The General Studies Programme (GSP) interfaces in different ways with all of ESA's programmes, but its main role is to act as a "think tank", laying the groundwork for the agency's future activities.
The objectives of the general studies programme are:
- Contribute to the formulation of the overall ESA strategy;
- Study the feasibility of new mission concepts ready for selection;
- Prepare/demonstrate the case for approval and funding of new optional projects/programmes;
- Support the evolution of ESA by analysing and testing new working methodologies.
A remarkable diversity of topics is investigated, running across the entire spectrum of the agency's activities.
Each study usually lasts one to two years, which is sufficient time for an in-depth exploration of each subject. 30 to 50 new studies are typically initiated during each cycle.
The GSP is organised around three domains:
- Mission assessment studies: The programme performs mission feasibility studies, typically up to Phase-A level, which provide ESA member states and the scientific community with the necessary information for the selection of new mission concepts. These studies also serve to both prepare and demonstrate the case for approval and funding of new optional programmes. The GSP also performs ESA internal mission concepts assessments via the Concurrent Design Facility (CDF).
- Interdisciplinary activities: The GSP enables unique opportunities for inter-directorate work, e.g., through the internal biannual Call for Study Ideas and the new activities resulting from it in each cycle. All GSP activities are characterised by their cross-disciplinary approach; proposals for new studies must involve representatives from at least three different directorates. As a result ESA staff members act as the main "discoverers" and "filters" of new ideas in the European space sector. GSP activities also reflect the views and suggestions of industry gathered through workshops, visits and hearings.
- Strategy studies: The GSP's role is also to serve as a corporate "strategic think tank": the actions within the programme contribute to the formulation of the overall ESA strategy. It also supports the evolution of ESA by analysing trends and identifying potential issues, and by testing new working methodologies. In doing so, the GSP lays the groundwork for the Agency's future activities.
One of the GSP's objectives is to achieve a balanced participation between industry and experts in all member states. The majority of the studies are undertaken by companies of all sizes and by academia under the technical guidance of staff from the various ESA directorates. The success of the General Studies Programme is largely due to these non-ESA organisations.
Established and supported by the GSP, ESA's Advanced Concept Team operates a specific tool named "Ariadna" to facilitate access to the GSP for the academic world.