Launching a constellation of tens, hundreds or even thousands of satellites has become a serious option for providing ubiquitous telecommunications services. This is reflected by the many initiatives spawned in the recent past, ranging from nano and micro satellites systems dedicated to M2M/IoT, to the Megaconstellations of small and medium size satellites, like those envisaged by Oneweb, Leosat and Telesat, to mention but a few. Indeed, constellations of satellites providing access to currently un-served or under-served regions are one of the latest areas of growth for the space industry.

As of March 2017, more than forty different organizations have announced plans for non-GEO stationary satellite constellations. Among these are established satellite industry players such as Telesat, O3B, Boeing, and SpaceX, as well as newcomers such as OneWeb and LeoSat who are supported by large experienced commercial satellite manufacturing companies.

Constellations development will have a significant impact on the “established” satellite manufacturing sector, forcing a rationalization and rethink of the entire value chain. The construction and launch of thousands of satellites calls for a rapid rate of manufacture and significant cost reduction targets, redefinition of the supply chain and new validation approaches. At the same time it introduces new challenges, like constellation operational philosophy, a new reliability paradigm and issues such as debris mitigation, launch availability and cyber-security across a global network. Above all, commercial considerations such as time to market, lower prices for services and speed of response to user requirements drive a fundamental shift in how industry (and ESA) have to work.


In order to respond to the constellations developments and to ensure that European and Canadian space industry remain competitive in the face of what is going to be a major evolution of the industry, ESA established the ARTES Megaconstellations Opportunity in 2015, which encompasses support for both the immediate needs and the longer-term goals of the space industries of the ARTES participating states. Significant contracts have been placed with industry under this scheme, which is still open and will run until June 2018. For further details, please refer to the section on ARTES C&G below.

In 2017, ESA is further responding with an even more ambitious and comprehensive programme, raising the priority and breadth of the constellation initiative, ESA has decided to extend its support to all satellite constellations aiming at delivering communication services, and the players that are involved in them. 

ESA has a number of programme elements to support constellations, through which we:

  • Support Industry in their technology developments
  • Support Primes in their system developments
  • Support Operators directly (forming partnerships) or indirectly by supporting their 
  • Support all Segments (Ground, User Terminals, Space Segment, Services and Applications)
  • Support all Phases (R&D, Definition, Technology, Product, Demonstrations, Pilots)

ESA Support includes aspects relating to technology, regulation,  operations, industrial strategy and coordination, services and applications. 

Why you should get in  touch with ESA

If you are a Satellite Constellation Operator/Owner, examples of support and cooperation could include:

  • Regulatory (e.g. National Space Access and Spectrum licensing)
  • System Engineering (system architecture, network management, interference management, debris, etc)
  • Technology development and de-risking for next gen (advanced technologies e.g. optical, processor, antennas, R&D, etc)
  • User demonstration/Application/Pilots support including downstream ecosystems
  • Inclusion in hybrid trials (e.g. 5G terrestrial/satellite)
  • Partnerships with ESA to better guide and support your ecosystem and potential co-funding of satellite prime and system suppliers within European and Canadian industry

If you are a Satellite Constellation Prime, examples of support and cooperation could include:

  • System Engineering (system architecture, payload and platform architecture, network management, interference management, debris, etc)
  • Technology development (advanced technologies e.g. optical, processor, antennas, R&D, etc)
  • In Orbit Validation (IOV), Space Qualification User demonstration/Application/Pilots support including downstream ecosystems
  • Support for first flight including launch support
  • Operation, Maintenance and Qualification
  • Partnerships with ESA, with or without the constellation Operator, to better align and support the technology roadmap and developments

If you are a Satellite Constellation Supplier or Subcontractor, examples of support and cooperation could include:

  • System Engineering (system architecture, payload and platform architecture, network management, interference management, debris, etc)
  • Technology development (advanced technologies e.g. optical, processor, antennas, R&D, etc)
  • Component Developments and technology roadmap
  • In Orbit Validation (IOV), Space Qualification of products

If you are a Satellite Constellation Service Provider, examples of support and cooperation could include:

  • In Orbit Validation (IOV)
  • User demonstrations/Applications/Pilots support including downstream ecosystems
  • Partnerships with ESA, with or without the constellation Operator, to better align and support the Applications and Services, target specific vertical user campaigns, de-risk service model and validate business cases

If you recognise your organisation’s activities in any of  the topics above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us (Antonio Franchi and Damien Roques) for an initial, confidential meeting, where we can explore your interests and explain the various tools we have in place to support you. Contact details at the bottom of this article.


Through its ARTES budget line, ESA offers a comprehensive set of programmatic tools to tackle any innovative domain, depending on its maturity level. For satcom constellations we have already set up concrete initiatives that are reflected in the 2017 plans of our various ARTES programme elements, namely:

  • ARTES Core Competitiveness, that is split into two main threads:
    • ARTES Competitiveness & Growth, addressing product development;
    • ARTES Advanced Technology, dedicated to validating medium-term technology developments; and
    • ARTES Future Preparations, encompassing long-term strategic planning.

In addition to these running initiatives and beyond the scope of their detailed programme elements described below, we shall also consider other types of partnerships, that may be more customised.


The ARTES C&G element aims at supporting product development and implementation, and since 2016 it combines all phases of development, from definition to in-orbit validation.

In particular, recognizing the urgency and the tight development schedules that will be required, as well as the very high stakes involved, last year a new fast-track funding opportunity has been initiated  and this will continue to run until 29 June 2018: ARTES Megaconstellations - Call for Proposals.

This initiative aims at supporting platform and payload developments dedicated to all megaconstellations, and from this year its support has been extended to include any Satcom constellation and ground segment developments .

Interested parties are also encouraged to consider in particular opportunities offered for in-orbit validation purposes:

  • The  Atlas opportunity, is an extension of ARTES Competitiveness & Growth that is specifically designed to help industry to gain flight heritage for new equipment and technology. Atlas may be applied for either through the Megaconstellations fast-track procedures, or through the normal ARTES Competitiveness & Growth process.
  • Our Pioneer initiative, aims at promoting new one-stop-shop IOD/IOV providers in Europe. Entities showing interest are welcome to get in touch and see how their needs could fit in this framework


As part of the effort pursued by ESA to support technological developments for SATCOM constellations, the ARTES Advanced technology program line focuses at medium term technology development. Interested parties can consult the AT 2017 workplan , which lists fully funded studies to be launched this year. Examples of studies related to satellite constellations are:

      [3A.083] Test Bed for Demonstration of the Safety of Future Telecommunication Constellations

      [3A.087] Simulator for Managing Interference Between NGSO Constellations and GSO

      [3A.082] Real-time Satellite Network Emulator


The ARTES Future Preparation program activities aims at building a more reliable understanding of the trends, domains, actors and opportunities for satellite constellations. In particular:

  • 2 parallel studies were run, looking at the Strategic positioning of the European and Canadian Satcom industry, trying to determine the role of satellite systems into future networks in 2020-2025 timeframe
  • In 2017 ESA will initiate two activities looking at Applications for Megaconstellations, in order to identify and support downstream opportunities
  • An ITT has been issued that addresses Design Rules & Product Assurance Processes for Future Telecommunication Satellites including Megaconstellations

The results of these studies are publicly available to all companies across the member states of ESA. Additional information regarding those activities can be provided upon request.


For more information about ESA's Constellations Opportunity, please contact:

All players throughout the constellation value chain are invited to contact us, including system operators, satellite manufacturers, equipment and component suppliers, service and application providers, test and validation service providers, as well as national institutions and trade-associations.