September 2017 Astronautics

Engaging the private sector in space exploration

The Bartolomeo external research platform to be attached to the Columbus module on the ISS in late 2018 could facilitate access to the orbital laboratory for commercial users.
The Bartolomeo external research platform to be attached to the Columbus module on the ISS in late 2018 could facilitate access to the orbital laboratory for commercial users.
Bernhard Hufenbach ESA Directorate of Human & Robotic Exploration, ESTEC, The Netherlands

Fostering open technology innovation is not only about promoting broader use of the International Space Station (ISS) but could also have a positive impact on future missions to the Moon and Mars. ESA is committed to participating in the development of a market-driven economy in low Earth orbit and here Bernard Hufenbach explains the agency’s step-wise approach to partnering with private companies that are ready to share risks. He also highlights pilot projects that are aiming to demonstrate their feasibility and commercial viability.

In 2015, ESA launched a process for setting up strategic partnerships with the private sector to facilitate its exploration ambitions - and to foster growth and competitiveness of the European space and non-space industrial base.

The initiative is nurturing the gradual establishment of private sector services, led by European companies for low Earth orbit (LEO) exploitation in support of lunar exploration. It aims to strengthen the competitiveness of European industry, stimulate research and development and integrate innovative solutions into ESA space exploration missions.

ESA’s role in these commercial partnerships is to act as a business partner in developing new services or products on a non-exchange of funds principle, where the agency provides technical support, and reviews, business development support, co-funds technology development, and grant access to ESA facilities.

The first results are already in: ESA has just signed the first commercial partnership agreement with Space Applications Services (SpaceApps) to provide quick, easy and low-cost access to the Space Station in less than a year using its International Commercial Experiment Cubes service.

‘ICE Cubes’ could allow access to a large number of users, including educational institutions, small and medium-sized enterprises, and research and development organisations.

Read more about ESA collaborations with the private sector and the ensuing joint projects in the full version of the article, available now to our subscribers.

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