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Why Flanders is a hotbed for aerospace innovation
While the entire academic world in Flanders is highly active in both aviation and space research and development, a number of players stand out:
- imec – one of Flanders’ four strategic research centers, imec specializes in micro- and nanoelectronics as well as digital innovation. The research center specializes in several fields relevant for aerospace, including image sensors and visions systems, silicon photonics, radar sensing systems and more.
- VITO Remote Sensing – also one of the four strategic research centers in Flanders, VITO is a leading reference in cleantech and sustainable development. The research center includes a unit that specializes in remote sensing for aerospace applications.
- BlueSpace – a consortium of VITO, Verhaert and imec, BlueSpace is an incubation program to foster technological innovations associated with space through services such as coaching, technological expertise and facilities for high-tech start-ups and spin-offs.
LASA (KU Leuven) – the Leuven Center for Aero & Space Science, Technology & Applications brings together various research groups of Leuven University in the fields of aero- and astronautics. It aims to develop/focuses on:
- numerical simulation and experimental techniques for scientific analysis in space, aerospace and aeronautics;
- technologies for scientific space mission and aeronautics applications;
- human sciences for aerospace.
Several organizations in Belgium and Flanders as a region represent the interests of industries linked to aerospace, and help drive them further by promoting and facilitating innovative collaborations:
FLAG – Short for Flemish Aerospace Group, FLAG is the ‘spearhead cluster for the aeronautical industry. It brings together enterprises in the aerospace market and their partner organizations, focusing on domains such as aeronautics, space, associated high-tech, airports, airlines and business aviation. The organization also:
- facilitates the education and training of aerospace engineers, technicians and pilots;
- serves as a consulting body to the governments of Belgium and Flanders as well as Flanders’ employers’ organization.
VRI – Abbreviated in Dutch as ‘VRI’, Flemish Space Industry is a nonprofit organization that unites all Flanders-based companies, research centers and education institutes active in aerospace.
- Agoria – Agoria is the federal association for the technological industry. One of its business communities – Aeronautics, Space, Security & Defense – represents aerospace firms at international organizations such as Aerospace Defense Europe (ASD), the European Defense Agency (EDA) and the NATO Industry Advisory Group (NIAG). The business community promotes the know-how of local industry players, participates in economic missions, and more.
In Flanders, your aerospace business is in good company. Just look at this non-exhaustive list of manufacturers and services providers for the aeronautics, aviation and astronautics industries. Their portfolios include machining, components, maintenance, repair, space systems, sensors, satellites, consulting, training, testing, 3D-printing and more.
- Advionics – Living up to its baseline ‘Beyond avionic technologies’, Oostkamp-based Advionics leverages vast expertise in wave technologies to develop, manufacture and commercialize high-tech electronic solutions for the aviation industry.
- BMT Aerospace International – Based in Oostkamp, BMT manufactures precision gears, transmissions and actuators for aerospace applications. The company also has subsidiaries in the US and Romania.
- Esterline – Manufacturing firm Esterline operates an innovative base in Flanders – more specifically in Kortrijk – and produces advanced sensors, avionics systems, control and communication systems, connection and interface technologies, power systems, simulation technology and more for the aerospace industry.
- FiXar – Based in Beringen, FiXar is active in the field of industrial fixtures, jigs and tooling for the automotive and aerospace industries.
- Recticel – Headquartered in Brussels and operating 4 sites in Flanders, Recticel’s core portfolio centers around 4 application areas: flexible foams, insulation, bedding and automotive. Highlighting only one of its achievements in the aerospace industry, Recticel helped insulate the Falcon Heavy rocket cabin to protect its onboard satellites from sound vibrations during takeoff, when Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturing firm SpaceX launched a Tesla roadster into outer space in February 2018.
- SABCA – One of the main aerospace companies in Belgium, SABCA has a subsidiary – SABCA Limburg – in Lummen, Flanders. The firm boasts vast expertise in designing, building and upgrading large and complex elements for aircraft and space launchers.
- Space Applications Services – Based in Zaventem, Space Application Services a broad spectrum of activities, from manned and unmanned spacecraft and launch/reentry vehicles to robotics and a wide range of information systems.
- Verhaert – Based in Kruibeke, Verhaert is a leading provider of integrated product innovation, both broker and manager in the Technology Transfer Network of the European Space Agency (ESA).
- Antwerp Space – A member of the OHB AG Group, Antwerp Space specializes in satellite communications. The company carries out research in advanced communication, engineers ground and space-borne communication equipment, integrates and tests satellite telecommunication payloads, and much more.
- Newtec – Based in Temse, Newtec designs, develops and manufactures equipment and technologies for satellite communications.
- QinetiQ Space – Kruibeke-based expert in building, launching and operating small, complex space systems and satellites.
- Septentrio Satellite Navigation – Leuven-based Septentrio designs and manufactures, among other things, high-end dual-frequency GNSS receivers.
- Thales Alenia Space – A global leader in innovative space systems, Thales Alenia Space operates a plant in Leuven (Flanders) for the development of new avionics products and technologies for satellites and launch vehicles.
- Caeleste – Based in Mechelen, Caeleste has created several major breakthroughs in image sensors for space, scientific and medical applications.
- CMOSIS – Antwerp-based company, acquired by optical solutions leader ams, that develops and supplies advanced off-the-shelf customized and full-custom CMOS image sensors.
- OIP Sensor Systems – Headquartered in Oudenaarde, OIP designs, develops and manufactures optomechanical instruments for space applications.
- 3D Systems – Formerly LayerWise, a spin-off of Leuven University, 3D Systems masters the direct metal printing (DMP) technology to target both serial production and prototyping. This digital additive manufacturing technology finds its ideal application in the aerospace industry, as it enables the manufacture of complex free-form parts in a single manufacturing step, using any type of metal.
- Materialise – Headquartered in Leuven, Materialise offers a range of software solutions and 3D printing services. These are applied in some of the most stringent sectors, including aerospace.
- Eurosense – Headquartered in Wemmel (Flanders), this multinational offers a broad variety of geographical information.
- GIM – Based in Heverlee, GIM provides relevant geo-insights from earth observation data and specializes in high and very high resolution satellite imagery and object-based image analysis.