Areas of research

This list of possible disciplines for which a research topic can be proposed, although comprehensive, is not exhaustive. ESA will evaluate any research proposal providing that it is relevant to ESA's current activities.

Space science

The latest news is available in the Research and Scientific Support Department website (Research Fellowships).

Earth observation

Earth resources

  • advanced remote sensing
  • instrumentation: passive microwave radiometry and sounding, synthetic aperture radars, scatterometers and altimeters, multispectral scanner
  • data processing methodologies: processing of image data, processing of synthetic aperture radar data and scatterometers
  • atmospheric processes and their influence on remote sensing measurements
  • advanced technology (satellite): large scale memories, optical charge coupled and acoustic wave devices for image and side-looking radar data handing
  • computer simulation of on-board processing systems

Geodesy, geophysics

  • Earth kinematics studies (Earth rotation polar motion)
  • refined studies on Earth potential
  • geodynamics, earthquake prediction research
  • position-determination and navigation systems
  • physical oceanography
  • ice dynamics
  • studies of scientific and operational aspects of satellite observation laser systems for precise position determination and for synchronization of clocks
  • satellite magnetometry

Metereology, climatology


  • picture processing (wind field extraction, sea surface temperature), temperature profile inversion techniques (infrared and microwave)


  • microwave radiometry and sounding applied to meteorology
  • limb sounders, sub-mm heterodyne spectrometry Lidars

Climatology, radiative budget of the Earth

Life science/science under microgravity conditions

Life science

  • vestibular research, neurophysiology
  • physiology, cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal systems, regulatory processes
  • cytology
  • rhythms
  • radiation biophysics
  • developmental biology
  • psycho-physiology
  • biochemistry
  • plant physiology
  • microbiology
  • bioengineering
  • clinical medicine
  • exobiology
  • bioprocessing

Science under microgravity conditions

Material science:

  • fluid phenomena influencing the design of microgravity experiments (convection, diffusion, viscous forces, pressure forces, transport mechanism, etc.)
  • experimental/mathematical modelling (characteristic numbers, hydrostatics, fluid dynamics, thermal Marangoni flow, flow regions, etc.)
  • metallurgy, composites, glasses (heat transfer, mass transfer, plane front solidification, nucleation, organization, eutectic growth, structures, liquid-solid mixtures, liquid-liquid mixtures, alloys, glasses, welding, casting, etc.)
  • crystal growth (model crystals, elementary crystals, binary crystals, low temperature solutions growth, vapour growth, etc.; crucible free zone melting, lattice defects, crystal contamination, etc.)
  • chemistry (chemical synthesis, corrosion processes, polymerization reactions, combustion processes, electrode reactions, free radical chemistry, catalysis, phase equilibria, etc.)
  • techniques related to experimentation under microgravity (heating techniques, positioning techniques, mixing devices, measuring techniques, observation techniques, etc.)

Space technology research

Spacecraft structures

  • structure analysis methods (computer-aided design, dynamics, design verification)
  • advanced composites structures
  • smart structures
  • erectable structures (large areas)
  • fatigue and fracture mechanics

Spacecraft propulsion

Chemical propulsion:

  • thermodynamic analyses of advanced engine cycles for storable and cryogenic bipropellant rocket engines
  • combustion instability studies
  • rocket exhaust plume analyses; plume flow-field characteristics; plume impingement effects
  • heat transfer analysis for rocket engines; regenerative cooling, film cooling
  • use of advanced materials for rocket engines (composites)

Electric propulsion:

  • mission analyses for orbital manoeuvres using electric propulsion; high energy orbits, drag compensation for low orbits
  • plasma physics and electro-optics analyses for field emission electric propulsion

Launcher propulsion

Rocket propulsion:

  • derivation and thermodynamic performance analysis of advanced rocket engine cycles for future launchers: influence of combustion pressure, variable mixture ratio, external expansion nozzles, advanced materials, dual fuel engines, tripropellant engines

Air-breathing propulsion:

