Danish astronaut helps to take space science to new heights

As commander of the International Space Station (ISS), Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen has become the face of European space exploration and leadership and is helping to promote the idea of space science and research as key drivers of technology and innovation in Denmark.

Watched by Danish Minister of Higher Education and Science Christina Egelund, the SpaceX Dragon Endurance was launched into space on 25 August 2023 carrying Mogensen, representing the European Space Agency, and three other astronauts.

Taking off from the NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, the spacecraft docked at the ISS the next day. Mogensen’s arrival marked the start of a six-month European mission known as Huginn. The mission is named (by Mogensen) after a mythical Nordic raven tasked with flying around the world to gather information for the god Odin.

In addition to Mogensen, the three other astronauts on the Dragon Endurance included NASA’s Jasmin Moghbeli, who is mission commander, Satoshi Furukawa of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, and Russian cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov of Roscosmos. At the space station, they joined Loral O’Hara (US), Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub (both from Russia).

Mogensen took over as the sixth European commander of the ISS on 26 September and will serve until early February 2024, focusing on crew supervision and station safety, spending nearly six months in space.

Together with Loral O’Hara he was scheduled for a spacewalk in mid-October which was delayed twice due to technical problems, and is now scheduled for December 2023.

Mogensen graduated from Imperial College London in 1999 and earned a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2007. He has worked in the aerospace industry in the US, Germany and the United Kingdom and also has experience as a rig engineer and holds pilot and diving certificates.

He is an honorary professor at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) where he has been working to attract more interest in advanced technology and space travel.

“Space travel is an incredibly exciting field in rapid development, and I look forward to supporting the excellent work DTU is doing in terms of both teaching and research,” he told DTU news.

In addition to the three different experiments he is expected to perform during the mission on behalf of the university, the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science has listed 10 projects Mogensen will undertake as part of the Huginn mission.

National goals

In 2021 the Danish government updated the country’s national space strategy with five new objectives, which the ISS mission will support. The new goals are focused upon how space-based technology and infrastructure can contribute to Danish climate goals, the development of smart cities and an effective public digital sector, green value creation, as well as security and defence.

It is envisaged that in the coming years, Danish space research will advance significantly. In addition to increased focus on Danish engagement in the European Space Agency, 31 Danish universities, technological institutes, the media and other space actors have partnered around the need to develop an optimal space exploration environment in Denmark.

The Space Exploration Denmark partnership’s stated mission is to “contribute to making the world more peaceful and the Danes richer, healthier and wiser about the solar system and where we ourselves come from, while at the same time inspiring children and young people to become explorers themselves and choose natural scientific and technical subjects”.

A separate National Partnership for Space-related Education (2023-25) is working, inter alia, to break down the barriers to space-related courses at Danish universities, giving the teachers and students information on educational offerings at universities, making it possible to switch between the universities. A mapping exercise in 2021 identified 211 space-related courses at six different universities.

Space conferences

In another initiative aimed at promoting space research, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, the Center for Defence, Space and Security (CenSec) and the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) joined forces to develop and manage the annual National Space Conference 2023, held from 9-10 November at SDU.

The conference featured a number of international keynote speakers, sharing expertise on topics such as European autonomy in space, and commercial opportunities and challenges in the space industry. In addition, the conference was to include several tracks consisting of talks on robots and drones for space; space and the green transition; space safety and security; insights into space markets and funding, and education and security.

Rector of SDU Jens Ringsmose said in an online statement his university was happy to host the national Danish space conference 2023.

“At SDU we are glad for the good collaboration between the Danish universities enhanced through the ministry’s partnership for space research. With SDU Galaxy, the cross-faculty network for space science and technology, we will focus upon the breadth and cross-scientific extension in space research and the growth potential in Danish industry.”

Ringsmose also announced that for the first time a Youth Space Conference, attracting participants from lower secondary educational institutions and gymnasiums, would take place alongside the main conference on 8 November.

Days before, the Spanish city of Seville played host to European ministers attending a two-day Space Summit.

According to, the ministers of the European Space Agency’s member states at the summit committed to a “paradigm shift” in the European space programme and “assert[ed] Europe’s rightful place in the world”.

Driver of innovation

The role of the space sector as a driver for technology and innovation was emphasised by Egelund in a comment to University World News about the ambitions of Danish space research and education and the significance of Mogensen as a role model for the younger generation.

“Denmark has excellent research and innovation environments and the talent it takes to be a key player in space science and technology. We even have an astronaut [in Mogensen] who is a fantastic role model for the younger generation.”

Egelund said she was committed to increasing Denmark’s engagement in space research and innovation. “That is why, next year, we will develop and launch a new strategy for space research and innovation that can support, supplement and maybe even turbo charge our existing National Space Strategy.”

She said: “We need to make space a prioritised area and provide a new political framework for a more ambitious approach to space in the coming years – a framework that helps us grow the Danish space sector with even more companies and supports its function as a driver for technology and innovation.”

DI Business, a publication of the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), has endorsed the increase in funding to the European Space Agency from the Danish government: DKK125 million (US$18 million) in 2024, which brings the total contribution to the European Space Agency in 2024, if approved by parliament, to DKK425 million (US$61 million).

“DI believes this as a good idea,” the newsletter said, noting that space technology plays “a decisive role” in the development of climate monitoring, navigation and communication, which are important for the Danish export industry.

Mikkel Haarder, deputy director of the Confederation of Danish Industry, who is also head of research, education and diversity, agreed that Mogensen was an “extraordinary role model” for young Danes.

“I am confident that he will inspire a new generation of talented students to go into the fields of science and engineering. Andreas Mogensen has already demonstrated that he is an excellent communicator and a strong ambassador for the natural and technical sciences. I hope that we will see many more of his kind in the future,” he said.

On the economic benefits of increased space research for Denmark, Haarder said: “Danish companies profit greatly from space research. Our estimates suggest that every time Denmark invests one euro in ESA [the European Space Agency], Danish companies that participate in ESA programmes increase their revenue by 4.5 euros. So, the benefit of space research for Denmark clearly goes beyond the scientific results.”

Universities at the forefront

Dr Torsten Neubert, chief advisor in the Department of Astrophysics and Atmospheric Physics, National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, said the extra funding for ESA (over a three year period) was a "most welcome lift" in funding.

"I am not certain if we can count on it as 'permanent'. It also not clear yet how it will be spent on ESA activities. In any case, it is a most welcome lift in funding. However, it is on a background of lower funding levels relative to countries that we normally compare ourselves with (Norway, Sweden, Holland, Belgium)," he said.

Professor Emeritus Jens Oddershede, former rector of SDU and former chair of the Danish Council for Research and Innovation Policy, said it was “in the genes” of universities to be at the forefront of scientific discoveries and “they must also be engaged in space science”.

However, he said the expense connected with that kind of research meant that space science had to be a joint international endeavour, with “the ISS being the prominent example of that”.

Oddershede said: “One may envision both defence and civil applications of space science. For obvious reasons I do hope that the latter will have the highest priorities. One way to reinforce this development is to have as much university engagement in space science as possible.

“Since the start of the University of Bologna in 1088, universities have been striving to do the best for the advancement of mankind – another good reason for universities to engage themselves in space science.”

* Details on the Huginn mission are available here. Andreas Mogensen can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and on European Space Agency social media channels.