ESA title

Circular Economy

  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 03-05-2021
  • Closing date 03-09-2021

The competition is split into four parts, each with its own deadline. If you are interested in applying for this Kick-Start competition please decide which topic your idea falls under and submit a proposal between the opening and closing date.

  Opening date Closing date
Part 1: Circular Food and Drinks 03 May 2021 18 June 2021
Part 2: Circular Fashion and Textiles 03 May 2021 18 June 2021
Part 3: Circular Urban Life 21 June 2021 03 September 2021
Part 4: Circular Waste Systems 21 June 2021 03 September 2021

The Challenge 

Most organisations today operate in a linear way. A company takes resources, makes a product, and sells it to the customer, who then disposes of the product when it is no longer wanted. This model operates as though there are infinite resources and it generates a lot of waste.

A circular economy, on the other hand, treats resources as though they are finite and is based on a make, use and return model. Each resource is used in a way that maximises value to the economy and minimises damage to the environment. The circular model is based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

The European Space Agency’s “Circular Economy” Kick-Start competition offers funding of up to €60k to teams who have ideas relating to the circular economy and use satellite data or space technologies. 

What are We Looking For?

Part 1: Circular Food and Drinks

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent of six rubbish trucks of edible food is lost or wasted every second. In cities, less than 2% of the valuable biological nutrients in food by-products and organic waste (excluding manure) is composted or valorised.

We would like to see ideas that tackle these issues by:

  • Optimising food use and reducing waste along the entire value chain; during production and distribution, and in shops, restaurants, catering facilities and at home. 
  • Using residue streams and agricultural by-products, which could become a valuable source of bio-based packaging, paper, fertiliser, or biofuel. 

Your ideas could: 

  • Use new technologies such as blockchain and AI to optimise food storage and supply chain efficiency by matching supply to demand more accurately and minimising the risk of goods expiring. 
  • Involve data sharing to enable industries to find agricultural by-products for re-use.
  • Use sensors to precisely monitor changes in the quality of natural resources. 

Part 2: Circular Fashion and Textiles

Businesses have used “fast fashion” to cut prices and introduce new lines more often. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions each year and uses around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually. Making and laundering clothes typically require large quantities of water and chemicals, with fibre farms occupying vast tracts of land. The global nature of the fashion industry means clothes may have travelled around the world several times during manufacture, and current technologies cannot reliably turn discarded old garments into fibres for new clothes.

We would like to see ideas that cover:

  • Designing, sourcing, producing and providing clothes, shoes and accessories with the intention to be used and circulated responsibly for as long as possible in their most valuable form. 
  • Safely returning materials to the biosphere when clothes are no longer of human use. 

Your ideas could:

  • Use data to source safe and renewable materials for clothes.
  • Involve applications to enable people and industries to find and buy used clothing or second-hand materials. 
  • Use sensors and technology to manage and monitor clothing and textile “end of life”. For instance, natural fibres - like cotton and silk - are biological nutrients and can return to the Earth, whereas technical components like polyester and nylon should be recycled. 
  • Use blockchain and other technologies to satisfy consumer demand for visible and transparent value chains from ‘sheep to shop’.  
  • Create environmental labelling standards and evaluate the environmental impact of the textile sector.
  • Use new technologies to reduce the amount of water and chemicals needed to make apparel. 

Part 3: Circular Urban Life

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Cities produce 50% of global waste and 60-80% of greenhouse gas emissions. In Growth Within, a report focusing on the circular economy in Europe, it was identified that the average car is parked more than 90% of the time. Circular cities can bring huge benefits, including reduced congestion, less waste and improved air quality. 

We would like to see ideas that cover:

  • Use of mapping, digital twinning and AI to determine the optimum design and layout of cities in order to help with resource management, nutrient flows, and reverse logistics. These make the return, sorting and reuse of products possible.
  • Use of digitally enabled technology solutions to enable/ enhance:
    A collaborative economy – the creation of decentralised networks and marketplaces to unlock the value of underused assets, like Etsy or eBay.
    A sharing economy – the sharing of the use of assets that have untapped or unused capacity, like Airbnb.
    Collaborative consumption – the reinvention of traditional market behaviours like renting, lending and swapping through the power of digital technology, for example in a model like Zipcar or bike sharing schemes.
    On-demand economy – models that directly match customer needs with providers to deliver goods and services, like Uber. 

These all play a role in extending the amount of time a product is in use.

