ANSER CubeSat leader. Credits: ESA

Five European Launch Providers Contracted for a Great Satellite Initiative

The Flight Ticket Initiative, supporting industries's need for tech testing in space, will lean on these launch providers as part of the ESA Boost! program

The European Union’s aerospace sector is bound to expand, to compete with the world’s other launch providers for the increasingly valuable small satellite business. Together with the European Space Agency, the European Commission announced on May 22nd, 2024, that the first five contracts for its Flight Ticket Initiative have been officially signed.

The initiative, under the broader-scope Boost! program from ESA, has been designed to offer support to every company in need of testing hardware and innovative technologies in space. Through a roster of European Launch providers, ESA will offer financial support by co-funding launches, carrying small satellites of interested companies.

Pose PAX (CU3) sur Flight mating au S3B, le 08/09/2023. | PAX (CU3) integration on Flight mating at S3B. 09/08/2023.
A rack of CubeSats for IOD/ IOV are readied aboard an ISISPACE payload adapter. Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG-S Martin

Lucía Linares, from ESA’s Space Transportation Directorate, described the initiative as an “important moment” for space transportation in Europe, as it will “stimulate European competitiveness, […] and support the growth of the European space economy”. The first contracts were awarded to Launch providers themselves: Rocket Factory Augsburg, Orbex, PLD Space, Isar Aerospace, and Arianespace.


The EU space industry needs a “Boost!”

Boost! is a commercial Support Program established to stimulate the competitiveness of the European private space sector. It was designed to include funding not only for activities in space and Launch providers to support them, but also for Earth-based infrastructure. Therefore testing facilities, launch pads, and spaceports have been financed with the help of the program.

A colorful drawing illustrating the main objectives of the ESA boost support program: encouraging space testing of technology, helping launch providers, and giving support for space-related land activities
The Boost! Support Program. Credits: ESA

Boost! has been organized into three main categories. The Flight Ticket Initiative is part of number 3: Space Transportation Services Procurement Element. It supports the In-Orbit Demonstration / In-Orbit Validation of novel technologies. Announced in 2023, it will be offering support from 2024 through 2026, with requests being accepted in batches every six months.

The Boost! 1 element focuses on Commercial Space Transportation Services, a main source of funding for private launch providers’ development of their technologies. Boost! 2 Support to Participating States is directed at single ESA Member States to support the design and implementation of spaceports. One such example is the construction of the SaxaVord spaceport in Scotland.


Europe’s shiny new Launchers

Each of the launch providers selected for the Flight Ticket Initiative will be competing up to €5 million for each launch request from customers, and have already been supported by the Boost! program for the last few years.

Rocket Factory Augsburg has completed a successful engine firing of the ONE first stage at SaxaVord on May 19th. Additionally, the company recently announced its newer plans for the Argo capsule.

Orbex, a UK-based company, has been supported from 2021 onward, with the most recent round of funding for developing their innovative launch facility in Sutherland, Scotland. Their Prime rocket is promising to have a reduced environmental footprint. Therefore, it will need additional facilities to support this new challenge.


More systems in development

PLD Space, from Spain, after a successful maiden launch of their Miura 1 rocket last year, now working on the Miura 5 launcher, has signed a Boost! contract with ESA for €1,3 million. The company will develop a modular and light payload accommodation system, to offer more versatility to CubeSat customers.

Isar Aerospace from Munich, Germany, has been working with ESA to develop a safe flight tracking system for their Spectrum launch vehicle, with support from the Andøya Spaceport in Norway.

Miura 1 lifts off from El Arenosillo Test Centre, Huelva, Spain. Credits: PLD Space.
Miura 1 lifts off from El Arenosillo Test Centre, Huelva, Spain. Credits: PLD Space

Arianespace is busy with the first launch of the Ariane 6 rocket, coming up in the next months. Despite many delays, it is bringing Europe closer to resuming its crucial role in the world’s space launch sector. Europe is preparing to enter a new phase of advancement,  thanks to its numerous private launch providers, who are stepping up in today’s space economy.

*Cover image credits: ESA

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Marco Guardabasso

Marco Guardabasso

Engineering student with a passion for space, photography and arranging music.

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