Access to space is an indispensable element of the entire value chain of space and has been recognised as an area of strategic importance towards the direction of Europe’s non-dependence.
Access to space is a matter of security of supply, industry capability and technology readiness and a sine qua non condition of the modern space knowledge-based economies. Only a handful of space-faring countries master this capability as a result of extensive institutional funding for research and development costs and the guarantee of services exploitation. Europe has achieved its remarkable position in this field thanks to national programmes and the programmes of the European Space Agency, Access to Space being one fundamental origin of its creation in 1975.
The Space Strategy for Europe has confirmed that Europe shall maintain autonomous, reliable and cost-effective access to space. It underlined that it is crucial that Europe continues to have modern, efficient and flexible launch, production and test infrastructure facilities.
Cost reduction and improving flexibility of European launch systems are the main challenges in order to foster European industry competitiveness on the global market.
The industry 4.0 transformational wave is likely to bring opportunities for lowering the cost of space launch manufacturing/integration/testing/operations and further improving quality.
The specific challenge is to support research and innovation in technologies, in complementarity and full synergy with the on-going work undertaken by Member States and European initiatives, contributing to:
- Investigate the potential Launch system reusability technologies;
- Launch system advanced manufacturing and modern ground infrastructures.
Each proposal shall address only one of the following two sub-topics:
a) Potential Launch system reusability technologies and their applicability for European needs: With an aim at further lowering cost for the next generation of European launchers and transportation systems, activities shall only address new technologies relevant to reusability, such as advanced avionics and data management (e.g. optimised return concepts including autonomous safety), advanced structural parts and materials, health monitoring systems and non-destructive control technologies, advanced propulsion systems & equipment (e.g. propellant management, disconnection systems and special ground systems). These could be used as building blocks for in-flight demonstration. The activities shall include an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the proposed new technologies expected for the exploitation phase (flight and ground operations) and an estimation of the necessary investments and time schedule needed to reach TRL 8/9.
TRL 5/6 should be sought at completion of the proposed activities in view of a possible IOD/IOV in-flight demonstration as a next step.
b) Launch system advanced manufacturing (e.g. tooling and machines) and modern infrastructures (including ground infrastructures for low cost European launch sites): Activities shall address technologies and processes applied to launch systems development, production, testing and operations (applicable to European space transportation systems including mini and micro launch systems) such as automation of activities (e.g. automated guided handling tools, automated integration, and inspection, collaborative robots, automated testing), digital technologies to the benefit of quality and costs (e.g. usage of COTS (commercial-of-the-shelf) equipment, digital assistance to operators, big data processing for continuous improvement), advanced materials with accent on low-cost manufacturing processes (e.g. 3D printing, composite, joining technology) and remote operations (e.g. remote control centre, improved safety management), ground infrastructures for European launch sites including for low cost access to space for mini, micro, nano satellites, including commercial initiatives. The proposed solutions to be considered will take into account the possible evolutions of the regulatory framework, in particular REACH, and will also take into account the environmental impacts and health risks.
For each topic, activities shall be complementary with other European activities in the same domain.
These activities shall consist of research, innovation, development and qualification work which can be readily integrated within current and planned European launch, test and production infrastructures. A preliminary implementation plan shall be included in the proposal and detailed during the action.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 2 and 3 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
- Improved European competitiveness in cost-effective reusability technologies for space transportation systems complementary with other European activities in the same domain leading to launch system reusability solutions which could be demonstrated in flight within three to five years, including forecast of investment needed;
- Increase compliance with the evolutions of the regulatory framework, in particular REACH;
- Improved quality and safety control solutions, which are absolutely fundamental in rocketry;
- Cost reduction of space transportation system manufacturing, integration, testing and operations thanks to research and innovation in advanced manufacturing and modernisation of infrastructures taking into account the evolution of the normative framework and environmental impacts. This is aimed at improving the overall competitiveness of European solutions on the worldwide market and helping create new jobs;
- Integration of human factors in ground facilities, such as improved work environment for operators, efficiency, quality of operations and human safety.