June 15, 2020

VGTU Shoots for the Stars by Raising the New Gen of Aerospace Startups

As Lithuania seeks membership of the European Space Agency, Antanas Gustaitis’ aviation institute of Vilnius Gediminas technical university (VGTU) undertook the measures to facilitate the aerospace community in the country. A revised study program of aeronautical engineering (second study cycle/ master’s degree) offers the unique possibility — to set up a startup company during the studies, and therefore exploit the opportunities of emerging aerospace sector.

Dr. Justas Nugaras of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University
Dr. Justas Nugaras

The dean of Antanas Gustaitis’ aviation institute (VGTU) dr. Justas Nugaras is firm, he says it is not a surprise that governments, scientific and business communities show their interest in aerospace technologies. “According the study conducted by the European Investment Bank, in the period of 2005-2017 the space-based economy received an average annual rise of 6.7%, or in other words, the sector was developing twice as fast as the world’s economy (3,5%). Today, we may speak about the NewSpace phenomenon where vast majority of technological and business innovations led to the reduction of the costs, facilitation of new product development and involvement of larger number of participants into the space economy. “The perception that space is a suitable arena only for the large and wealth states no longer corresponds to the reality” – adds the VGTU representative. Even bigger breakthrough in the aerospace industry is to come with the internet of things and enhanced communication among the devices, which will be possible due to the reduction of the satellite launch costs. It is expected that by 2022 about 70% of small satellites will be used for commercial purposes.

The growing aerospace sector attracts the investors too, since 2000 more than 14.8 billion euros were brought to the companies working in the field and the investments are growing ever since. In the past two decades the investments of “business angels” and venture capital funds facilitated the establishment of more than 180 new aerospace companies. More than 700 companies were established in the ESA Business Incubation Centres, which makes it an average of 180 aerospace startups per year.

“The study process of aeronautical engineering study programme logically leads the  students towards the creation of the startup of their own. They start with the tasks which guide them to the development of a working prototype and give valuable knowledge of startup corporate and learning culture by the end of the study process. Students work in teams, they consult with academic advisors, business mentors and along with the standardised knowledge and skills, the course also comprises the modules of management, marketing, start-up development and project management”, – continues VGTU representative dr. Justas Nugaras.

The revised study programme proposes one of 4 alternatives: UAVs, nanosatellites, 3D printing in aeronautics as well as military and aeronautical innovation. Reviewed one year after the beginning of the study programme, aerospace technologies and drones received most of the students’ attention. Among the most fascinating projects – the fire-fighting UAV model, the students seek solutions how to connect it to the fire-fighting system. The improvement of goods’ delivery systems keeps the students occupied on the package lowering technology which would enable the drone to stay airborne, and therefore ensure the contactless delivery. The part of the aerospace study programme is headed by Laurynas Mačiulis who worked on the development of the first Lithuanian satellite and the establishment of one of the most well-known aerospace companies “NanoAvionics”. Students investigate how to ensure optical free space link among diverse satellites (up to 10kg), it is planned to develop and release such a prototype into higher altitudes, where similar conditions to the space are present. Inter-satellite optical link would enable the network creation of small but high bandwidth satellites in the space, and therefore would make a significant contribution to the data transmission of currently limited Earth observation.

Eglė Elena Šataitė, who works at Space NCP, the agency for science, innovation and technology and is responsible for the development of the space ecosystem and preparedness for membership to the European Space Agency states that Lithuania, just like many other small states, is oriented towards the niche solutions and exposition of already existing strengths such as laser technology, ICT, Earth observation technologies and growing potential for AI development as well as technological solutions. New startups keep on emerging, they have some interesting ideas which are appreciated by the European Space Agency. The government is also interested in facilitating the space sector in the country, therefore, we see the great interest of successful programme development and look forward to successful student visions on how they would contribute to the aerospace business. It is expected that the programme would facilitate joint research and bring the business and science together, which separately do actively participate in the (inter-)national research and innovation programmes. As E. E. Šataitė says this is one of the strengths our country possesses.

“Traditionally, the students of engineering study programmes obtain very little knowledge in terms of management and marketing. Therefore, we aim to highlight that the development of the products which is required by the market is as good as the proposal of the engineering solution. The turning point in the students’ mentality was the realisation that the development of you want is not always the key, whereas the comprehension of the market needs might be.”, – agrees dr. J. Nugaras.

The renewed master’s degree study programme of Aeronautical Engineering (VGTU) has given a start in 2019 and currently 20 students seek their education in the field. The study programme is carried out in the English language and half of the enrolled students are from the foreign countries including Turkey, Central Asia and India.

Lithuania signed the cooperation agreement with European Space Agency in 2010. The plan of European state cooperation was signed in 2015 and lasted for 5 years. In January 2020 the delegation of European Space Agency started the negotiations regarding Lithuania’s membership.

Source – Vilnius Gediminas Technical University