Cooperation with the European Space Agency
Slovenia is an associate member of the European Space Agency (ESA). This provides Slovenian companies and research and development institutions with the opportunity to participate in ESA projects in the field of space technologies. Participation is open to companies and institutions working on innovative materials, technologies, processes or IT solutions. Small and medium-sized enterprises also have the opportunity to cooperate with ESA, as confirmed by successful projects by companies from Slovenia.
The European Space Agency in brief
ESA is a world-renowned intergovernmental organisation established in the 1970s to pool the knowledge and resources of individual European countries to develop space technologies. As today more and more countries and private companies are working on space technologies, it is one of the most important space agencies in the world.
Why are we even active in space?
Space has become a global industry, in particular in the field of communications. Eutelsat transmits 1000 television and 500 radio channels, Inmarsat enables communication and data transmission all over the Earth, Eumetsat images are used every day in weather forecasts, and the US GPS system and the European Galileo system are the basis for navigational devices and applications in smartphones. The EU Copernicus system produces enormous amounts of data that can be used for different purposes (agriculture, the environment, urbanisation). For example, ATMs would not work without satellites as they receive data from them on the exact time. It is important that Slovenia develops new technologies and looks for new areas of growth and challenges. Being a small country, Slovenia cannot afford to have its own agency or develop its own rocket, but it can be good at its niches, such as developing nano- and picosatellites weighing five to one hundred kilograms or advanced applications using breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Areas of cooperation
Companies and institutions can participate in ESA's calls for proposals in areas for which Slovenia pays the membership fee. These are general support technology programmes, Earth observation, human and robotic exploration, and the scientific programme Prodex. In addition, starting in 2020, ESA launched a call for applications that is only open to Slovenian companies and institutions (Requesting Party Activities (RPA)).
The General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) is aimed mostly at the development of new technologies that ESA needs for its missions. These technologies include the development and production of software, processors, different instruments and the development of new materials that must be in accordance with ESA's programme needs. The following areas of technological development can be covered by the programme:
- Earth observation;
- robotic exploration preparation;
- human spaceflight and exploration preparation;
- space transportation and re-entry technologies;
- security for citizens, including space situational awareness;
- generic technologies and techniques, including cross-cutting technologies such as clean space (in particular CleanSat), advanced manufacturing, designs for production and space technologies for energy;
- technology transfer.
The Earth Observation Programme is one of ESA's most successful programmes. The programme aims to use data about Earth obtained from space to more easily deal with everyday problems on Earth. The programme also includes the development of a wide range of applications based on satellite and other data, for example, to improve farming practices (measuring humidity levels, soil temperature), for geographical purposes, or warnings about air pollution, the state of vegetation. There are also many opportunities for those who process large quantities of data or work on innovative technologies, artificial intelligence and similar technologies. Satellite images are now widely available, and one of the major challenges is how to properly format them to make them accessible to users. Of course, this requires the development of satellites, appropriate instruments, ground stations and computer equipment that integrates, manages and supervises the entire process, which is also part of the programme.
The Human and Robotic Exploration Programme is a research area dealing with human habitation in space, the development of robotics, artificial intelligence for space technologies, space debris mitigation activities, various research activities carried out on the International Space Station. In this process, different new technologies are being developed. The programme includes several areas that are interlinked. These are:
- human spaceflight in low Earth orbit,
- human spaceflight beyond Earth orbits,
- robotics on the Moon,
- robotics on Mars.
The programme enables the participation of industries that are not normally involved in space (different propulsion systems, recycling, 3D-printing). The programme's content also refers to smart cities, electronics, new sensors.
Prodex is a scientific programme that offers research institutions the opportunity to participate and refers to the existing ESA missions. This programme is slightly different from the other two programmes because ESA does not launch calls for proposals, but applications are made at the member state level. However, applications for this programme also need to be approved by ESA as they have to be aligned with the needs of its missions. Applications for the programme can be submitted at any time, and the funds are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.
