Located within walking distance from Darmstadt main station, you really could not miss it. European flags line up the entrance, a visible gate of entry and neatly dressed personnel coming in and out. Then, like a flash mob, University students and visitors gather around to collect name cards of entry.
On 10 May 2019, I went there twice, firstly with representatives of ESA BIC Darmstadt and then with members of European Space Operations Centre. Once of the first impressions I got is that compared to a few other European Centres, it is not the largest, however, it plays one of the most crucial roles, as the name suggests it is the heart of operations. Very much like the brain of European Space Operations.
As one observes the Mission Control Room, you get a sense of history by simply looking not just at the screens but the printed blocks of dates, launches, successful or otherwise listed in chronology. One ESOC member speaks of memories of one of their earlier launches to the more recent ones.
A laboratory of important players, scientists, mathematicians, communicationalists. We are shown live sized modules, satellites and even what seems like human made asteroids. We have to just use our imagination to try and figure out the size of how large these instruments are.
Earlier in the day we are introduced a number of successful startups at ESA BIC Darmstadt and they are the most successful ones, winning prizes from Copernicus Masters to Gallileo Masters to Innospace. Each and every one of them from a different field of space applications and with a huge potential ahead of them.
Darmstadt as a city is simple enough, yet with much history and the country side is breathtaking. Within an hour’s drive you are away from everything and it’s just pure mountains and villages, just the kind of place you want to be.
ESA BIC Darmstadt has a successful model of joint funding between local Government and ESA. Drawing upon the strength of local communities and needs and of course working closely with DLR too. Some if not most of the start ups we spoke to have a strong link with the local University and that too seems like a recipe for success. The relationships built over time with teachers, students and the space community adds to a dimension of trust and collaborative environment which would have otherwise been difficult to establish. It is probably true of all successful home grown startups.
The next stop is Harwell and I look forward to seeing what are the differences and similiaries and how receptive they are to foreign investors/startups.