|

Swiss patents in space

When rockets fly into space and satellites orbit the earth, Swiss technology is often involved. We investigate the important role of patents in space exploration.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin
Flashback: shortly after landing on the moon on 20 July 1969, astronaut Buzz Aldrin placed the University of Bern’s solar wind sail on the ground. Image: Nasa

20 July 1969 marked a giant leap for mankind – and a monumental moment for Swiss innovation. During the first moon landing, astronaut Buzz Aldrin placed the University of Bern’s solar wind sail on the ground – even before the US flag. Over a certain period of time, this piece of foil captured particles of the solar wind, which were later evaluated on Earth. Today, scientists from Bern are still heavily involved in NASA projects.

 

The members of the Apollo 11 crew wore a watch by the Swiss manufacturer Omega on their wrists. The Velcro fastener of Swiss Velcro AG, a patented invention by George de Mestral of the Canton of Vaud (patent number CH339155), was an integral part of their space suit. Many other Swiss companies were also involved in the moon landing, as this article by the Swiss National Museum shows.

  

Top technology from Switzerland

A look at the present day shows that, when it comes to space travel, Switzerland is still anything but behind the times. More than 50 companies are active in space thanks to their cutting-edge technology. The Swiss space industry generates annual sales of around CHF 290 million. According to the Swiss Aerospace Association Aerosuisse (in German), almost 1000 people work in this sector. The companies are suppliers and they specialise in the development and construction of subsystems (e.g. satellite components) for use in space.

  
  

Swiss patents in space

Inventor Johannes Geiss testing the solar wind sail. Image: University of Bern.
  
  

Swiss patents in space

Omega Speedmaster
The Apollo 11 crew wore a watch by the manufacturer Omega. Image: Omega
  
  

Swiss patents in space

The patent drawing for Velcro. This Swiss invention was also involved in the moon landing. Image: Espacenet.com
  
  

Swiss patents in space

The motors driving these Mars rovers are made by the Swiss company Maxon Motor. Copyright: NASA
  

  

Swiss patents in space

RUAG Space produces fairings for the upper stage of launcher vehicles. Image: RUAG Space
  
  

Swiss patents in space

Image: Ruag Space
  
  

Swiss patents in space

The start-up Cleanspace wants to remove discarded satellites from space. Image: Cleanspace screenshot
  
  

Swiss patents in space

Image: Ruag Space
  

Mars mission

Here are three examples of the numerous ‘hidden champions’ tinkering with trailblazing innovations:

 

  • Maxon Motor AG of Nidwalden supplied NASA with the motors that drive the twin rover ‘Opportunity’. They will also be on board the upcoming Mars mission – when the first Mars helicopter takes off from the Red Planet in 2020, Maxon’s DC motors will control the rotors.
  • Cleanspace, a start-up founded at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL), has a vision of using an intelligent robot called Swisscube to remove discarded satellites from space.
  • With inventions such as payload fairings by RUAG Space, Switzerland has secured a place on every flight of a European launch vehicle. Rockets in the USA are now also using this company's technology.
  

«Patents make us competitive»

There is a lot of movement in the space industry. Digitalisation creates needs and opportunities that are covered by satellites such as the Internet of Things, broadband satellites or communications. In the meantime, more and more private entrepreneurs are entering the market and commercialising it. "This is why, in this highly specialised industry, protecting innovation is essential and necessary for survival. Only patents can enable us to compete," says Peter Guggenbach, CEO of RUAG Space and President of the Swiss Space Industries Group (SSIG).

Back to all blog articles

Share article