ESA SME Policy

The dynamism, flexibility and innovative capabilities of high technology small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are of high value to Europe’s space industry. ESA actively encourage this industrial group to become involved in its space programmes.

The aim is to enable ESA, and the European space industry, to tap into the potential of innovative SMEs and to open up opportunities for them to work more extensively with ESA and its space contractors.


During the March 1997 meeting of the ESA Council, Ministers of ESA Member States called upon the Director General of ESA to reserve a special place for SMEs. The objective is to guarantee them a share in the Agency’s technological activities, and to facilitate their access to technical facilities and tools. As a result, ESA put in place a specific SME Policy aiming at promoting the participation of SMEs in its activities.

This policy helps ESA, and the space sector generally, to make the best possible use of the wealth of technologies and expertise that European SMEs can offer. The flexibility and high degree of specialisation of this category of companies, make them invaluable partners in all space projects.

The SME Policy adds a valuable dimension to the Agency’s overall industrial policy, as well as to its efforts to maintain the expertise needed to develop space programmes. Taken as a whole, ESA’s industrial policy portfolio aims to ensure that European industry has fair and balanced access to ESA’s activities.

SME Policy Office

The SME Policy Office manages and coordinates, ESA-wide, application of the SME Policy and is the focal point for SMEs and all external actors concerned with any aspect of SME policy (institutional actors, National Agencies, Industrial organisations, etc.).

The SME Policy Office has put in place a number of measures to reinforce the technical capabilities and sustainability of high technology SMEs in order to facilitate their involvement in ESA activities.

Encouraging SME involvement in ESA activities

Encouragement is pursued via calls for proposals from SMEs to develop, adapt and validate technologies to satisfy space engineering requirements. Such Announcements of Opportunity (AOs) typically concern:

The LET-SME programme is dedicated to encouraging the ‘spin-in’ to the space industry of leading-edge technologies from SMEs. The prime purpose of the >C1-C4 clauses is to guarantee fair access to ESA’s procurements for all categories of companies.

Technical support to SMEs

Several measures have been taken to provide technical support to SMEs:

ESA regularly organises a number of training programmes targeted towards industries operating in, or looking to enter, the space sector. Priority is given to SMEs, and the courses cover key aspects of doing business in space-related industrial fields.

A special scheme has been put in place to make the use of ESA’s testing facilities and laboratories available to SMEs at a favourable cost.

In support of the above actions, in November 2005, ESA and the European Commission launched SineQuaNet, a mechanism able to organise, structure and deliver access to technical facilities, expert support and training services for SMEs.

Adaptation of ESA rules and tools

To improve and simplify the bidding and contract conditions, two measures have been taken:

SMEs are among the prime beneficiaries of these improvements, as the EMITS upgrading includes features to facilitate business networking. Moreover, many SME contracts fall within the group of ‘small contracts’ and therefore directly benefit from streamlining of procedures

Enhanced opportunities for business partnership and networking

ESA in general, and specifically the SME Policy Office, have initiated several facilities to improve business partnership, networking, and the flow of relevant information - all intended to be of particular benefit to SMEs:

Copyright 2000 - 2017 © European Space Agency. All rights reserved.