The ESA Ministerial Council, CM22, is a time for critical decisions. In November 2022, ESA Member States, Associated States and Cooperating States will come together to strengthen Europe’s space sector and ensure that it continues to serve European citizens.
By definition, a space agency embodies big ambitions. With that come engineering and technical challenges found nowhere else. Almost everything we do is done for the first time, and designing for space adds complexity to each new challenge.
This is where ESA’s Directorate for Technology, Engineering and Quality comes in. Typically we work more than a decade into the future, preparing for upcoming missions, working to create solutions with technologies that don’t even exist yet… until we invent them.
ESA’s Agenda 2025 has put Europe on the path to becoming a major space power and has reiterated the fundamental fact that technology is at the heart of all ESA activities. For its part, the management has updated its technology strategy. For CM22 we want to improve the competitiveness of the European space sector, work to develop new technologies and make them available for missions faster than ever before, and seek brilliant ideas for research from all possible sources, including you.
•ESA’s General Support Technology Program for the development of promising new technologies will be extendedincluding other in-orbit demonstration missions based on CubeSats and small satellites
• The sovereignty of the EEE space component for Europe strives to ensure a steady and secure supply of electrical, electronic and electromechanical partsthe building blocks of space missions
•The SOLARIS R&D program will investigate key technologies and techniques for space-based solar power systems to deliver clean energy from space to Earthenabling political leaders to make an informed decision on future implementation
•ENDURE will develop a European supply of radioisotope heating and power systems for future missionsthereby opening up the wider solar system for exploration.
The optional General Support Technology Programme, GSTP, demonstrates the recognized value of technology development and welcomes the participation of all ESA Member States and Associate Members. The program supports Member States’ technology development throughout its life cycle and prepares new technologies for ESA programs and global markets. A continuation of GSTP is proposed at CM22.
GSTP consists of three main elements: “Develop” for the maturation of promising technologies; “Make” for co-funded design and demonstration of products proposed by industry; and “Fly” for demonstrating new technologies in orbit and conducting small missions.
With additional funding, GSTP will continue to address the technological development and maturing needs of Europe’s space industry and sector, covering all three main elements along with additional dedicated “components”. ESA’s technology strategy aims to increase the rate of development and adoption of innovative technologies by 30 percent.
demonstration in orbit
To support this, the Directorate is making more in-orbit demonstration missions available via the “Fly” element of GSTP. These are small satellites and CubeSats that offer European companies the opportunity to gain early flight experience for innovative products and systems, as the best way to prove a technology works in space is to actually put it in orbit to fly. As an added bonus, these missions also generate valuable science and services.
Next up: PRETTY will demonstrate navigation system “reflectometry” — picking up reflected navigation signals to gather environmental information — while GomX-5 will test high-speed communications links. M-Argo will explore an asteroid in space.
Precise formation flight
Also included in the CM22 proposals is the GSTP Precision Formation Flying Component, which will support the final production and deployment of our Proba-3 twin satellite mission: two spacecraft flying with millimeter precision to form an artificial solar eclipse between them.
Proba-3 will demonstrate the potential of satellite formation flight to prepare for future multi-satellite missions that fly as a virtual structure and increase science yields.
To take responsibility
EEE Space Component Sovereignty for Europe
Electrical, electronic, and electromechanical (EEE) components are the fundamental building blocks of space missions. But the many EEE parts, particularly high quality components, used in today’s ESA spacecraft come from outside Europe. This dependence on non-European suppliers makes our space industry vulnerable to supply shortages and export restrictions, jeopardizes our ability to build future spacecraft and systems, and undermines Europe’s competitiveness in global markets.
In response, ESA proposes the EEE Space Component Sovereignty for Europe initiative. In collaboration with industry, ESA Member States and European organizations such as the European Commission and the European Defense Agency, this initiative will ensure, over an initial five-year period, a stable, predictable development and sourcing approach for EEE parts and the current volatility of the global Microprocessor balance market.
SOLARIS investigates space-based solar energy
The sun never stops shining in space and is much more intense there than on the surface of the earth. What if we could collect this energy and beam down to use it? The concept, called Space-Based Solar Power, is theoretically feasible and could support the decarbonization of the European energy sector. ESA proposes a dedicated R&D program to develop the concept and its critical technologies – SOLARIS – to enable European leaders to make an informed decision.
The key technologies in question, including enhanced photovoltaic systems, wireless power transmission and in-orbit manufacturing, will prove valuable in their own right, whether or not the decision is made to transition to an operational system.
ENDURE for energy
A new GSTP component, ENDURE, for European Devices Using Radioisotope Energy will deliver end-to-end European capability for radioisotope heat and power systems by the end of this decade. The system will be based on Americium-241, derived from chemical reprocessing of nuclear waste, and our work will include fuel fabrication and encapsulation as well as system development.
ENDURE will end Europe’s current reliance on radioisotope heating and power systems needed for exploration of the outer solar system, as well as challenging planetary environments such as the long nights on the lunar surface or the cold and stormy conditions of Mars.
ESA Council at ministerial level
On November 22nd and 23rd, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher will present his proposals for the future of navigation and all other ESA directorates to the European space ministers for approval, thereby setting the course for Europe’s future in space. Learn more here.
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