  • thermodynamic analysis of advanced engine cycles for hydrogen fuelled air-breathing engines, including combined-cycle engines, for use in future reusable launchers
  • analysis of the installed propulsive performance of air-breathing engines in reusable launchers: force accounting and balance for thrust, drag, lift and vehicle weight
  • derivation of installed engine performance specific impulse and vehicle velocity losses as functions of altitude, Mach, incidence and bank angles
Solar panel
 Solar panels


  • despun systems
  • solar array drive
  • space tribology
  • deployment booms and large masts
  • precision mechanisms for optical payload instruments
  • advanced momentum/energy storage actuators
  • precision pointing mechanisms

Thermal control

  • Thermal analysis and modelisation
  • Thermal software development

Thermal control technology:

  • heat transport (two-phase loops, heat pipes, fluid loops)
  • heat rejection (passive, heat pipe, hybrid and advanced radiators)
  • cryogenic cooling (cryostats, mechanical coolers and very low temperature cooling)
  • thermal protection systems for reentry and planetary entry vehicles

Environmental control and life support

  • ECLS analysis and modelisation
  • Life-support software development

Life-support technology (physico-chemical and biological):

  • air management systems
  • water management systems
  • food management systems
  • CELSS (closed ecological life support systems)

Habitability of manned vehicles and planetary bases:

  • architecture
  • hygiene
  • comfort
  • psychological issues
  • physiological issues

RF systems

  • analog and digital communication systems design and analysis including space and ground segments
  • communication techniques (coding, modulation, access, etc.)
  • TT&C techniques
  • global navigation
  • advanced remote sensing microwave instruments (radar radiometer, etc.); design and analysis
  • microwave and digital technologies for satellite payloads (low noise receiver, power amplification, frequency generation, filters, modems, etc.)
  • equipment, subsystems, systems performance evaluation in the RF systems laboratory

ESA/Redu ECS & TMS-1 antennas
ESA/Redu ECS & TMS-1 antennas

Antennas, electromagnetism, propagation

  • antenna design and simulation
  • antenna calibration and measurement
  • electromagnetic compatibility
  • propagation, wave interactions

Attitude and orbit control

  • dynamic simulation of large flexible spacecraft
  • application of modern information/control theory to advanced attitude measurement/control systems and to robotic control
  • control organization for flexible robot manipulators
  • use of on-board processors for attitude control
  • dynamics of liquids (stability, energy, dissipation)
  • use of attitude detectors and gyros for spacecraft control
  • studies of gravity gradient and solar sailing
  • expert systems for control and diagnosis
  • studies of rendezvous and docking of spacecraft in-orbit


  • kinematics and dynamic analysis and simulation
  • control systems and algorithms computation
  • robot programming and calibration
  • diagnostics, planning and recovery
  • sensor and sensor-based control system
  • joints and electro-mechanical actuators
  • wrist, end-effectors and grippers
  • electronic and electro magnetic drives
  • collision avoidance and intelligent control
  • teleoperation and human-machine interface
  • space payload servicing and automation
  • space capture and berthing


  • advanced optical detectors (solid state, single point, array, matrix)
  • advanced optical instrumentation for Earth observations
  • optical computers
  • components for astronomy observations in the various regions of the spectrum
  • advanced optical methods for pattern recognition, data transfer, etc.
  • coherent, superheterodyne and omodyne detection

Energy conversion

Solar cells and arrays:

  • silicon solar cell efficiency improvement and testing
  • Gas solar cell assessment, module interconnection technology
  • solar array assessment such as electro-magnetic interference and failure mode effects
  • investigation of large (multi-KW) deployable arrays
  • investigation of solar array–plasma interactions
  • Assessment of solar thermodynamic generators


  • development of new battery couples (metal hydrogen, fuel cells, sodium sulfur, lithium, etc.)
  • analysis of test results and impact on charge control

Electronics power conditioning and control:

  • optimization for missions with large variations sun distance, for multi-kW power range or for wide fluctuations in power demand; AC power generation and distribution
  • high voltage converter design, incorporation of thick and thin film technology in power conditioning and control subsystems
  • investigation of EMI and EMC aspects of power distribution systems
  • investigation of ESD (electrostatic discharge)
  • components for power systems and computer modeling of performances
  • thermoelectric conversion (application to radioisotope source)
  • energy storage by flywheels

