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European Innovation Council

Low-Cost Space Launch

This prize aims to develop a solution for launching satellites into low-orbit at a low-cost.

The challenge to solve

The challenge is to develop a European technologically non-dependent solution for launching light satellites into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), which will enable dedicated low-cost launches with committed schedule and orbit.

The solution needs to be innovative, implementable, affordable in development and exploitation phases, and commercially viable.

Applicants are required to take a holistic approach and produce results that move beyond (but are complementary to) existing solutions.

Moreover, the solution will enhance on European access to space and associated technological non-dependence and thereby will provide strategic and competitive advantages for European companies, SMEs, universities and research organisations.

Space technologies, data and services have become indispensable to the daily lives of European citizens.

Moreover, development of space technology boosts jobs, growth and investments in Europe and strengthens its role in the world. Space solutions can help Europe to respond better to new global and societal challenges: climate change, disaster management, security threats, migration, farming, transport, energy and many more.

While Europe has a world-class space sector, innovation in space and changing demands are leading to an increased appearance of light and agile satellites.

Consequently, space solutions will increasingly consider this trend.

Small satellites are well-suited for most kinds of institutional and commercial use: wireless communications networks, Internet services, broader connectivity, scientific observation, data gathering, Earth imaging and positioning.

In terms of size, light satellites rely on a lower mass in comparison with conventional satellites. Their production is more cost-effective due to series manufacturing, agility and flexibility in operations. However, light satellites will also lead to an exponential increase in launch needs by 2020-2025.

Launch opportunities in Europe for this type of satellites are currently being standardised through auxiliary payload or rideshare solutions on the European launcher fleet.

However, according to market studies, light satellites are expected to lead to a significant increase in launch needs by 2020-2025.

An established service for regular launches dedicated to light satellites will contribute to achieve the following goals:

  • internal market growth in the manufacturing sector of small launchers and satellites and the downstream services sector
  • European leading position in export markets globally in the field of light satellites and small launchers
  • space-enabled seamless solutions for European citizens thanks to operational light satellites and small launchers


Prize value

€10 million

Expected results

European low-cost access to space infrastructure and services solution dedicated to light satellites.

Eligibility and award criteria

The contest is open to all legal entities (i.e. natural or legal persons, including international organisations) or groups of legal entities established in an EU Member State or in a country associated to Horizon 2020.

The prize relates to the development of European critical space infrastructure, which is of strategic importance and security-critical for the Union and its Member States. Therefore: (1) participation in this prize contest will be limited to legal entities established in EU Member States and Countries Associated to Horizon 2020; (2) the rules of contest will: (a) stipulate that a proposal may be rejected for security reasons; (b) provide further details on the obligation to develop and deploy the solution in an EU Member State.

The prize will be awarded, after closure of the contest, to the contestant(s) who, in the opinion of the jury, demonstrates a solution that best meets the following cumulative criteria.

  • excellence
  • technical implementation
  • service sustainability
  1. 12 June 2018
    contest opens
  2. 1 June 2021
    deadline to submit applications
  3. 2021 fourth quarter
    prize awarded