About strategy and harmonisation

What is it?

ESA is the leader of a Europe-wide effort to harmonise space technology research and development activities. For efforts to be harmonised, it is necessary for the players to agree on the current state, the objectives and the way to achieve them. This is the strategy.

The European Technology Harmonisation Process tracks current technology needs and strategic gaps then works to fulfil them by coordinating European R&D around shared development roadmaps. These roadmaps include agreed objectives, processes and interfaces – and break down the different steps required to attain success into individual 'building blocks', capable of being worked on in parallel and in sequence by the various partners.

A European Space Technology Master Plan, compiled annually by ESA provides the overview of the R&D landscape of the continent.

Why is Strategy and Harmonisation needed?

With many players involved, ESA, National and European Agencies, Member States, industry and academia, implementing a wide set of programmes, harmonization of efforts would not be possible without an agreed strategy.

To retain our preeminent position into the future requires maximising our return on R&D investment, which means in turn combining efforts in search of synergies. Europe is ranked among the world's leading space powers, despite our continent's overall space spending being less than a fifth that of the United States.

Along with increasing the efficiency of development, the strategy and the harmonisation process prioritise work on strategic technologies that currently lack European suppliers, reducing our dependence on foreign powers for space access.

How is the strategy established?

The strategy is the 'meeting point' of the actors. It has some fundamental objectives:

  • Enable the future missions
  • Foster innovation and promote product policy
  • Strengthen industrial competitiveness
  • Assure European non-dependence

The strategy also aims at promoting spin-in.

In order to achieve the above objectives, ESA carries out a solicitation of future mission and technology wish-lists from all stakeholders. These requirements are then gathered into a single European Space Technology Requirements database (ESTER, previously known as Dossier-0). Once sorted into technical domains, the results serve as references for technology plans, and are fed into the harmonisation process.

How is the harmonisation process implemented?

It is an entirely voluntary and transparent process...

The harmonisation process itself is highly dynamic, with meetings being held and active feedback received continuously. It is an entirely voluntary and transparent process based on the principle of shared information, consultation and coordination between participants.

The technology roadmaps are prepared with a methodology based on two meetings per technology. First comes a gathering of all interested national institutional and industrial parties with the objective of mapping the technology in question as completely as possible. A follow-up meeting is restricted to funding bodies to discuss the detailed roadmap sequence, sources of finance and possibilities of sharing skills and resources during the technology's development. The roadmaps are revisited every few years.

ESA also compiles the annual European Space Technology Master Plan (ESTMP), which includes details of European institutional technology plans, industrial capacities and budgets, combined with existing and proposed technology roadmaps.

What benefits does the process deliver?

ESA’s leadership in this process builds a framework of cooperation for European space R&D, increasing the effectiveness of research spending, enlarging the technological base and strengthening the competitiveness of European industry.

The setting up of roadmaps towards products runs parallel to standardisation efforts so that successful components and subsystems can be reused, cutting costs and increasing sustainability. Proven technology responding to user requirements is essential for competitiveness.

In R&D terms, the most strategic enabling technologies are being prioritized using the ESTMP.

In R&D terms, the most strategic enabling technologies are being prioritized using the ESTMP. While continued innovation is being encouraged, research are no longer competing against each other and successful technology developments complement each other, advancing the overall technological state-of-the-art across the continent.

Upwards of 40 technologies have been harmonised to date. A notable example is the harmonisation involved in targeting a gap in the European market for high-efficiency gallium arsenide multi-junction solar cells, with this technology being primarily procured from the US. Coordinated research led to the forging of a European supply chain – and European multi-junction cells have since been fitted to the Herschel-Planck space observatory and selected for Astrium telecommunication satellites.

Meanwhile harmonisation of cryogenics technology – required for cooling ultra-sensitive satellite imagers – has led to European-originated cryocoolers being baselined for future Science and Earth Observation missions.

How to participate?

Crucial to the ongoing success of the process is ongoing support from as wide a range of participants as possible: ESA Directorates, National Delegations, research institutions and industry. Of the latter, more than 1000 professionals from about 200 companies have been involved in consultations by mid 2008.

To take part in the ESTER process, and thus influence the shaping of the strategy, parties may register with the ESTER website.

For industry to take part in subsequent harmonisation discussions, a convenient business liaison to the European Space Technology Harmonisation Process and ESTMP is Eurospace, the European space industry association. The Eurospace Research and Technology Panel is currently composed of 137 industry representatives representing 89 European space companies in 14 countries. The volume of R&T activities requires in average eight Panel meetings a year.

Participation helps ensure future business opportunities, as a nation’s industrial capabilities are matched to research priorities derived from the ESTER database.

Last update: 12 November 2014

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