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SRC - Space robotics technologies


Each proposal shall address only one of the following sub-topics:

a) In-orbit Demonstrator Mission Study: a study (up to and including Phase B1) of an In-Orbit Demonstrator (IOD) that will validate previous developments of the SRC for the purpose of simultaneously satisfying short-term (ie on-orbit inspection, life extension, de-orbiting) and mid-to-long-term (ie APM exchange, reconfiguration, on-orbit assembly/manufacturing) horizons. The successful proposals should articulate the means to connect these two different business cases in a single demonstrator. The proposed demonstrator should represent a risk-taking, disruptive approach to enable new commercial opportunities in space.

The Orbital Mission Study should provide a feasibility study relating to the demonstrator mission (Phase A) and a preliminary design of this mission (Phase B1) outlining system and technology requirements.

In parallel to this, the proposal should outline which hardware and software technologies, as defined in the Mission Study, will be developed by the consortium in order to achieve this level of technology maturation.

As such, each proposal should cover the following areas:

  • Global market & trend analysis: The proposal shall detail the business cases that will be enabled by the demonstrator and the new market opportunities that will be generated in the space sector in Europe.
  • Transition into the new paradigm: The Proposal shall explain how the demonstrator will facilitate the smooth transition between the short-term market need and future commercial possibilities through the generation of new modular and reconfigurable, intelligent satellites. Furthermore, the proposed mission and system design shall allow the integration of other functional building blocks into the system at later phases (for example, Phases C and D) of the project. This shall demonstrate increased flexibility before launch compared to conventional systems.
  • TRL increase of critical systems: The proposal shall not only cover the phase A and B1 studies of the mission, but also identify and undertake the critical hardware developments and technology maturation needed to ensure the viability of the demonstrator in the next phases.

b) Advanced Robotics Planetary Exploration: the next step in exploration will target areas of planets that are hard to reach, such as gullies, cliffs, craters and lava tubes. This requires improved capability in the rover’s understanding of its environment (not simply 2D with obstacles, but fully 3D), and capabilities in motion planning and execution which have not previously been demonstrated. This sub-topic aims to integrate the state-of-the-art technology (artificial intelligence, sensing and modelling complex environments, diverse means of locomotion, and cooperative planning and decision making) needed for this application.

The successful proposal should aim to overcome these current constraints by identifying the gaps in technology and knowledge and providing innovative solutions.

In detail, the successful proposal should address the following aspects:

  • Demonstrator: the design and implementation of an exploration demonstrator to simulate hazardous and/or difficult extra-terrestrial terrain and test the technologies required to plan, navigate, traverse and investigate them.
  • Technology development: Identification and development/maturation of the critical software and/or hardware technologies needed to enable the exploration of previously inaccessible areas on planetary surfaces. The spin-in of technologies from terrestrial sectors shall be investigated for this purpose.
  • Case Study exploring terrestrial exploitation: provision a full case study demonstrating how the submitted technology can be exploited on Earth to solve problems in terrestrial sectors and scenarios.
  • Re-use and improvement of the technologies and products of the previous SRC Calls: inclusion of a dedicated section explaining how to implement and develop the results of the previous SRC Calls, both in terms of building blocks and of system design.

The results of the successful project, coupled with the results of the previous SRC calls, will be crucial in paving the way for future European activities in planetary exploration.

At least two proposals will be selected for subtopic a) and at least of one proposal for subtopic b).

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of around 3 million EUR would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

A guidance document will be made available on the Funding & Tenders Portal.

Grants awarded under this topic will be complementary to each other and complementary to grants awarded under other previous SRC topics COMPET-4-2014, COMPET-4-2016 and SPACE-12-TEC-2018. In order to ensure a smooth and successful implementation of this Strategic Research Cluster, the beneficiaries of complementary grants (""complementary beneficiaries"") shall join the already established ""collaboration agreement"". The respective options of Article 2, Article 31.6 and Article 41.4 2 of the Model Grant Agreement will be applied.

Proposals under this topic may be subject to security scrutiny if they could potentially lead to security-sensitive results that should be classified (see guide for classification available at the Funding & Tenders Portal).

The overall challenge of this Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) is to enable major advances in space robotic technologies for future on-orbit missions requiring robotic activity and proximity rendezvous, and the exploration of the surfaces of the other bodies in our solar system.

The first activities in the SRC have addressed designing, manufacturing and testing of reliable and high performance robotic Common Building Blocks for operation in space environments (orbital and/or planetary). The specific challenge of the second call was to integrate the previously prepared Common Building Blocks into demonstrators on ground, towards applications of space robotics in the field of orbital and planetary use. These robotics applications address the future needs of exploration (advanced autonomy and robot cooperation relying on AI and other techniques) and commercial exploitation of space (on-orbit servicing, in-orbit assembly and reconfigurable satellites).

The objective of this third call is to prepare the technologies for demonstrators planned to be implemented in the 2023-2027 timeframe. The successful proposals shall validate relevant applications for both orbital and planetary scenarios relying on technologies derived from previous SRC activities.

Space robotics technologies developed under these sub-topics are expected to increase the performance of space missions in a cost-effective manner and enable new business cases considering New Space approaches.

Additionally, for the sub-topic a) the results are expected to:

  • Propose multiple new business cases and enable new market opportunities reflected by the paradigm shift from mission-specific solutions to modular, intelligent, flexible spacecraft;
  • Increase the viability of the demonstrator(s) through the necessary hardware developments;
  • Provide a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the economical, technical, scientific and performance-related impact and benefits of standardized technologies, in order to tangibly contribute towards emerging regulations governing the commercial use of such technologies in space.

Additionally, for sub-topic b) the results are expected to:

  • Improve the scientific yield of planetary missions by increasing accessibility;
  • Lead to mission studies for challenging, next-generation planetary exploration;
  • Lead to tangible exploitation of planetary exploration technologies in terrestrial applications and vice versa.