Sustainable Exploration Prize

by Airbus & Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany


Closing the loop: Sustainability in space is the key to survival in space and to realizing new business ideas. Spacefarers need to act responsibly to preserve the space environment for the future. As on Earth today, chemical and biological processes are the key to closing the cycles of materials.

The goal for sustainability in space will be to use as few resources as possible from planet Earth: Bringing just the key ingredients along and utilizing recycling, avoiding waste. Enabling a sustainable space environment: In-space manufacturing is a crucial driver for future exploration infrastructure. Utilizing in-situ resources on planets or asteroids, and high-performance materials from the existing man-made space junk will enable the in-space manufacturing of tomorrow. Automation, modularization, digitalization, and ruggedization will be key elements of any in-space factory. Closing the matter cycle allows for sustainable life in space. To sustain life in space, chemistry and biology play crucial roles: Whether it is indoor farming, individualized medicine, bio-interfaces and sensors, self-diagnostics, or life support systems providing clean water and breathable air. And since we know that carbon is the key component of all known life on Earth, which role will organic chemistry play in space? Earth is the starting point for space exploration – and vice versa. We expect that technologies will be tested and applied on Earth before being used in space, for example when looking at hydrogen technologies for energy storage and supply. And vice versa, a closed habitat environment in space serves as model laboratory to foster terrestrial technologies.

Plenty of joint challenges are out there: How, for example, will organic photovoltaic change energy supply on Earth and in space? When thinking about business models for future space sustainability, they can be relevant already today for Earth applications. Technologies developed to establish sustainable concepts in space will find their terrestrial applications and markets. Airbus and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany are looking for technological and business ideas from research spin-offs, startups, and young companies to close this loop, enabling a sustainable space environment and human life in space.

Winner 2017


2017 Prize Description

The three (3) finalists received a support package tailored by Airbus and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany from the following modules:

  • Access to experts of Airbus and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
  • Support for the application for a tailored acceleration program by Airbus and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
  • Short-listing for the Accelerator Program of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (starting March 2018)
  • Support with the application for the Airbus accelerator BizLab (starting October 2018)
  • Pitch to the Airbus Ventures and Merck Ventures B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, a subsidiary of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany
  • Support by Airbus for application to the ESA Business Incubator Bavaria @Bölkow Campus in Ottobrunn, Germany.

The winner was additionally

  • Receiving an all-inclusive trip (incl. flight, room, and board) to the X-Innovation Summit in Dubai, hosted by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. The event will take place from November 22nd – 23rd 2017. The winner’s trip is supported by Airbus
  • Receiving a one-day joint Airbus-Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany expert workshop custom-built around the winning idea. The goal is to provide cross-industry support from space and non-space to develop the idea to the next level