IBIS during vibration test
Vibration tests

Space environment

  • electro magnetic shielding at low frequencies
  • prediction of electromagnetic interference on board spacecraft
  • control of spacecraft vibration tests
  • alternative test methods to space simulation
  • modal survey tests versus systems tests, influence on cost, reliability and schedule
  • spacecraft model philosophy, its influence on reliability, cost and schedule

Product assurance

  • cost effectiveness
  • availability and maintainability in space segment
  • reliability of mechanical systems
  • electronic, electrical and electro mechanical components:
  • physics failure and reliability
  • new failure analysis techniques for complex integrated circuits
  • effects of space radiation (e.g. particles, ions, X-rays) on advanced semi-conductor technologies
  • radiation hardening of MOS technologies
  • materials:
  • material properties in relation to the space environment
  • new materials in relation to all technological areas
  • bio-compatibility of components in closed environmental systems
  • software product assurance:
  • tools development
  • database:
  • product assurance data collection and validation
  • experts systems for RAMS
  • sneak circuit analysis

Systems engineering


  • long-term mission studies to determine technology development needs
  • studies on definition and coherence of the future space programmes
  • spacecraft and launcher system engineering concepts, optimisation
  • space systems utilization and mission studies
  • space operations in orbit servicing and support

Tools and tool applications:

  • CAD for system level applications, visualization tools
  • expert systems and A.I in system design
  • large collections of data – their handling and analysis including technical performance of systems and their costs, technology databases

Ground system technologies

Study, development and validation of ground based technologies for support of mission operations in the following fields:

  • ground data processing facilities for spacecraft monitoring and control, mission planning and management: expert systems, advanced man-machine interfaces, fault tolerance systems, object oriented techniques, etc.
  • communication network concepts and protocols supporting different media and modes of operation within the environment of space to ground link
  • spacecraft attitude and orbit determination and control: modeling, numerical methods and techniques, manoeuvre optimisation
  • ground station monitoring and control, data acquisition and transmission processing including associated coding techniques in different RF bands
  • space debris assessment: debris observation techniques, modelling of space debris environment, debris risk analysis

Applied mathematics and data processing

Applied mathematics

  • mathematical analysis
  • numerical integration
  • estimation of theory
  • optimisation procedures
  • dynamic analysis of non-rigid systems
  • orbital calculations and mission analysis
  • CFD: computational fluid dynamics
  • simulation of physical systems
  • simulation and emulation of logical (computerised) systems with embedded software
  • scientific and engineering data processing
  • software engineering
  • knowledge-based systems

On-board data processing and signal processing

  • VISI design methods (analogue and digital)
  • data compression (losseless and lossy)
  • data storage
  • autonomous real time data systems
  • programming languages for real-time application
  • simulation of data systems
  • expert systems and artificial intelligence for fault recovery and planning
  • SAR processing
  • vision processing for robotics
  • video processing and compression

Soyuz simulator training Duque
Pedro Duque during training in the Soyuz simulator at Star City


  • simulators for named systems
  • flight simulators
  • virtual reality simulation
  • simulator of human body and its motion
  • specialized computer software and hardware for high performance real-time simulators
  • artificial intelligence and expert systems, applications and standardization
  • planning and timelining software tools
  • astronaut training methods and tools

On-board computers

  • fault tolerant computer systems
  • software validation for real-time systems using formal methods
  • design of failure tolerant highly reliable digital hardware
  • real-time distributed operating systems

Orbital and attitude dynamics

  • orbital manoeuvres/corrections
  • orbit optimisation, optimisation of manoeuvres
  • a priori error estimation
  • tracking method, calibration
  • orbit determination and differential correction, sequential estimation
  • motion about mass centre
  • optimisation of attitude manoeuvres
  • interaction of orbit and attitude manoeuvres
  • attitude control of flexible satellites

Celestial mechanics

  • analytical and numerical theories
  • manipulation of algebraic expressions Information systems development

  • object-oriented database
  • multimedia archive creation and retrieval
  • documentation management system
  • knowledge-based retrieval systems
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