Edgar Milic, the CEO of microsatellite and integrated services specialist LuxSpace, takes a trip down memory lane for Silicon Luxembourg, looking back on his military experience with the Italian Air Force, fascination with space, sharing his take on leadership and the future of space.
“My 30-year long love affair with space — this statement came to mind because of the fascination with space, the universe, exploration, since my teenage years. I was a big fan of StarTrek,” he reveals.
“The reason why I loved StarTrek was that it was a plausible story, considering an expansion of humankind beyond Earth, you can foresee that this could be a reasonable step,” he adds.
Milic was exposed to the world of aeronautics and space thanks to his father who served as pilot for the Italian navy before switching to the civil world as pilot for Alitalia and later for Cargolux.
Joining the Italian Air Force in the mid-1990s, which he describes as an “experience in discipline”, he credits that period for learning to comply with orders and associates it with the first time he was entrusted with a leadership role in a department of 100 people.
“I always believed that a good leader is one that can follow leaders, one that can listen to what needs to be done and can follow the leadership of others,” he states.
The big picture
At that point in time, Milic developed an interest in “the big picture and management side of space” and after a first experience at GMV in Spain, where he did “hands-on” engineering work for Earth observation missions, followed by an executive MBA and a short stint as commercial director for space, he joined satellite operator SES in Luxembourg where he held several senior roles for over 12 years.
A year ago, Milic took the helm of LuxSpace, a move he describes as “changing focus in activities” and an “opportunity of leading a team completely, of being able to implement the participative leadership that I liked to have in my teams”.
12 months later he reports being satisfied that the team “achieved certain things which were in some cases absolutely not guaranteed.”
Looking back on 2021
One of them is the announcement that LuxSpace is part of a consortium for the operation of Luxembourg’s military “National Advanced Optical System” (NAOS) satellite.
The contract, Milic explains, covers “the entire ground service operation” and includes several components such as “the operation of the satellite itself, the data processing and the supportive services, logistics and IT.”
In November 2021, LuxSpace and several partners signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) for the development and deployment of a European Spectrum Monitoring System, which he says is “a wonderful fit between different interests”.
“Our role is leveraging the spacecraft part. Our platform TritonX, currently under development, will be the baseline platform that will be used for any space development, space deployment of the system that will take place,” he adds.
According to Milic, the collaboration could lead to future developements in IoT services, and in maritime applications – a potential area of growth for LuxSpace.
NewSpace and future talent
While looking at space technology as a way “to push the boundaries of humankind”, Milic points out that NewSpace companies “cannot escape the rules of economics”.
“Despite the fact that you can envision a dream, you’d better make sure that you can sell something in the short term,” he says, adding that “until you get to Mars, you’d better have something paying the bill meanwhile”.
Having advised venture capital funds, Milic talks about the key ingredients he considers when assessing space companies, such as the technology, the team and the business case.
“It’s paramount that people have the drive, the mind-set, the collaborative aptitude,” he says, arguing that “the ability to execute with resilience and be flexible enough to pivot in one direction or the other” will make an “enormous” difference.
Milic also brings up the sustainability of a NewSpace business, pointing out that a business may be sustainable due to an “intellectual property item” of the technology, or a “competitive advantage created in a chain of events” or because a business has a “certain initial superiority” in a field.
However, building the future of space requires talent and a particular set of skills, according to Milic who is also a lecturer in space business and entrepreneurship at the University of Luxembourg.
“The one that can carry the adventure forward needs to have less of technical skills and more of other skills: social skills, human skills, and business skills,” he says.