ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher’s Agenda 2025 charted Europe’s future course in space, building on the agency’s Technology Strategy, which details how our continent is developing the essential technologies to get where it wants to go. Recognizing four years of progress since its initial publication and the new Agenda 2025 guidelines, ESA has now updated the technology strategy accordingly. Released in time for the Agency’s Ministerial Council on 22-23 November in Paris, it demonstrates the technology’s fundamental role in all ESA missions and programmes.
Technology—the application of scientific knowledge to practical ends—may sound abstract, but our ability to invent, develop, and master technology and tools is fundamental to humanity as a species, propelling us from the East African savannah to every corner of the world Planet Earth and Beyond.
Director General Josef Aschbacher explains: “Technology is at the heart of all ESA activities. On the eve of the ESA Ministerial Council, it is clear that strengthening Europe’s connections beyond planet Earth – to secure our access to space, strengthen our competitive position and continue to benefit from it – cannot be better, faster and more transparent Technical Development. The ESA technology strategy is clear and ambitious and will pave the way for future ESA missions and secure Europe’s position as a tough global competitor.”
Response to Agenda 2025
When he first became Director General, Josef Aschbacher presented Agenda 2025 – his vision of a stronger future European space industry. It begins with a mention of the Agency’s technology strategy, originally issued in 2018, which looks at how ESA is developing technologies needed to achieve Europe’s goals in space, and revisits the topic frequently.
ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality, Torben Henriksen, explains: “To underscore the importance of ESA’s technical excellence, Agenda 2025 called for an emphasis on speed in adopting new technologies, a doubling of investment in ‘breakthrough’ technologies and the launch of three new technology R&D initiatives.
“This new version 1.2 of the Technology Strategy contains the technology guidelines of the 2025 Agenda and shows how the 2025 Agenda is implemented in practice in all ESA R&D programs and how far the Agency has come in the last four years.”
Advances in technology goals
Of the four objectives set out in the original version of the Technology Strategy, the Director-General prioritized this one: 30% faster development and adoption of innovative technologies. In practice, this means novel processes, methods and technologies that enable Europe to benefit more quickly from the introduction of new technologies.
This includes tripling the number of in-orbit demonstration missions from 2020-2024 compared to 2015-2019, allowing early testing of promising technologies in space, particularly using miniature ‘CubeSats’. Additionally, the time required to advance technologies selected for in-orbit demonstration from technology readiness levels 4/5 to TRL 7/8 will be cut in half, meaning they will enter space sooner reach.
The increased use of “commercial off-the-shelf parts”, essential to bring innovation to space faster, has been facilitated by a dedicated COTS strategy and associated mission classification risk model. COTS parts tend to be more advanced and economical compared to their space-worthy equivalents. Their adoption allows space missions to benefit sooner from rapidly evolving terrestrial technology, but requires careful consideration of risk-benefit levels.
Increased flexibility, modularity and scalability are also sought through a top-down approach (unit systems to modules) and standardization of interfaces and integration test methodologies for faster adoption, for example for Advanced Data Handling Architecture (ADHA) and Advanced Energy Architecture (APA).
A second goal is Development of key technologies with which Europe can achieve success an order of magnitude improvement in cost efficiency with each new generation of space systems, which spans the full range of ESA’s activities: from increasing the scientific value by an order of magnitude from next-generation scientific missions to reducing by an order of magnitude the cost per useful bit transmitted by telecommunications satellite systems. To achieve this, Agenda 2025 has led to a particular focus on additional technologies – see the specific new initiatives below.
Particular attention will be paid to big data analysis technologies, optimization of end-to-end system design and on-board intelligence for intelligent processing to increase value per pixel, miniaturization of instrument technologies and payloads, and technological advances in optics and sensors .
The third goal is Achieve a 30% improvement in spacecraft development time, which aims to fully digitize the workflow from concept development in phase B2 to manufacturing, integration and testing using Model-Based System Engineering (MBSE), which means that traditional documentation is replaced by shared digital models. Significant efforts over the past two years have enabled ESA to use MBSE as part of the baseline for new phase A studies. Several ESA missions acted as MBSE precursors, including Euclid, Plato and Galileo Second Generation.
Increased flexibility and scalability are also sought through maximum adoption of modular space system designs and standardization, such as: B. the Advanced Data Handling Architecture approach, as well as by maximizing the rate of introduction of new terrestrial technological advances in spacecraft. ESA’s Digital Design-2-Produce and Advanced Manufacturing R&D initiatives are also applicable here.
The fourth goal is closed Reverse Europe’s contribution to space debris by 2030, showing our ambition to leave the precious space environments in a clean state for the future. Addressing this includes proposing a formal “zero debris” approach for all future ESA missions, including mechanical interfaces for acquisition as already performed for Copernicus expansion missions, in order to be prepared for removal by an external service provider and demonstration of such removal by 2025 by the ClearSpace -1 ADRIOS mission currently in preparation.
Meanwhile, ESA’s Cleansat initiative is developing a wide range of technologies to ensure ESA satellites can reliably reach the end of their mission life without producing debris, typically through deorbiting or reorbiting from busy orbits, in conjunction with ESA and international debris regulations.
Trio of new technology themes
The Director General’s direction to focus on accelerating the development and implementation of innovative technologies has also resulted in the creation of three brand new technology themes that join existing initiatives on COTS and Electrical, Electronic and Electromechanical (EEE) components; Advanced Manufacturing; Digital Design 2 Produce; Clean Space and Cyber Security:
- quantum technologies – Utilization of special properties of matter that manifest themselves in the smallest scales; These offer new possibilities in space-based communications protected by physical properties instead of encryption, the creation of highly sensitive gravity mapping sensors, the tracking of Earth features and fundamental physical phenomena, and finally, high-precision timekeeping.
- Advanced drive – From air-breathing rocket engines to ultra-low orbit electric propulsion and new green propellants, the focus is on new propulsion systems for new applications to facilitate new applications and markets, while increasing the competitiveness of European propulsion and aircraft products.
- Maintenance and construction in orbit – The ClearSpace-1 ADRIOS mission will demonstrate a unique service to demonstrate the first removal of a debris object from orbit. To enhance Europe’s ability to act sustainably in space and prepare for an emerging commercial market, Europe will demonstrate its capabilities in servicing, manufacturing, constructing and recycling in space, opening up new applications in the process.
Simonetta Cheli, ESA Director of Earth Observation, adds: “Like all other Directorates, we work hand-in-hand with the Directorate for Technology, Engineering and Quality and with industry on technology developments, focusing on a user-centric approach to innovate prioritize technology developments and facilitate faster adoption of these technologies and methods in our ESA missions. Technological synergies often open the doors to other markets outside ESA and promote the competitiveness of the European space industry.”
Torben Henriksen explains: “The technology strategy provides us with a solid and ambitious guide for all our technology development programs to develop the most suitable technology on time and according to the right specifications. We engaged with the different users about their needs and identified structured priority technology issues in combination with the latest technical advances. Success on these themes will be crucial to achieve the main goals of ESA’s technology strategy.
“With the maturing, increasingly diverse and innovative European space sector, we have also made it easier than ever for everyone, especially new companies entering the space sector, to embrace new approaches to space technology research and development via the open-access Open Space Innovation Platform to be proposed by ESA Discovery. The implementation of the strategy will enable Europe to achieve our ambitions in space, in particular the goals outlined in Agenda 2025.”
Read the updated version 1.2 of ESA’s Technology Strategy in its entirety here.