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ESA SME Policy

The dynamism, flexibility and innovative capabilities of high technology small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are of high value to Europe’s space industry. ESA actively encourages this category of company to become involved in its space programmes.

The aim is to enable ESA, and the European space industry, to tap into the potential of innovative SMEs, and to open up opportunities for them to work more extensively with ESA and its space contractors.


During the March 1997 meeting of the ESA Council, Ministers of ESA Member States called upon the Director General of ESA to reserve a special place for SMEs. The objective is to guarantee them a share in the Agency's technological activities, and to facilitate their access to technical facilities and tools. As a result, ESA put in place a specific SME Policy aiming at promoting the participation of SMEs in its activities.

This policy helps ESA, and the space sector generally, to make the best possible use of the wealth of technologies and expertise that European SMEs can offer. The flexibility and high degree of specialisation of this category of companies, make them invaluable partners in all space projects.

The SME Policy adds a valuable dimension to the Agency's overall industrial policy, as well as to its efforts to maintain the expertise needed to develop space programmes. Taken as a whole, ESA's industrial policy portfolio aims to ensure that European industry has fair and balanced access to ESA's activities.

SME Policy Office

The SME Policy Office manages and coordinates, ESA-wide, development and application of SME policies, and is the focal point for SMEs and all external actors concerned with any aspect of such policies (institutional actors, National Agencies, Industrial organisations, etc.)

The SME Policy Office has put in place a number of measures to reinforce the technical capabilities and sustainability of high technology SMEs in order to facilitate their involvement in ESA activities.

Encouraging SME involvement in ESA activities

Leveraging the involvement of SMEs is pursued through special types of Announcements of Opportunities (AOs). These include:

  • Leading-Edge Technologies for SMEs (LET-SME)

  • These AOs are fully reserved for SMEs. The LET-SME programme is dedicated to encouraging the "spin-in" to space applications of leading-edge technologies conceived and developed by SMEs.

  • Procurements governed by C1-C4 clauses

  • This refers to AOs which incorporate special policy provisions on the types of enterprises expected to tender for the procurement award. The C1-C4 clauses have been put in place to guarantee fair access to ESA's procurements from all categories of company.
Technical support to SMEs

Several measures have been taken to provide technical support to SMEs:

  • ESA training and technical assistance

  • Each year, ESA organises a number of training programmes targeted towards industries operating in, or looking to enter, the space sector. Priority is given to SMEs, and courses cover key aspects of doing business in space-related industrial fields.

  • access to ESA facilities and laboratories

  • A special scheme has been put in place to permit access by SMEs to ESA's testing facilities and laboratories under favourable conditions.

  • SineQuaNet

  • In November 2005, ESA and the European Commission launched SineQuaNet, a mechanism able to organise, structure and deliver access to technical facilities, expert support and training services for SMEs.
Adaptation of ESA rules and tools

To improve the bidding process and simplify contract conditions, two measures have been taken:
  • upgrading ESA's online procurement tool, EMITS

  • The Electronic Mail Invitation to Tender System (EMITS) is used to publish AOs, and to automatically distribute invitations to tender (ITT) to EMITS registrants.
    Upgrades made from time-to-time to EMITS aim not only to enhance system usability, but also to improve transparency of ESA's procurement process, and to facilitate networking between prospective industrial partners.

  • simplification and streamlining of procedures for small contracts

  • SMEs are prime beneficiaries of these measures, as many of the contracts awarded to SMEs fall into the class of "small contracts" ( <250.000 Euros).
Improved opportunities for business partnership and networking

ESA in general, and the SME Policy Office in particular, have implemented several means to improve networking, information flow, and business partnering - all intended to be of particular benefit to SMEs:

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