Becoming a Spacefaring Nation. Finland’s Success Story

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Becoming a Spacefaring Nation. Finland’s Success Story

Finland and leading-edge technology go hand in hand, and this has been proved many times. Linux operating system, Nokia phones and networks, KONE elevators, Rovio mobile games – you name it.

Today, while the new space economy is growing in leaps and bounds as space technology sets to improve life here on earth, supporting the development of the space sector is also not an alien concept for Finland.

The likes of ‘technological superpower’, ‘astropreneurship hub’ and ‘new space cradle’ have been used to describe Finland and its rapidly evolving state of forward-looking programmes for the space industry. How far-fetched is this? And if rooted in the reality, what makes Finland stand out in the international space scene? Why does Finland put so much attention to reshaping traditional business models, and developing faster – and cheaper – access to space than ever before?

Let’s glean insights from history.

Back in time

Finland has been in the space business for many years, starting with space research in the early 1800s with magnetometers. Since 1987, Finland has participated in the European Space Agency (ESA), becoming a full Member State in 1995, and has contributed to most major missions.

Finnish technology had made its way into outer space long before Finland’s first satellite was launched, being used in numerous space scanners and satellites, deployed on the International Space Station (ISS). In 2012, the Mars science rover Curiosity, carrying equipment designed by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), landed on the red planet to seek evidence that Mars once hosted ingredients for life. The FMI supplied NASA's extraterrestrial explorer with pressure and humidity sensors to examine the atmosphere on Mars.

After years of preparation, Finland’s first satellite, the Aalto-2 nano satellite, roughly the size of a one-litre milk carton, was successfully launched in 2017, drawing significant public attention to Finland as a space nation. Today, more than twenty Finnish satellites are circulating the Earth.
To put it into perspective, Germany had more than 50 satellites orbiting by 2017 and has launched around 25 since then; France has launched about 30 satellites, and Italy has sent 20 satellites to outer space since 2017. These three countries were leading in expenditures on space programs in 2020 and 2022 among the European states.
So, how has Finland managed to reach similar levels of space exploration activities and even exceed them?

Leading by example

Companies use space technology and innovation to improve life on earth, be that expanding connectivity, limiting climate change and rising sea levels or combatting wildfires and ice melting rates. As the new space sector grows, innovative Finnish companies are paving the way with their digital and tech-savvy expertise as well as stellar engineering skills applied to bring space back down to earth.  

Notably, Finland can leverage its expertise in software development and electronics to develop low-cost, high-performance satellites, providing affordable access to space-based services. Also, Finland has a long and successful history of international collaboration and basic research, which seem to be at the forefront of the new space economy.
But that’s not it.

What makes Finnish space activities shine in the international scene is public strategic support that can be broken down into four crucial fields.

1. Boosting research and development

Currently public and private investment in research and development sits around 2.9% of Finland’s GDP, although the country has decided not to stop at this impressive level. Finland has set in motion a plan to pump an extra €280 million of public money into the sector each year between 2024 and 2030, which would increase investment to 4% of the country’s GDP by the end of the decade.

If the country does achieve the goal, this will make it one of the EU’s biggest spenders on R&D, while most countries struggle to achieve the more modest 3% objective by 2030 (which has been already made feasible by Finland).

Why is this important? To say the least, this creates a local network of research that feeds into innovation and development. When there is an ecosystem of research in place, business unavoidably stems from it.

2. Public investment in space

The national strategy for space activities sets the goal of making Finland the world’s most attractive and agile space business environment by 2025. This has been supported by the fact that a lot of space activities are championed by Business Finland, a public organization under the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy. Business Finland realizes and emphasizes the potential to deliver measurable improvements in efficiency, innovation and economic growth via space, thus creates an ecosystem that is based on this commercial angle.

In conjunction, Finland’s funding in ESA extensively promotes security, sustainable growth and climate change mitigation. “Space activities play an increasingly important strategic role for the functioning of society and national security. Finland has invested more in space activities in recent years. We already benefit significantly from our expertise. ESA is our key tool for developing international cooperation,” says Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä in a press release published in November 2022.

The ESA's annual budget is EUR 6.49 billion, of which the Member States provide EUR 4.55 billion. Finland's share is approximately EUR 28 million a year.

3. Space matters

For Finland, space matters are by their nature horizontal and cross administrative boundaries. The perspectives of the various administrative branches are brought together by the Finnish Space Committee, which operates under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Unlike other countries, where space national agencies are under such Ministries as Education and Research or Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Finnish space ecosystem is backed up by the institutional system that is aimed at creating more jobs, attracting talent and exporting innovation. Naturally, this oils business framework and mechanisms for a well-functioning successful space business case.

4. Keeping it flat

Finland champions flat, hyper-collaborative and supportive systems which can be nothing but exponentially beneficial for the key players. Flatness of the structure calls for collaborative work and thriving environments. Finns keep it humble because that is the way they are!

Tomorrow starts today

The space sector’s value to life on earth cannot be underestimated. Satellites that orbit our planet provide the most accurate location data, weather reports and predict storms. They monitor our climate, connect millions of people and can close the digital divide for countless more who lack access in isolated areas; they help to ensure the security of states by monitoring and verifying actors’ behaviour.

Those countries, that recognise the socio-economic benefits stemming from investing in the space sector, bring new ideas and perspectives, create jobs, drive innovation and technological advancement. Finland, rapidly becoming a spacefaring nation, yet again leads by example. Some might even say, from zero to hero.



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