The call for applications that is only open to Slovenian companies and institutions
The call for applications, which is only open to Slovenian companies and institutions (Requesting Party Activities (RPA)), covers areas that are helpful for further cooperation with ESA. It may cover the following areas:
- preparations for new projects;
- research and development activities in the field of space technology (platforms, tools, transmitters, receivers, ground station components) in the telecommunications and navigation segments;
- space applications (applications developed on the basis of the existing space technology, such as water resource mapping, ground networks linked by satellites);
- development of satellites;
- space science;
- educational activities at the graduate and post-graduate levels;
- launch assistance;
- workshops for companies in the field of space technology.
There are also other ESA programmes in which Slovenia does not participate, for example ARTES (telecommunications), navigation (Earth positioning satellites) and launchers (rocket building). For the time being, Slovenian companies cannot apply for calls for proposals under these programmes.
Calls for proposals by the European Space Agency
Who can apply?
Any Slovenian company or development and research institution developing innovative products or services that could be interesting for ESA and fall under the areas in which Slovenia participates may apply.
Where to find information on calls for proposals by the European Space Agency and how to apply?
ESA's calls for proposals are published online. All information for companies is available at Doing Business with ESA. Anyone who wishes to register in the system can do so on this website. After registration, you can access the esa-star Publication web portal, where all calls for proposals are published, and, in accordance with your settings, receive emails about new calls for proposals.
In order to do business with ESA, you have to register in the bids and first applications system of the European Space Agency esa-star Registration. This system is used for submitting the first application for a call for applications. If you decide to participate, it is advisable to inform the authorities responsible for cooperation with ESA at the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology of the Republic of Slovenia, who can provide you with relevant information before you apply and who must give final approval to projects approved by ESA.
Jobs at the European Space Agency
Since Slovenia has the status of ESA associate member, nationals of the Republic of Slovenia can apply for jobs with the agency. There are opportunities for both experienced professionals and undergraduate and graduate students. Information on job vacancies is published on the ESA portal , where candidates can create a profile and apply for individual calls for applications.
The field of space has changed substantially in recent years. One of the key changes is technology miniaturisation, which has reduced costs and enabled the participation of new players in this field. Slovenia has started to develop small satellites using innovative technology, contributing a small piece to the European space story.
For Slovenia, small satellites are one of the key areas of cooperation on space technology. Below are presented the satellites that have been developed in Slovenia.
NEMO-HD (high definition)
Nemo HD was developed within the Slovenian Centre of Excellence for Space Sciences and Technologies (CO Vesolje-Si), which was set up and financed through a call for proposals by the Republic of Slovenia. The launch of the satellite was made possible by the Republic of Slovenia, which provided 2.1 million euros to finance the implementation of the "Launch of NEMO HD" project.
CO Vesolje-Si has developed a prototype microsatellite for high-precision interactive remote sensing, which will allow it to capture multispectral images of Earth’s surface and record high-resolution videos in real time. From a reference orbit at an altitude of 600 km, the 65-kg satellite will use a narrow-angle camera to achieve a spatial resolution of 2.8 m (panchromatic) and 5.8 m (in four spectral channels). The wide-angle instrument will have a spatial resolution of 40 m. Both instruments will also be able to record high-definition video. The satellite has built-in stabilisation sensors and actuators, a receiver and transmitter, a high-performance computer and a power system with a lithium-ion battery.
In addition, CO Vesolje-Si has built a ground station for satellite communication in the Ljubljana Marshes and developed a multidisciplinary laboratory for testing materials, components and systems in a simulated space environment.
The main goals of the space mission are related to the testing of four satellite technologies developed by CO Vesolje-Si:
- measuring thermomechanical responses of structural components in a space environment,
- testing a high-performance microsatellite transmitter,
- testing algorithms for interactive and autonomous satellite control, and
- testing the process chain for automatic processing of satellite data.
It will complement the information from the existing EU Sentinel satellites with its high-resolution images and videos and enable the development of new applications for different purposes on the surface of Slovenia.
The satellite NEMO HD was launched to space with the Vega VV16 rocket and into a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO, 500 km, LTAN 10:30). The satellite is expected to fly in its orbit without propulsion until 2025. Then it will start to lose altitude and burn up when entering the Earth's atmosphere.
Trisat is a nanosatellite developed as an educational space mission by the University of Maribor in collaboration with SkyLabs. The building and launch of the satellite were funded by the European Space Agency as part of its programmes under the Plan for European Cooperating States (PECS) and later through Slovenia's associate membership.
