ESA's General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) deals with technologies that have already been reasonably ‘matured’ and furthers their development to a stage where it is almost ‘ready to take’ by a specific project.
In practice, this means that the brain work implied in the development is complemented by thorough testing to provide evidence that the technology works with adequate performance in the tough environment where it is expected to operate – high accelerations and vibration during launch, followed by vacuum, radiation and extreme temperatures during the whole operational life of the satellite in space.
The GSTP is a very comprehensive and flexible programme. It is able to deliver products across a broad spectrum - components, items of equipment or even complete satellites that constitute real technology demonstration laboratories packed in minimal volumes. GSTP provides ESA managers and industry alike with the means to pursue ‘risk retirement’ for their projects.
The GSTP is an optional programme, which means that the ESA Member States (and Canada as Associated Member State) may choose whether or not to participate and at what level of funding. The GSTP programme started in 1993 and ESA is now running its fourth extension, GSTP-4.
GSTP activities aim at the pre-development and, if needed, the qualification of identified critical technologies required by future space projects. After demonstration of the feasibility of a technology within ESA's Basic Technology Research Programme (TRP), and before its utilisation by a space project, there is a requirement to verify, test and perhaps qualify or support the pre-production of specific technologies. This is the overall scope of the GSTP.
The activities must be related to GSTP identified themes based on application areas:
- Earth observation payloads
- space science
- exploration and human space flight
- space transportation
- generic technologies
As part of the end-to-end process and after internal and external consultation, ESA prepares a proposal for a GSTP plan of work that is discussed and approved by the representatives of the participating states at formal ESA meetings. Every plan of work contains lists of the relevant activities distributed over the above technological themes. Participating states support the activities in the work plan that are best suited to their own national industrial strategy.