What a transformation: from the city’s most renowned telephone company (Bell) to an innovative space company 60 years later. Meet Antwerp Space and its managing director Koen Puimège. A story of passion, exciting space missions and a sparkling dream.
Today Antwerp Space’s core business is the delivery of satellite communication, navigation and radar solutions for missions around the earth and interplanetary missions exploring the universe. “We do that mainly in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA)”, explains managing director Koen Puimège. “Our team is formed of highly skilled engineers. Everyone who works here has a huge passion for space. It’s what drives them every day to design and build innovative solutions for projects that have never been done before.”
Life on Mars?
Koen is very enthusiastic about the projects of Antwerp Space. One is ESA’s mission to Mars. “We construct the equipment that allows communication between the spacecraft travelling to Mars and the ground station on the earth. It takes a spacecraft nine months of travel before it can land on the surface of Mars. One of our instruments, developed together with The Royal Observatory of Belgium, will study the inner layers of the planet to detect whether the surface is liquid or solid. Based on those findings, scientists will be able to derive how our planet will evolve in the years to come. The hope of finding life on Mars is fading out. But we hope to find evidence of past life.”
Challenged to the maximum
Another exciting project is a mission to the icy moons of Jupiter. Three of them (Europa, Ganymedes and Callisto) are highly likely to host life. “ESA is planning a pioneering mission, JUICE, to these moons to find out if there is life there, and we are building the communication equipment for that spacecraft. Establishing a reliable communication link with moons, an average of 715 million kilometres away from Earth, is not that obvious. Our engineers are challenged to the maximum to make it possible.”
Pleasant city to live in and work in
Antwerp Space must look to other countries in its search for talent. “There’s a war for talent in Belgium”, says Koen. “We try our best to convince young people to choose technical studies. Science has always inspired people, and we work closely with universities to attract young people, also girls. Today, many ex-patriots are working for us. They come from Europe and other countries like Canada and India. They move to Antwerp with their families, and we find that they are pleased here. It’s an enjoyable city to live in and work in.”
Antwerp Space is located in Hoboken, an area that was always linked with old industries. Koen: “The mayor of Antwerp appreciated when he inaugurated our new cleanroom a few years ago that an innovative company like Antwerp Space keeps investing in this location. The link with Antwerp is strong. One of my dreams is to bring one of our most precious gifts, an Antwerp diamond, on an exploration mission into space. Imagine extra-terrestrial life finding it. Wouldn’t a diamond be a marvellous calling card for our planet?”