Trisat is a nanosatellite weighing 4 kg with a moderate capability of remote Earth observation based on multispectral image capturing in the shortwave infrared spectrum. The data obtained in this way can be further processed to provide information on vegetation patterns, the consequences of natural disasters, fires, clouds and volcanic dust.
The highlights of the satellite design are a miniaturised multispectral SWIR camera, communication modules, an on-board computer using the PicoSkyFT processor, which is also recognised by ESA as being useful in many cases of space technology and is also fault tolerant, memories with an error detection and correction unit, and miniaturised high-throughput S-band communication module for high-speed data transmission.
The mission's ground segment, which includes the operation and control of the satellite in the form of a software-defined ground station (on the roof of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in Maribor), will be provided by the University of Maribor.
The satellite has several modes of operation. When it is in the inactive mode, it collects energy with solar panels facing the sun, transmits basic telemetry and waits for commands from the Earth.
On command, the satellite directs the camera towards the Earth at the specified point and begins to take images of the Earth's surface. Then the satellite switches to the inactive mode, and the data is transmitted from the primary instrument to the memory in the computer subsystem.
In the next phase, previews of the captured image data are sent back to the Earth using a high-throughput S-band subsystem, which automatically turns on when the satellite is within reach of the ground station. After receiving further commands, the satellite sends the desired high-resolution image data.
A demonstration of the upgrade of the built-in software in the orbit with a communication subsystem that also provides high data throughput to the satellite is also planned.
The Trisat satellite was launched into space with the Vega VV16 rocket and flies without propulsion in a night-day sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 km.
Companies' cooperation with other international research institutions and programmes
Companies and institutions involved with ESA have the opportunity to cooperate with other related international institutions. Below are listed several European institutions related to space technology.
As part of the EU framework research and innovation programme, a special section Horizon 2020 - Space was dedicated to space and has been replaced by Horizon Europe. The areas of funding are linked to the Copernicus programme (Earth observation and data use) and the Galileo programme (telecommunications, navigation, awareness raising and use). Please register to access the information on calls for proposals.
EUSPA is the EU Agency for the Space Programme, which includes:
- Galileo and Egnos, global navigation satellite systems,
- Copernicus, a satellite programme for Earth observation,
- Govsatcom, a secure satellite connectivity programme for public administration,
- and SST, a space situational safety programme.
EUSPA organises different contests and competitions for start-up companies and small and medium-sized enterprises that use satellite data in their business operations. In addition, it helps with networking and provides services such as Galileo Green Lane.
Since Slovenia is a member of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites EUMETSAT, Slovenian companies can participate in calls for tender from this organisation. EUMETSAT is a European intergovernmental organisation for the exploitation of meteorological satellites that closely cooperates with ESA. Its main aim is to set up, maintain and exploit European operational metrological satellite systems and, in cooperation with the EU, satellite systems under the Copernicus programme. EUMETSAT publishes its calls to tender on its website. Please note that registration is required to access all information on the website.
In 2017 Slovenia became an associate member state of the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN. This brings many benefits, including broadening and deepening the participation of Slovenian researchers in CERN projects, the creation of a world-class network of Slovenian expertise in the field of particle physics, the possibility to participate in educational programmes, and accelerated development and access to new global markets for Slovenian partners, particularly high-tech companies. Companies can now participate in CERN's calls for tender.
The EU satellite centre SatCen provides products and services resulting from the exploitation of relevant satellite and other data to support the decision-making of the European Union in the field of common foreign and security policy, including EU crisis management missions and operations. The centre also issues calls for tender, particularly in the fields of data use and cartography.
Draft Act on the Supervision of Space Activities
The Ministry of Economic Development and Technology of the Republic of Slovenia is drawing up the Act on the Supervision of Space Activities. In accordance with international conventions, the act will regulate the supervision of space activities and set up a national register of space objects, which is the basis for entry in the UN Register of objects launched into outer space.
The act stipulates that space activities may only be carried out with authorisation, and its provisions lay down:
- the procedure and conditions for obtaining authorisation,
- the procedure for the transfer of authorisation,
- liability for damage caused by space activities,
- setting up the national register of space objects,
- the procedure for supervising space activities, and
- penal provisions in the case of violations.