LET-SME: an opportunity reserved for SMEs

ESA's LET-SME (Leading-Edge Technologies from Small and Medium sized Enterprises) programme is dedicated to encouraging the ‘spin-in’ to space of leading-edge technologies from SMEs. First launched in 1998, the programme regularly issues Invitations to Tender for the development and supply of innovative technologies, and which are fully reserved for high technology SMEs.

LET-SME funding is made available, via dedicated Announcements of Opportunities (AOs), to carry out feasibility and validation studies and to demonstrate the use of their technologies, products or processes to fulfil the needs of a number of space missions. SMEs are encouraged to cooperate with research centres and the targeted technologies are those with good potential for innovation.

ESA’s SME Policy Office reviews ESA technology requirements and priorities to select, in cooperation with ESA technical services, technology themes for each LET-SME AO.

Contracts are awarded after proposals have been evaluated by a dedicated tender evaluation board, which includes members from all involved parties in ESA. Conditions for LET-SME contracts are as follows:

  • eligible costs correspond to technical adaptation and customisation of technology, feasibility demonstration by analysis/testing/breadboarding, functional validation, etc.
  • level of funding depends on the nature of the activity, with a ceiling at present of €200 000
  • duration is typically 6 to 18 months

Success for both ESA and SMEs

The vast majority of SMEs which have had the opportunity to work under the LET-SME scheme, have achieved remarkable results, of value to space missions.

Indeed, a significant number of the technologies developed under LET-SME contracts have been flown, or are scheduled to fly, on ESA missions, e.g. SMART-1 and Proba. Therefore, the idea of initiating feasibility studies during which SMEs are brought into contact with research centres and/or in some cases, with other companies already working in the space sector, has proven to be very fruitful.

Since 1998, over 130 projects have been funded. A number of these are described in the SME Projects database, with others being presented in the two brochures: SME Technology Successes, 1 and 2.

LET-SME Announcements of Opportunities are published on ESA’s online invitation to tender system: EMITS.

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