Opportunity: Intelligent platform for constellations system study

ESA-STAR Reference number: E/0501-01F - Future Prep 4.0.2

Opening date: 20/10/2023
Closing date: 17/01/2024

ESA’s Future Programmes

Part of ESA’s ARTES Future Programme’s mission is to accelerate the satellite industry's transition to fully autonomous spacecraft, thereby reducing the need for human intervention. We will achieve this by: 

  • Analysing operational scenarios 
  • Deriving system requirements
  • Leveraging advanced AI techniques

The goal here is to create satellites capable of managing their operations autonomously, acquiring telemetry and making decisions. This journey involves three key phases, with the first phase focusing on system requirements and high-level architecture. Subsequent phases will develop crucial building blocks, and an Integration of Existing (IOE) phase will accelerate the integration of autonomous components and gather in-flight data. 


To help the next generation of satellites, especially within constellations, reach a higher level of autonomy, a groundbreaking end-to-end (E2E) architecture impacting both space and ground segments, will be essential. Related technologies have been evolving for years, and are now sufficiently matured to confirm that we are on the right path. The time has now come to adopt a more systematic and comprehensive approach.

The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Harnessing selected Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques in a strategic manner, with a particular focus on Machine Learning (ML), will be vital in facilitating this transformative approach.. With future satellite platforms  expected to aim for twice the current level of onboard autonomy -  including autonomously acquiring telemetry and issuing commands while continuously monitoring subsystem performance - . these technologies will play a pivotal role in enabling a whole new set of capabilities.

Within the context of complex constellations, this enhanced autonomy will significantly reduce the need for routine ground operations, which will in turn allow these resources to concentrate on higher-level constellation management functions. Achieving this ambitious autonomy increase necessitates a new architectural paradigm that leverages AI. This approach not only boosts operational autonomy but also introduces the concept of Predictive Maintenance as an alternative to the currently adopted Planned Maintenance, along with constellation replenishment.

A key feature of this proposed approach lies in its multidisciplinary nature which includes:

  • Addressing the entire system as a holistic problem
  • Redefining different subsystems and incorporating their operations from the early stages
  • Accelerating technology maturation  
  • Offering industry a unique opportunity to integrate and orchestrate all necessary building blocks to demonstrate advanced onboard autonomy in a realistic flight environment. 

The transition will be from individual unit or subsystem autonomy to full spacecraft autonomy, encompassing spacecraft health monitoring and self-healing capabilities as a minimum. 

It is likely that subsequent developments will include autonomous cooperation with other satellites within the same fleet or constellation, with the aim of  reducing system unavailability by predicting and addressing potential anomalies without human intervention.

Objectives of the activity

This activity focuses on the first phase of our mission towards achieving satellite autonomy-  determining the system requirements and high-level architecture. The primary objectives are to develop a new, fully autonomous architecture for future satcom platforms, revolutionising large constellations management. This will involve reducing operational expenses (OPEX) and increasing the complexity of constellation capabilities while transitioning from planned or failure-triggered replenishment to performance drift monitoring and potential life extension.

The enhancement of satellite autonomy implies a significant reduction in the reliance on human intervention for various operational tasks. This paradigm shift should consider at least both the initiation and the reaction of actions as described below: 

1. Initiation - Streamlining and eliminating manual tasks in operational planning: 

As satellite autonomy increases, there is a need to optimise and simplify the planning operations that have traditionally involved human intervention. By leveraging advanced automation and artificial intelligence technologies, manual tasks will be minimised and, ideally, eliminated altogether (a step-by-step approach can be proposed if resources or technologies do not allow total autonomy to be implemented). 

This allows for more efficient and streamlined satellite operations, as well as reducing the potential for human errors or delays in decision-making. 

2. Reaction - Autonomous handling of outages by space and ground systems:

Another crucial aspect of satellite autonomy will be the ability of space and ground systems to respond autonomously to outages. In the event of an interruption or malfunction, the systems must have the capability to detect and diagnose the issue independently. They should then initiate appropriate recovery measures or contingency plans without requiring direct human intervention. This end-to-end autonomous response ensures that satellite services are restored swiftly and effectively, minimising downtime and maximising operational efficiency (quantification shall be proposed).

Key Tasks:

  • Assess possible operative scenarios where onboard autonomy is required
  • Capture key operations requirements
  • Trade-off different architecture concepts and identify a reference one
  • Identify architecture blocks and derive the main high-level requirements, leaving room for specific implementation solutions
  • Perform a feasibility assessment for the reference architecture of an In-Orbit demonstration experiment  

The feasibility assessment for launching an in-orbit experimental mission to demonstrate the capabilities of this intelligent platform could lead to future demonstrator missions.

What we are looking for

  1. Digital Electronics and SW Defined Solutions: Proficiency in reconfigurable systems and digital electronics.
  2. Autonomous Systems and Data Processing: Expertise in AI and failure prediction algorithms.
  3. Satcom System Engineering: Skills in link budgets, physical layers, and system capacity assessment.
  4. Space System Engineering: Knowledge in mission analysis, orbital mechanics, power systems, and platforms.
  5. Space Asset Orchestration: Ability to design the operations of single satellites, fleets, and constellations.
  6. Data Engineering and Management: Skills in data collection, storage, and processing.
  7. Ground Systems and Operations: Expertise in ground stations, telemetry, control

How to apply

Proposals can be submitted via esa-star (please find the link below) until 17/01/2024 13:00 CET



ARTES FP is a key programme element, based on the concept of a European common effort to produce quality results to set the future of SatCom. Sitting at the beginning of the ARTES ‘food chain’ it offers the opportunity to acquire knowledge on future satcom market perspectives, investigate future system concepts and prepare initial ‘dossiers’ on strategic initiatives that would not be possible to  develop at individual Member State level. 

You can find more information in the link below:

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