The Cassini fund has been announced for innovation in the space in Europe promising to be a far-reaching endeavor that acts a catalyst for private players in the space and earth observation sector. 

By Snehil Manohar Singh

CASSINI is a €1 billion ($1.1 billion) space fund that intends to provide impetus to startups and space innovation within the EU. As the European Commission’s official page for CASSINI describes, the initiative seeks to support entrepreneurship among space-related businesses in the European Union (EU). In particular, it caters to the needs of companies in different growth stages from seed to mid-caps, and to companies developing space technology as well as digital applications for various markets, by improving access to investments and professional networks (CASSINI – Space Entrepreneurship Initiative).

It was in January 2021 that Commissioner Thierry Breton announced that the European Commission would set up CASSINI. It is a watershed moment where, government agencies have for the first time, in the region, actively sought collaboration with private parties — not just for operational convenience, but for a truly symbiotic arrangement.

The EU’s policies have never been ambivalent about supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the space sector. Before CASSINI, there was Copernicus, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation (EO) program. “EU has done a pretty good job in supporting the space industry in general. A great example of that is the Copernicus Program and all the satellites that ESA has funded, launched, and made the data available to everybody. The economic value that has been generated on top of that data by companies that are building solutions or providing consulting services is enormous. So, a large part of the EO industry has been built on this decision. In addition to that, ESA has put a lot of programs in place to fund business initiatives, thereby helping the market develop,” said Sean Wiid, CEO, UP42, to Geospatial World in an interview last year.

Hence, when on January 25, 2022, officials from the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund announced that they were committing at least €1 billion over five years to CASSINI, a program that will provide early-stage funding for European space companies, it brought further cheer to the space sector.

Only five years ago, space was considered the sole purview of large companies and government agencies. The Copernicus and CASSINI programs have changed it. Even as companies like SpaceX are skyrocketing in popularity and satellites are being put into orbit by the dozen almost every month, smaller enterprises had felt that they were being left behind. 

The U.S. and Europe though, are not alone in this aspiration to encourage smaller private players to take part in the space game. China, Japan, and Russia have all come out with policies that have supported private enterprises in their own respective countries. Of late, India too has taken steps in this direction.