Opportunity: 6G Satellite Precursor - Sterling In-Orbit Laboratory



Opening date: 28/04/2023 20:03 CEST

Closing date: 14/07/2023 13:00 CEST

Tender Action Number: 1-11652 — Activity Number: 1000036685


6G is the sixth-generation technology standard for mobile networks. The integration of satellites with 6G is increasingly important, not only to leverage the successes of 5G integration, but also to increase the contribution that satellites can play in the ever-evolving global connectivity requirements. With 6G, the end user can be anything from an individual person with a device to an autonomous drone, a robot, a heart monitor, an AI security application, and more. 6G will add connective intelligence to the hierarchy of connected people and things. It will offer unique performance characteristics through the creation of the world’s largest neural network with integrated sensing, learning, and processing capabilities.

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 focuses on the transparent satellite use case, where the satellite limits its role to a transparent repeater, with limited on-board 5G implemented functions.

5G to 6G

6G will enhance the existing 5G attributes and fully integrate them within the future 6G standard.

ESA will be the organisation that guides its industrial partners in the development of new 6G satellite technology, and the migration of existing telecommunication applications from 5G to 6G seamlessly, securely, and sustainably.

If European industry wants is to be competitive and position itself at the forefront of 6G development and integration with terrestrial testbeds, then a satellite testbed needs to be in orbit around 2024. In order to for the integration of satellites to be successful in 6G, terrestrial industry partners must be able to experiment and test in a real environment that can only be provided by a 6G laboratory in space.


The objective of the 6G Satellite Precursor is to develop an in-orbit laboratory that allows for the R & D process to be realised early in 6G adoption so that the satellite industry can adapt their technologies, products, and use-cases to work side by side with terrestrial communication infrastructure. ESA views this laboratory as an open innovation opportunity, where researchers and industry experts can collaborate in space and on the ground to tackle the challenges of 6G at an early stage as early as possible.

At this early stage 6G is not fully defined but clear trends are emerging, such as:

  • the convergence of connectivity and computation
  • end-to-end network orchestration (terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks)
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) everywhere - distributed intelligence - for network optimisation, as well as to support vertical use cases
  • ultra-high levels of security

The proposed activity consists of the development and launch of an in-orbit 6G laboratory to allow experimentation, optimisation and validation of key 6G technologies and techniques. These could include:

  • AI-assisted dynamic spectrum allocation
  • AI-assisted dynamic service-based resource management
  • self-optimised air interfaces
  • characterisation of sub-THz transmission performance
  • multi-access edge computing
  • the use of neuromorphic processors for AI/ML power and mass/volume optimisation
  • sub-THz RF equipment and antennas
  • cognitive radios
  • software-defined radios
  • software-defined payloads

The activity will seek synergies with ESA B5G/6G deliverables as well as various European B5G/6G projects and national initiatives that are already being built-up. In addition, the activity will provide inputs to standardisation bodies and to the European 6G development roadmap.

The activity will be implemented in a phased approach, where key technologies and techniques will be reviewed and selected prior to proceeding with the development and launch activities.


ESA’s Space for 5G/6G and Sustainable Connectivity Strategic Programme Line (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 Strategic Programme Line workplan activity with a total budget of 8M Euro and planned for release by Q1 2023. The Activity appears in the ARTES 5G/6G Workplan 2023 (Ref. 3E.011, 6G Satellite Precursor).

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, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Greece, Spain, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Responding to an open competitive Invitation to Tender (ITT) requires the submission of a Proposal. The Proposal will be evaluated according to ESA regulations and procedures.

The consequential evaluation of proposals results in a recommendation for a winning bid. In the event that several proposals of good quality targeting different and/or complementary aspects are submitted, the Agency reserves the right to place parallel contracts for each of the open competitive ITTs in coordination with the relevant national delegations.

Your tender must be submitted in electronic format only via esa-star tendering [see: https://esastar.sso.esa.int/]


Use the STERLING Marketplace. A match-making platform to identify the right partners for this mission.

Open Space Innovation Platform - OSIP - Campaign: ‪STERLING Marketplace (esa.int).


This webinar took place at 11:00 CET on 08 March 2023. You can view the webinar slides here.


ARTES 4.0 CC Summary Flyer
ARTES 4.0 Core Competitiveness: An Overview (presentation)
ARTES 5G Strategic Programme Line
ARTES 4.0 Work Plan


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