About the General Support Technology Programme (GSTP)
What is it?
ESA's General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) exists to convert promising engineering concepts into a broad spectrum of mature products – everything from individual components to subsystems up to complete satellites – right up to the brink of spaceflight or beyond.
This is achieved through the development of engineering models or 'breadboards' whose space-worthiness can be verified not only in the lab but also within the less forgiving environment of ESTEC's set of simulators – including exposure to acceleration, temperature or radiation extremes – and increasingly all the way up to orbit on demonstration missions.
The GSTP also includes work on product and process improvements, aiming for a flexible response to the needs of ESA programmes, Member States and European industry, and growing the number of European-made space-qualified parts made commercially available.
Why is it needed?
The GSTP functions to bridge the gap between having a technology proven in fundamental terms and making it ready for ESA and national programmes, the open market and space itself.
Often subject of this programme are technologies that have gone through the TRP process. It also responds to requests from industry for technical support and evaluation of products mid-way through development. Operating in space being hard enough, mission planners seek to minimise their risk exposure as much as possible. So, a novel technology is only chanced to fly once it has been judged 'mature' – that is, the uncertainty about it has been pared down to acceptable levels.
The GSTP aims at maturing technologies and developing products, involving performance testing in all conceivable scenarios, until the level of confidence associated with it becomes sufficiently high for comfort – and its risk factor reduces correspondingly.
How is the GSTP implemented?
The GSTP is an optional ESA programme, open for ESA Member States (including Canada as an associate member) to choose whether or not to participate and at what level. GSTP activities cover all ESA domains plus Generic Technologies, excepting Telecommunications which has its own ARTES programme.
The GSTP has been in operation for more than two decades. The current GSTP-6 (2012 – 2017) operates on a five-year work plan and is based around four programme elements, organised on a voluntary basis.
GSTP-6 Element 1: Support Technology Activities for Projects and Industry – Small Missions Initiative sub-element
The activities performed under this element are dedicated to the development of technologies, building blocks, components and products for projects and the economic operators, i.e. Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs), Large enterprises, industry, satellite operators, satellite providers, universities and research organisations from low TRL to qualification. It covers the following themes: Earth Observation, Science, Robotic Exploration Preparation, Human Spaceflight and Exploration Preparation, Space Transportation and Re-entry Technologies, Navigation, Security for the citizens including Space Situation Awareness, Generic Technologies and Techniques. It also includes cross-cutting technologies such as Clean Space, Technologies Enabling Breakthrough Science and Space Technologies for Energy and Technology transfer.
These activities include preparatory and exploratory activities for small missions aiming at in-orbit demonstration (IOD) of new mission techniques and architectures and system concepts as well as of new approaches for their development, verification and operation.
GSTP-6 Element 2: Competitiveness
The activities performed under this element aim to:
- Strengthen worldwide competitiveness in the near-term in existing markets
- Establish strategic capabilities which should result in stronger competitiveness in the mid-term
- Develop products in response to gaps in the supply chain e.g. by environmental regulations, migration to new technology and other causes
- Initiate or strengthen technology transfer
This Element is implemented through a Permanently open Call for Proposals (AO - Announcement of Opportunities), available on EMITS.
GSTP-6 Element 3: Technology Flight Opportunities
The activities performed under this element aim at supporting the demonstration in-orbit of technologies and products in need of acquiring flight heritage by maintaining a data base of needs and opportunities, issuing calls for proposals as opportunities develop, looking for carriers as needs arise, conducting accommodation, impact and exploitation studies, supporting development and/or adaptation of the experiment, integration in the carrier and exploitation of results.
GSTP-6 Element 4: Precise Formation Flying Demonstration
This Element aims at implementing the phases C/D/E of the PROBA-3 mission in view of the demonstration of Precise Formation Flying (PFF) technologies and techniques.
GSTP-6 Element 4 comprises two sub-elements:
- Sub-element 1 (2013 - 2017) includes the design, development and validation of the space and flight operations ground segments and flight operations segment (Phase C/D) up to launch readiness.
- Sub-element 2 (2016-2017) will cover launch services procurement, LEOP, commissioning and operations, the implementation of part of these activities extending until 2019.
The GSTP work plan originates in a similar way to that of the TRP. The ESA Technology Network (TECNET) working groups prepare a draft with reference to the ESA Long Term plan.
It is then approved by representatives of Participating Member States, prioritising issues that fit with their own industrial strategies.
What benefits does it deliver?
The GSTP aims at ensuring that the right technologies, at the right maturity are available at the right time. Achieving the right balance between innovation and product development & support, strengthens European Industry when continuously trying to increase its capabilities and competitiveness.
Industry can count on the programme’s technical support throughout its product development cycle, growing its capabilities and competitiveness, with companies able to issue proposals for research. A recent addition to the GSTP's long-standing focus on general technological innovation is an emphasis on developing space-worthy components and building blocks to strengthen Europe's industrial base, along with increased opportunities for in-orbit testing.
The GSTP began its orbital testing and demonstration activities a decade ago, when it initiated the Proba series of small technology demonstrator satellites. These small satellites provide opportunities to demonstrate technologies, research and operational techniques, development and operational approaches. When it comes to commercialising a hi-tech product, a demonstrated spaceflight heritage represents the ultimate stamp of quality.
It is the right balance of innovation and product development and maintenance that strengthens the competitiveness of European industry.
The combination of mechanisms such the permanently open AO and the multi-year plans that allows fast response and advanced planning. These are GSTP features to optimally support industry.
How to participate
Contracts are awarded based on national support, with the Participating States informing the Agency of any activities they wish to support prior to an Invitation To Tender being issued.
Procurement generally occurs competitively on a 100% funding basis, although up to 50% or 75% ESA co-funding is possible in non-competitive tenders (mainly GSTP 6 Element 2).
GSTP Invitations for Tender are issued regularly on ESA’s EMITS website, which requires registration for access.
Last update: 24 August 2015