By far the best way to establish the market-readiness of novel European space technologies and products is to actually demonstrate them in space.
The continued competitiveness of Europe’s space industry relies on the timely flight readiness of new space technologies and novel products.
For everything that cannot be fully demonstrated on the ground, In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) helps de-risk the innovation and accelerate their development to the top of the Technology Readiness Level ladder, in turn encouraging their uptake by future missions.
In the past companies – especially small-medium enterprises (SMEs) – and research institutions have experienced difficulties in acquiring such flight heritage.
So ESA has established Element 3 of its General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) in order to give companies access to the relevant flight environment in the shortest time possible, by embarking flight demonstrators as hosted payloads on a variety of carriers – including suborbital rockets, launchers, satellites and the ISS – with all the onboard resources they need to operate – such as mass, volume, power, data interfaces and so on.
GSTP Element 3 "Fly" aims to match flight demonstrator needs with available carrier flight opportunities, conduct accommodation studies and support the preparation of flight demonstration payloads and their integration/operation on the host carrier.
To facilitate this process, ESA has launched an ‘Open Call for Technology Flight Demonstrators and Carrier Flight Opportunities’. This Open Call is open to the space industry, research institutions and national agencies of all GSTP-participating ESA Member States for the period 2013-2018.
Who should respond to the Open Call?
If you have a proposal for the preparation of a technology flight demonstrator or would like to offer opportunities to host a flight demonstrator on your carrier, then you can apply to the call.
Technologies within the scope of this call can belong to any of the 25 Technology Domains for ESA Technology Development activities, and within any service domain – such as Earth Observation, Space Science and so on – with the exception of telecommunication-specific technologies and products which are the subject of their own in-orbit validation framework within the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme.
For new technologies or products in need of a flight, typically a minimum Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 5 or 6 shall have been achieved at the time of the proposal. The technology flight demonstrator shall lead to an increase in the TRL to level 8-9.
How can I respond to the Open Call?
Proposals can be received at any time by following the procedure contained in the Open Call document, which involves submitting technical/programmatic data on your flight demonstration payload or carrier flight opportunity to an online database maintained by ESA.
What happens after that?
- ESA searches the online database in order to identify a compatible match between the requirements of the proposed flight demonstration payload and the constraints of the carrier flight opportunities on offer.
- Once a match is found, ESA contracts both parties in order to facilitate first discussions on accommodation and interfaces.
- If these discussions prove positive, ESA selects the combined flight demonstration payload-carrier opportunity as a candidate Technology Flight Opportunity, then initiates a small accommodation study.
- The flight demonstration payload developer carries out the accommodation study with support the carrier opportunity provider – as an external service – in order to confirm the technical feasibility, cost and schedule to completion
- If positive, ESA initiates an implementation project covering the flight demonstration payload preparation, integration of the payload with the carrier, payload operation in-orbit and flight data exploitation.
Since GSTP is an optional ESA programme, endorsement and financial support from the ESA Member State of the flight demonstration payload developer is required for both the accommodation study and implementation project.