Space Technology Development

ESA’s technology activities are implemented through several ESA preparatory programmes, either of thematic (Telecommunications, Launchers, Earth Observation, Human Spaceflight, Science, Exploration, etc.) or horizontal nature. The Technology Research Programme (TRP), the General Support Technology Programme (GSTP), the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP) and the Telecom/ARTES programmes account for about three quarters of all Technology R&D conducted in ESA.

The main goal of the ESA technology programmes is to support technology development up to a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5/6 (referring to the ESA TRL scale reported here). In order to achieve the required TRL on technologies there is a need for continuity along technology programmes and between technology and user programmes.

Overview of ESA’s Technology R&D programmes and initiatives

The development of technology – making new things to do new things – is central to The European Space Agency ESA's existence. ESA runs a suite of preparatory programmes covering various different technical maturity levels and domains.

  • The Basic Technology Research Programme (TRP) is responsible for early development stages across all service and technology domains, taking cutting-edge ideas and testing their suitability for space applications.
  • The General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) takes previously proven innovations through to succeeding stages of engineering, finally evolving fully-tested hardware ready for adoption by future missions or transferring technologies into non-space and/or commercial space domains.

Other technology programmes serve specific fields:

These four programmes between them make up about three quarters of ESA technology R&D. Participation in these programmes is possible for Swiss entities, however, special provisions apply to ARTES (Telecom), GSTP (General Support Technology) and NAVISP (Navigation Innovation). More details can be found below.

Additional ESA programmes with a strong R&D component include:

ESA Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale levels and Technology programmes (Source: ESA)
ESA Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale levels and Technology programmes

GSTP (General Support Technology Programme)

The General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) prepares potentially interesting technologies for all ESA programmes: interfaces with user programmes, development of generic and cross-cutting technologies, aspects of scientific experiments and pilot projects.

The GSTP is an optional ESA programme, open for ESA 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 (See ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems)).

Participation to activities under GSTP

Participation to activities under GSTP is subject to specific rules and requires explicit support of the Swiss delegation to ESA through a “Letter of support”. The general process to obtain this letter is explained in detail under the following page: Submitting a proposal to the Swiss Space Office.

ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems)

Note: Specific information about the ARTES Applications Programme can be found on a dedicated page.

The Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme enables European and Canadian industry to explore, through research and development (R&D) activities, innovative concepts to produce leading-edge satcom products and services. ARTES offers varying degrees of support to projects with different levels of operational and commercial maturity.

ARTES Core Competitiveness is dedicated to the development, qualification, and demonstration of technologies, products and services. The word product in this case has a wide meaning; it can be a piece of equipment, either of the platform or payload of a satellite, it can also be a user terminal or a full telecom system integrating a network with its respective space segment. Telecommunication applications can also be undertaken under the terms of this element (Treated separately under Space Applications development (ARTES Applications)).

NAVISP (Navigation Innovation and Support Programme)

ESA has initiated a new navigation research and technology programme called the Navigation Innovation and Support Programme (NAVISP). 

NAVISP will boost Member State's industrial competitiveness and innovation priorities in the upstream and downstream navigation sector and it will include investigating the integration of satellite navigation with non-space technologies and complementary positioning and communication techniques. NAVISP will apply ESA’s hard-won expertise from Galileo and EGNOS to new satellite navigation and, more widely, positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) challenges. 

NAVISP is structured into three elements, with the first developing new space based PNT technologies and concepts, the second focused on industrial competitiveness and the third offering support to Member State national programmes and activities.

Switzerland has subscribed with a small envelope to the first two elements. Support for activities under either element are subject to the same approval process as for ARTES and GSTP.