Partners for Space Exploration

ESA’s commercial partnership with European industry facilitates space exploration and promotes a broader utilisation of the International Space Station. It also fosters new technology that could boost future ESA missions to the Moon and Mars.

In 2015, ESA issued a permanent open Call to industry to participate in the Agency’s Space Exploration Strategy via innovative partnerships.

Low Earth Orbit

ESA’s Space 4.0 strategy aims to bring about the transition of Low Earth Orbit activities from being a government-run laboratory to being a commercially driven human and robotic spaceflight economy. 

Under a call for Co-funded studies on platforms and facilities in low Earth orbit, new partners are encouraged to work on orbital infrastructures and transportation for affordable research and novel applications.  

Two partnerships, the ICE Cubes service and Bartolomeo, have been established under the permanent call for partnerships:

ICE Cubes

Ice Cubes in Columbus mockup

The ICE Cubes service is the first European commercial opportunity to conduct research in space. This pioneering agreement signed between ESA and Space Applications Services NV/SA, Belgium, offers room to run experiments and conduct research in weightlessness inside ESA’s Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station. 

Launched in May 2018, the service provides rapid and simplified access to the station on a commercial basis. For the first time, ICE Cubes users will be able to interact with their experiment directly from their home. 

Bartolomeo: An all-in-one service for the space station

Bartolomeo platforms outside Columbus

Airbus Defence and Space partnered with ESA on 7 February 2018 to start developing a new commercial service for the International Space Station called Bartolomeo.

From 2019, the versatile Bartolomeo All-in-one Mission Service will provide end-to-end access for external payloads on the Station for many mission types at competitive prices. It offers an unobstructed view of Earth, direct control of the experiments from the ground via a high-speed data feed, and the possibility of retrieving samples. 

These services strengthen the competitiveness of the space and non-space industrial base, stimulates R&D, and integrates innovative solutions with ESA space exploration missions. 

Developing commercial capacity for future missions beyond LEO

Goonhilly’s GHY-6 antenna was built in 1985 and features a 32 m-diameter dish - it will be upgraded under ESA technical oversight to provide high bit-rate data links for future deep-space missions
Goonhilly antenna

ESA and the County of Cornwall in the UK have partnered up to redevelop part of Goonhilly Earth Station, an existing commercial station in Cornwall, UK, to enable it to provide Europe’s first deep-space tracking services on a commercial basis. 

The Goonhilly project will be initially funded through a €9.5 million investment from the UK’s Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, a public­–private regional economic development body, and will later include a smaller investment from ESA.

Under the project, a 32 m-diameter dish built in 1985 will be upgraded to provide fast data links for missions far beyond Earth – typically exceeding 2 million km. 

“Once the station upgrade work is complete, in about 24 months, Goonhilly will be able to complement ESA’s own stations, and provide deep-space tracking for the Agency’s missions as well as those of other space agencies or from private space start-ups aiming to exploit the Moon or mine asteroids,” notes Klaus-Jürgen Schulz, responsible for ESA ground station engineering.  

Space Exploration strategy

David Parker, Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration

“Commercial partnership plays a growing role in the exciting ESA vision for space exploration,” commented David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration. 

“ESA intends to stimulate private sector engagement in space exploration and foster innovative and inspiring approaches for ISS services and utilisation and future ESA missions.” 

Call for proposals

ISS and beyond Call for ideas: Space exploration as driver for growth & competitiveness
A unique opportunity for the private sector to shape and engage as a strategic partner in the future global space exploration undertaking. ESA is looking into novel ways to partner with the private sector and facilitate the realisation of European exploration ambitions.
Closing date: Always open
Post-ISS Co-funded studies on platforms and facilities in low Earth orbit
As the operational life of the International Space Station comes to an end in the next decade, new partners are welcome to work on orbital infrastructures and transportation for affordable research and novel applications.
The invitation to tender (Ref:AO9038) is published on ESA EMITS ( The deadline for submissions is 31 December 2019.
Lunar missions Lunar ISRU Demonstration mission definition study
In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) involves the extraction and processing of local resources into useful products such as water and oxygen. ESA is looking into lunar mission concepts to break explorers’ reliance on Earth supplies.  ESA wants to leverage on existing private sector investment.
Closed. Study ongoing
Breadboard of a multi-spectral camera for rendezvous in Lagrangian orbits of Earth-Moon system

In the frame of the Cornerstone 4 mission concept Heracles, ESA is interested in a Lunar Ascent Element that ascending from the Moon surface will rendezvous with a Gateway, a Lunar Orbital Platform to be built amongst international partners by mid-2020, and will deliver samples to this Gateway. The LAE will need to ascend to a near recti-linear halo orbit and rendezvous with the Gateway.

The newly issued activity focuses on autonomous navigation systems for rendezvous missions in libration orbits of Earth-Moon system with special emphasis on near rectilinear orbits. It aims at designing and manufacturing a breadboard of a multi-spectral camera including the proximity electronics and image processing board. The main objective of this camera is to produce images during all phases of the rendezvous.

The invitation to tender is published on EMITS - reference AO9428, and the deadline for submissions is 10 September 2018.

Request for information

Lunar Missions Technologies, Science Payloads and Commercial Services for a Lunar ISRU Demonstration Mission
ESA is requesting information relating to the elements of a mission to demonstrate lunar In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) technologies at the lunar surface and to prepare capabilities for future lunar missions.

Upcoming events


Conference, Bilbao (Spain) 29­–31 October 2018

This conference is a unique opportunity to share ideas on new and disruptive technologies for sustainable space exploration that benefits the economy. Download the Call for DIGITS associated with this event.

ESA Grand Challenge Open call
The ESA Grand Challenge is a contest aimed at creating a new European ecosystem of entrepreneurs and start-up companies competing to develop solutions that address complex problems.

Last update: 5 September 2018

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