Space4Rail ESA open call

Funding to support the use of space-based assets to improve the European Rail system

Opportunity Details

Applications are accepted year-round; the timescale from submission to acceptance is typically 13 weeks / 3 months.


Feasbility studies: max. 500,000 EUR. Demonstration projects: case by case assessment. This can cover up to 50% of the project cost for large companies, up to 80% for micro/SMEs, and up to 100% for universities or academic research. Rolling deadline, turnaround c. 3 months.


European Union

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Space technologies, such as satellite navigation, satellite communication and Earth observation, can help the railway sector in many ways.

ESA open call “Space4Rail Downstream Applications in ARTES 4.0” aims to support the exploitation of space-based assets (satellite navigation, satellite communications and/or Earth observation) in innovative and sustainable applications/services:

1. Related to future control, command and signalling applications of the European Rail system;
2. Improving the performance and attractiveness of the railway, both for railway undertakings and end users.

Feasibility studies and demonstration projects are invited.

  • Funded participation is open to any company and/or organisation, be it as group of users, public body or non-governmental organisation, residing in any of the ESA Member States that are participating to the programme as specified in the Letter of Invitation in esa-star.

    The applicable funding level of the individual prime- or subcontractors is subject to authorisation by the involved National Delegation(s). Therefore bidding teams are requested to obtain a Letter of Authorisation from all their national delegations before submitting a Full Proposal.

  • The Open Call is structured in three key thematic areas. Companies are invited to propose activities (Feasibility Studies or Demonstration Projects) to at least one theme. Applications for each theme shall be addressed separately.

    Command and signalling

    This thematic domain focuses on activities that exploit space-based assets to improve the business case of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) through increased operational performance and/or reduction of the cost of ERTMS.

    This includes support for the potential ERTMS ‘game changers’ identified by industry stakeholders, including satellite positioning, next generation communication systems(s), Level 3 of the European Train Control System (ETCS) and Automatic Train Operations (ATO).

    Improving performance

    Improving performance in the railway is particularly topical as it may enable safer and more efficient rail operations and infrastructure management, leading also to a reduction in life cycle costs.

    The objective of this domain is to develop innovative railway applications and services that improve the performance, efficiency, safety and security of the railway infrastructure and assets.

    Improving attractiveness

    In the era of digitalisation, new services and applications to improve the user experience for passengers, the development of Smart Stations, and the implementation of new services for freight users, could be investigated and developed making use of at least one space asset.

    The objective of this thematic domain is to develop innovative and sustainable applications / services that improve the attractiveness of the railway for end users.

  • Feasibility Studies provide the preparatory framework to identify, analyse and define new potentially sustainable applications and services in the railway domain, and must be compliant with the following requirements: they are user/customer driven, they benefit from the integrated use of at least one space asset (e.g. satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation), and they aim to evolve the targeted applications and services to marketability and operational roll-out, potentially through a Demonstration Project after successful completion of the Feasibility Study.

    Demonstration Projects are dedicated to the implementation and demonstration of pre-operational services in the railway domain, and must be compliant with the following requirements: they are user/customer driven (including user involvement and contribution) and potential customer engagement, they benefit from the integrated use of at least one space asset (e.g. satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation), and they will be validated in a pre-operational context through a pilot utilisation stage, with clear potential to become sustainable in the post project phase.

    In addition to these requirements, activities addressing the theme “Future Control-Command and Signalling in the European Rail System” shall, within its application to ESA, demonstrate an assessment of the business opportunity (for Feasibility Studies) or the improvement of the business case (for Demonstration Projects) related to ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) and complementarity to other activities launched at European level (e.g. within Shift2Rail or Horizon 2020).

  • There are three steps involved in applying to this call:

    1. Activity Pitch Questionnaire (APQ): Before engaging in more detailed elaboration of a potential outline or full proposal, the APQ allows the Tenderer in a reduced, standardised pitch form to present their initial idea to ESA, and it allows ESA to quickly take an informed decision on the next steps pointing the Tenderer to the most appropriate activity stream and providing support on the further implementation steps. The APQ template can be downloaded from and shall be submitted as per the instructions within the questionnaire form.

    2. Outline Proposal: Following the acceptance by ESA of the APQ and the indications provided by ESA concerning which eventual route to choose from (i.e. Feasibility Study or Demonstration Project), the second step requires the submission of an Outline Proposal, which will be evaluated by ESA, and feedback will be provided to the Tenderer in due time. The Outline Proposal template can be downloaded from and shall be submitted to the following email address:

    3. Full Proposal: Following notification by ESA on the acceptance of the Outline Proposal, the Tenderer may decide to prepare a Full Proposal according to ESA feedback and in accordance with Part 2 of Appendix 1 (Special Conditions of Tender).  Only Full Proposals supported with a “Letter(s) of Authorisation of Funding” (AOF) from National Delegations covering the Full Proposal will be admitted for evaluation. The Full Proposals shall be delivered via “esa-star”.

    In accordance with step 3, to submit the Full Proposal on “esa-star”, the following steps are applicable:

    1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on ESA-STAR Registration (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’)
    2. Download the official tender documentation (Invitation to Tender) and create a ‘Bidder Restricted Area’ via ESA-STAR system from 3 March 2022.
    3. Write your proposal and obtain a Letter of Support from your National Delegation, if applicable (see Funding Scheme section below).
    4. Submit your proposal via ESA-STAR Tendering by no later than 31 December 2025.

    Applications are accepted year-round, and the timescale from APQ submission to project acceptance is typically 13 weeks / 3 months (see slide 12 here).

  • If you would like help to find a project partner, you may contact Innovate UK KTN’s Space and Geospatial team, or our Transport team.


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