ESA title


Our Mission

The ESA Φ-lab mission is to accelerate the future of Earth Observation (EO) by means of transformational innovations, i.e. innovations able to completely transform or create entire industries via new technologies, with the aim to strengthen the world-leading competitiveness of the European EO industrial and research sectors.

The Φ-lab is a catalyst for Earth Observation innovative and transformative ideas and a bridge within Earth Observation’s ecosystem of innovative players which connects the actors of Industry, Investors, and Academia to fosters entrepreneurial initiatives.

The Φ-lab has been established to exploit and stimulate the favorable conditions of the European Earth observation market, by boosting its innovative ethos to enable a vibrant and worldwide competitive commercial sector.

Read more on the Φ-lab brochure.

Our innovation model

We operate managing the full range of the innovation pipeline: we create or discover in our network new transformational ideas, select and nurture the good ones, develop the “solution” by testing and maturing them, up to investing in the best ones via the InCubed programme to reach the market adoption (i.e. at least revenue generation).

The Φ-lab is not an R&D lab but an innovation model aimed at generating competitive advantage via unique value proposition (commercial or scientific ones). This is an only model in ESA that can join the deep technical content with the business innovation view fostering and delivering successful commercial investments.This model is now adopted as ESA strategic action to deploy a network of ɸ-labs across Europe as described in the Agenda 2025 (page 8, Boosting commercialisation for a green and digital Europe section).

Our Offices

φ-lab Explore Office

Explore the innovation universe and connect EO sensor revolution with the digital revolution

Team of Researchers
and aninnovation seed funding (FutureEO)

φ-lab Invest Office

Stimulate competitiveness fostering entrepreneurial initiatives growth with investment actions from ESA MSs and private investors

Team of Business Innovators
and commercial co-funding programme (InCubed)

The Φ-lab is organized in two offices, the Explore Office mainly focused in generating innovation from inside and outside ESA and managing the initial part of the innovation pipeline, while the Invest Office takes the generated and discovered innovations to the market via the Invest Actions and the InCubed co-funding programme.

The Φ-lab is based in ESA/ESRIN center in Frascati (Italy), and counts about 35 members from 13 different nationalities, amongst ESA staff, research fellows (about 20% only), Academia and Industry Visiting Researchers, and Visiting Professors.

Philab presentation Philab presentation

Our History

The Φ-lab concept is very recent: Spring 2017. Its constitution has been enriched with ideas from a journey made by some of ESA executives into USA Silicon Valley where they saw examples of organizations nurturing innovation in inspirational environments.

In this short period until today, the ESA Φ-lab have become the reference in Earth Observation sector for transformational innovation and business investment. The Φ-lab has already collected many successes that we report here. This is the kind of pages that is always obsolete, but as of end of 2020 we can present you the followings.

Our Successes

We have contributed to the birth of the Φ-sat programme, supported the AI elements of Φ-sat-1, Φ-sat-2, OPS-SAT and ESA operational mission.
Φ-sat-1 is a first example of AI deep learning functionalities based on Convolutional Neural Networks and was successfully launched in September 2020.
We have signed 16 collaborations with several entities like industries, research entities, scientific AI associations and institutions. They provide the stimuli to many of the activities we do.
The InCubed program, quite recently, has tripled its fund size at the last Ministerial Conference in 2019 and reached 106M€ subscriptions from 18 European countries. We aim to leverage off the achieved successes and the great feedbacks from industries, and expand this programme to all ESA Member States and increase its impact in the ecosystem.
As of end of 2022 InCubed has invested in 56 activities for a total value of 73M€ with an average co-funding rate of 61%.
We have published 59 papers between international journals, conferences and as editors of books.
The Φ-lab, in collaborations with its 10 Visiting Professors, is setting the European Research and Development agenda within AI for the Earth Observation thematic.
Within our open lab programme we have hosted 17 visiting researches from industries (e.g. AIRBUS and ICEYE), universities, research centres etc.
Our Visiting Professor programme entails 10 leading researchers and professors that help us in defining our research agenda.

Core staff, internal ESA Researcher, external visiting researchers and professors, working in collaboration with the Φ-lab and across ESA

Our Peoplearw