regional initiatives like the European Union’s Green Deal and serious competition from increasingly cost-effective and viable sustainable energy solutions – there is increasing pressure for Norway to diversify its exports and reduce its highly profitable oil and gas sector.

Without diversification, Norway may soon face the awkward situation where if no one’s buying, they ain’t selling. So, how is the wealthy Scandinavian country maneuvering its great resignation from fossil fuels and pivoting from oil to orbit?

According to Christian, Norway’s new centre-left minority government – comprised of a coalition between Labour Party and the Central Party – are leading this green shift, which he also believes will require significant collaboration with the space sector. By working with and leveraging existing European Space Agency programs like the Copernicus satellites, Norway will focus on key areas, like earth observation.

“Obviously, we can’t do everything. And that is the beauty of being a part of the European Space Agency. To get the most out of your money, you need to have real services, you need to develop healthy industries that are able to compete.”

“I think Norway has a very pragmatic approach towards our space industry… participating in these (ESA) programs, but also using them on a national level.”

Oil to orbit for earth’s sake: a token gesture or the real deal?

Space is a compelling topic that drives the news, but does it have true value in Norwegian society, or is it just a hype to detract from the Northern European country’s fossil fuel woes?

According to Christian, Norway does actually have something unique to bring to the table.

“If you look at our geographical position, we have a very long coastline, our industry and our national economies are, to a large degree, based on fisheries and the maritime domain, and oil and gas.

“We are located in the high north, so we have a clear Arctic agenda. We also have a geopolitical agenda with our border towards our friends to the east, the Russians.”

“This plays into how we can use space applications. Our ocean areas are about five times the size of our land. [Many of] these huge areas are in the high north with bad weather – it’s dark a lot of the year – so we need to use satellites, in terms of communication and surveillance of those areas, and in terms of monitoring fisheries, maritime traffic, and so forth.”

“I think that we are in a fortunate position. Many times, space is a supplement to what you are doing, what you have or your national infrastructure. In this case, space may be the only way to solve our problems. So that’s our advantage, I would say.”

To listen to Christian Hauglie-Hanssen’s insights into Norway’s space sector, you can watch the full program here:

Luisa Low is a freelance journalist and media adviser from Sydney, Australia. She currently manages Media and Public Relations for the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering.

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