Opportunity: Demonstration of an experimental 5G g-NodeB in space




The 5th generation (5G) promises a new paradigm in communications, offering higher transmission rates, more Internet of Things (IoT) and internet application connections, reliable networks, very low latency, and a scenario for remote connectivity. 

The advantages of introducing a space element in the 5G terrestrial network have caught the attention of network operators, space industry and standardisation bodies. Satellites can play a significant role in the 5G deployment and improving coverage and capacity not only in urban areas, but also remote areas or where terrestrial networks are not deployed, as well as providing secure and resilient connectivity. 

3GPP Release 17 marks a break-through for the satellite community, as it will become the first terrestrial standard to natively incorporate a space element with the so called Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN). Release 17, available mid-2022, will focus on the transparent satellite use case, where the satellite limits its role to a transparent repeater, with limited on-board 5G implemented functions. 

Further releases will allow incorporating additional layers of complexity and intelligence on board space elements, increasing the level of terrestrial and satellite integration, paving the way towards a long term holistic unified full merging.

To achieve this bold ambition, it is fundamental to foster the role of satellites in 5G ecosystem by studying and demonstrating the advantages of incorporating additional regenerative functions to the satellite payload. Adding elements or even a full g-NodeB on board of a satellite, will enable additional features including on board routing and satellite interconnectivity, allowing a new degree of network flexibility, and improving the performance that will benefit all players. These advantages come at a cost; a higher on-board complexity, that requires to be duly studied and assessed.


This activity will study the implementation of spaceborne 5G regenerative functions in a 5G end-to-end system demonstration incorporating a space segment element.  For that purpose, the activity will develop and demonstrate in orbit an experimental 5G g-NodeB (gNB) distributed between a regenerative payload and a satellite gateway for eMBB services. The experimental gNB will be based on the 5G New Radio Non-Terrestrial Network (NR-NTN) 3GPP standard.


This innovative opportunity allows for the exploration of an uncharted territory, which is beyond existing standards and will allow to better understand the challenges and benefits of the different possible regenerative architectures, contributing to the definition of the satellite functions in future releases of the 3GPP standards.

First, the activity will identify and trade-off different distributed gNB architectures balancing different levels of gNB on-board implementation across payload and gateway and analyse/quantify the impacts in the overall satellite system architecture and 5G network integration. The most promising architectures will be down-selected for further detailed analysis for its implementation on an end-to-end test bed simulator that will validate the assumptions and assess the defined service key parameter indicators (KPI). Following the on-ground demonstration, an end-to-end in orbit demonstration (IOD), encompassing its necessary components (i.e., space segment, ground segment and user segment) will be developed, designed, manufactured, and deployed. 

The activity will finish with a live In Orbit Demonstration of an end-to-end broadband connectivity (eMBB) experiment between a number of on-ground satellite-enabled 5G User Terminals (UE) and the deployed 5G system.  The demonstration will prove features such as radio resource management, dynamic allocation of resources to UEs in both uplink and downlink, beam hand-over, connection setup and release, session management and radio address network sharing. Several tests in different scenarios, including static and mobile will be performed to ensure the repeatability and reliability of the results. 


The Invitation to Tender (ITT) is open from 14th April 2022 until 8th November 2022 (please note the deadline has been extended from 26th September 2022).

Proposals can be submitted via esa-star (please find link below) until 08/11/2022 13:00:00


The Agency held a webinar on 10 November 2021 with potential interested economic operators, which provided additional details on the activity scope, objectives, and procurement approach for this highly innovative and demanding in orbit demonstration activity.  

Additionally, the webinar offered interested candidates the opportunity -if they wish to- to advertise their interest in the activity among other webinar participants, to facilitate the creation of industrial consortia. Please see the webinar slides below.


ESA’s Space for 5G and 6G Strategic Programme Line (5G/6G SPL) has been set up to support the space sector to deliver cost effective technology solutions for 5G and 6G. The 5G/6G SPL provides funding for activities and projects aimed at a common strategic goal to support the digitalisation of business and society; this is conducted in coordination with related 5G/6G initiatives at European and national level in various Member States.

You can find more information below:
Space for 5G | ESA TIA


This activity is an approved 5G Specific Programme Line workplan activity with a total budget of 4.5M Euro and planned for release by Q4 2021 / Q1 2022. The Activity appears in the ARTES 5G Specific Programme Line Workplan 2020 (Ref. 2-.020, Demonstration of an experimental 5G g-NodeB in space). 

Interested economic operators are invited to anticipate registering in ESA-star (Registration) in our Doing Business with ESA website. Once registered, you can use your received account information to login and download the complete Workplan from ESA-star (Publication), ref. 1-10510.

ESA will release the open competitive Invitation To Tender (ITT). Eligibility will be restricted to any company and/or organisation, public body, or non-governmental organisation, residing in any of the participating states: Austria, Canada, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Finland, United Kingdom, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden.

Published 27 October 2021
Last updated at 04 October 2022 - 08:52