ESA’s first contact with promising new concepts comes through its Discovery & Preparation activities. The Discovery part is at the entrance of ESA’s innovation pipeline: we use it to peer – together with academia and industry – beyond the immediate planning horizon.
To take the longest of looks ahead, ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team – a rotating group of PhD researchers – undertakes small research projects into fledging concepts, novel technologies and new approaches to space.
These allow Europe’s space sector to stay abreast of emerging new capabilities before they become evident. They range from entirely autonomous intelligent spacecraft to nature-mimicking ‘biomimetic’ engineering solutions, light-trapping nanostructures for enhanced solar cells to solar power satellites able to keep Moon rovers alive in frigid lunar darkness.
ESA is proposing to its Member States methods of radically opening up our early-phase research and development, including the widening of our innovation pipeline to new participants, to draw maximum benefit from the development of the space sector embodied by the ‘New Space’ movement. One way of achieving this is through its new Open Space Innovation Platform, which sources ideas through technical challenges.
Next part: Mission design
(Photo: 1.5 tonne lunar base building block, 3D printed with simulated lunar material as part of a Discover & Preparation programme project)
ESA Basic Activities at Space19+
For ESA’s next Ministerial Council, Space19+, set for the end of this year, the Agency is asking Europe’s space ministers for a substantial investment for its core Basic Activities, helping to support a new generation of space missions as efficiently as possible. ESA’s Basic Activities have three main objectives: to enable the future through early stage research and development, commencing the Agency’s seamless grid of innovation; develop and maintain ESA’s common infrastructure and expertise; and, develop, preserve and disseminate knowledge for European capacity building and sustainable growth – inspiring and promoting creativity.