The transfer of space technologies brings real benefits to people on Earth, enhancing the life and well-being of ordinary citizens at the same time as enabling new businesses, jobs and growth. Patients breathe easier in hospital wards thanks to enhanced air purification systems while augmented vision headsets improve the lives of people with diminished eyesight. Space-derived materials turn up in everything from racing yachts to racing shoes. But where do the ideas behind these transfers come from?
ESA’s Technology Transfer and Patents Office asks ESA technical officers to assess the non-space potential of each new R&D contract they oversee – around 40% are identified as having promising terrestrial applications, while more than 10% of these contracts result in registered Intellectual Property. We also maintain a dialogue with space companies who might be interested in exploring new markets for their intellectual property.
Identifying promising ideas is only the first step however. We also support Technology Transfer demonstration activities to prove the relevance of transferring a given technology or know-how into the non-space context, reducing the technical risk and confirming the market opportunity.
An annual open call invites the submission of proposals from industry for Feasibility Studies, Proof of Concepts and Demonstrators. These have been designed as a funnel of activities, de-risking the activities on a step-by-step basis.
A feasibility study is an early assessment of the feasibility of the transfer, both from a technical and a business point of view. It consists in an investigation of the market opportunity for the candidate technology. It also includes the design of a solution concept, and a ‘desk assessment’ of its suitability to address the market opportunity. A FS is carried out over a maxmum one-month period.
Proof of Concept
A proof of concept (PoC) activity is the next logical step on the route of transfer de-risking. It consists in elaborating the model for a business aimed at capturing the opportunity evidenced in the FS. On the technical side, a PoC is focused on experimentally verifying the feasibility and suitability of the solution, in the form of prototype testing. A PoC is carried out over a maximum period of six months.
A Demonstration Projects (DP) takes a PoC one step further. It consists in building, deploying and running a complete pilot system in a pre-operational environment, with the objective to assess its operational suitability. On the business side, the activity is focused on elaborating the business and technical implementation plan. Demonstration projects are expected to be achieved within one year.