Part 4: Circular Waste Systems

Economic growth has inevitably generated masses of consumer and industrial waste. According to McKinsey, many municipalities spend up to half of their budgets on solid-waste management. The circular economy aims to convert waste into income streams and minimise waste disposal where possible. If disposal is unavoidable, it must be adequately controlled to be safe for human health and the environment.

We would like to see ideas that:

  • Turn waste into resources. 
  • Ensure that, when waste cannot be recycled, the potential energy it contains is recovered through incineration, anaerobic digestion and waste-derived fuels.

Your ideas could:

  • Use mapping and tracking to design household waste collection systems so that recycling is maximised. 
  • Use technologies and innovative machinery to separate organic materials, and recover valuable nutrients or generate energy from waste. 
  • Use IoT to enable product elements to share information about their location, functionality and working condition through sensors.
  • Trace products from manufacture to disassembly. 

How is Space Relevant to the Circular Economy?


When applying for the Circular Economy Kick-Start, please ensure that your idea uses satellite data or space technology. Here are some thoughts about how space could be used in Circular Economy Services: 

Satellite Navigation, Positioning and Timing enables accurate tracking and tracing of goods along the supply chain, helping to improve logistics. It is key to optimising routes and operating traffic management systems.  Global Navigations Satellite Systems (GNSS) enables geo-location of objects, goods and in-situ measurements. 

Satellite Earth Observation enables the monitoring of natural resources like soil and water, as well as providing key data for monitoring and forecasting air quality and CO2 emissions. It can help to detect precise changes on land, support site selection, and optimise water resources. Satellite Earth Observation imagery can provide maps required for traffic management and logistics, support land use analysis and urban planning, and improve infrastructure planning and management. It can also provide intelligence on operations at locations of interest.   

Satellite Communications enable communications between central hubs and remote locations when no terrestrial network is available. This is key to supply chain operations. Satellite Communications can increase the robustness and resilience of systems by providing communication capabilities when terrestrial systems are down – for example due to cyber or terrorist attacks – or not yet operational. It can also support Internet of Things (IoT)/ Machine-to-Machine Communication (M2M), by connecting networks of sensors used to monitor equipment. 

About this Kick-Start  

  • ESA will launch Parts 1 and 2 of the Circular Economy Kick-Start on 03 May 2021. Teams will be invited to submit proposals between 03 May 2021 and 18 June 2021. 
  • ESA will launch Parts 3 and 4 of the Circular Economy Kick-Start on 21 June 2021. Teams will be invited to submit proposals between 21 June 2021 and 03 September 2021. 
  • After each deadline date, an evaluation board will review the proposals and successful ideas will be selected. 
  • ESA Space Solutions will provide funding of 75% for a maximum of €60K to each winning team. 
  • Teams will use this funding to run 6 month feasibility studies. During this time, teams will investigate the technical feasibility, commercial viability, and market appetite for their idea.
  • Ideas must relate to services for a Circular Economy and must use an element of satellite data or technology.

How to Apply

To be eligible for funding, your team must be based in one of the following countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden or the United Kingdom.   

To Apply: 

  1. Register your team on esa-star Registration today!
  2. When the Kick Start opens on 03 May 2021 visit esa-star Publication and search for this Circular Economy opportunity to download the official competition documents.
  3. Use the official documents to prepare your proposal.
  4. Reach out to your National Delegate to inform them that you are applying for the Circular Economy Kick-Start and to request a Letter of Authorisation. Contact details of each National Delegate can be found here ( Please note that if your team is based in Luxembourg, Norway, Germany or Ireland you do not have to contact your National Delegate; the Luxembourgish Norwegian, German and Irish Delegations have pre-authorised this Kick-Start opportunity. If your team is based in the United Kingdom you are only eligible for funding for Part 2 - Circular Fashion and Textiles - and you do not have to contact your National Delegate. 
  5. Submit your proposal via esa-star Tendering before the deadline!

    Deadline for part 1 and part 2 is 18 June 2021 at 12:00 CEST
    Deadline for parts 3 and 4 is 03 September 2021 at 12:00 CEST

Relevant Circular Economy Events

ESA will host two webinars to present this “Circular Economy” opportunity. The webinar for Part 1 “Circular Food and Drink” and Part 2 “Circular Fashion and Textiles” will take place on 28 April 2021 at 11:00 CEST. The webinar for Part 3 “Circular Urban Life” and Part 4 “Circular Waste Systems” will take place on 16 June 2021 at 11:00 CEST.

To join the webinar(s), register here: