Teaming up with research labs and academia

A longstanding cooperation with universities and research laboratories

Teaming up with research labs and academia

A longstanding cooperation with universities and research laboratories

Thales Alenia Space has built strong ties with universities and research labs for a number of years, spanning most of the countries where the company operates.

Leading prime contractors like our company have to call on the expertise of the entire space ecosystem to design tomorrow’s space systems, including universities, research labs, small businesses and the latest startups. Working with these entities has sometimes given rise to joint research labs, nurturing innovative new technologies and ideas.

We have listed the most emblematic collaborations below, mainly in France and Italy.

Partnerships with academia and joint labs

In France, Thales Alenia Space has developed long-term partnerships with research labs and universities covering the company’s primary technology sectors. Several of these partnerships have become official joint labs. In this case, research staff are drawn from both academia and industry and all results are shared. Thales Alenia Space co-manages the lab and holds seats on the scientific and steering committees.

This type of partnership is a very effective way of tracking new technologies, proposing and evaluating new concepts and choosing the ones that could be incorporated in our products. It generates shared publications and even patents, benefitting both partners through fruitful information exchanges on new technologies and the emerging needs of the evolving space sector.

Thales Alenia Space is directly involved in AXIS, its oldest joint lab, created in 2006 with XLIM, a joint research unit between the University of Limoges and France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). The creation of this lab drew on a long legacy of collaboration, reaching back to a framework agreement signed in 1996. Extensive microwave research had already been carried out through AXIS, especially on filtering, power amplification and switching.

In 2014, Thales Alenia Space set up a long-term partnership with the Rennes Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications (IETR), drawing on developments from the MERLIN joint lab. A research program on space antennas validated new concepts concerning reflector and meta-surface type networked antennas, quasi-optic beam shapers and integrated compact sources.

In 2017, following a number of collaborations on space astronomy instruments, the Marseille Astrophysics Lab (LAM), a joint research unit between the CNRS and Aix-Marseille University, and Thales, represented by Thales Alenia Space, Thales SESO and Thales Land and Air Systems, formed a new joint lab called SOIE (Systèmes Optiques et d’Instrumentation Embarquée), dedicated to the development of optical systems and onboard instruments.

These technologies could be applied to Earth observation, science and space exploration missions. In 2018, the OCA Riviera Observatory (Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur), CNRS, the University of the Côte d'Azur and Thales Alenia Space signed an agreement to create a local space lab, LOSCA (Laboratoire Spatial de la Côte d'Azur). Joint projects delve into key aspects of space research, namely Earth observation and astronomy.

Thales Alenia Space was a founding member in 1999 of the TéSA (Télécommunications Spatiales et Aéronautiques) aerospace telecom joint lab, along with French space agency CNES, Rockwell Collins France and France’s air navigation engineering department, with support from the Regional Council and the European regional development fund (FEDER). Thales Alenia Space holds a seat on the Board of this non-profit association, founded in 2004. TéSA also includes partners from academia (INPT, ISAE-Supaero, ENAC, IMT Atlantique and IPSA), plus the startup SpaceAble. Its areas of expertise include digital communications, networks and signal and image processing.

Thales Alenia Space also supervises some 40 to 50 doctoral theses concerning research & technology, co-funded along with various agencies and laboratories using regional funding. A third of these contracts are renewed yearly. Furthermore, these theses give rise to a number of joint publications and presentations in international conferences, while some have resulted in joint patents being filed for the application of these technologies in our products.


In October 2020, Thales Alenia Space, ArianeGroup and the Polytechnique de Paris engineering school launched a sponsorship venture called “Space Science and Challenges”. Together, the partners are supporting the development of space-themed classes at Polytechnique, along with projects developed by the Student Space Center. Our company provides financial support for the school and also supports students conducting space-related projects. Students are also working on two nanosatellite projects, IONSAT and CROCUS. IONSAT, which holds special interest for the two industry partners, aims to develop a 6U nanosat fitted with an ion propulsion system, using iodine as a fuel and developed by the startup Thrustme. CROCUS entails a flight demonstration of an ESD payload developed by ONERA in a 3U nanosat. The Polytechnique Student Space Center will be involved in the IONSAT project for several years, with support from various experts at Thales Alenia Space. Annual reviews will include the participation of CNES experts. The French space agency may provide financial support for some nanosat projects during the detailed development phases, as part of the Nanolab Academy set up by CNES.

Thales Alenia Space also sponsors the Ecole Centrale Supélec engineering school, which has a student space center with about 80 members. Students work on various nanosat projects, such as ESUS, for autonomous navigation, or TOUTATIS, with a payload designed to help visualize the atmospheric reentry of space debris. This is a win-win approach for both Thales Alenia Space and the schools, ranging from Centrale Supélec to Polytechnique. It boosts recognition of the space sector, not to mention our employer brand, by students at prestigious engineering schools, and also facilitates their timely recruitment. Thales Alenia Space maintains relationships with various schools and organizations in all countries where it operates, for example with La Sapienza University in Rome, ISAE Sup’Aero and the University of Nice in France.

At the same time, some of our staff are detached to the Saint Exupéry Technological Research Institute in Toulouse and to the one of Sophia Antipolis to participate in R&D projects at the intermediate development stage (TRL 3 to 6). The Saint Exupéry institute conducts aviation, space and automotive projects.


Thales Alenia Space is one of the founding members of the SIRIUS Chair – an endowed team venture based on a public-private partnership between three space sector leaders in France (CNES, Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space) and two universities (Toulouse 1 Capitole and the Toulouse Business School). Bringing together scientific directors, researchers (doctoral students and post-docs) and experts, the SIRIUS Chair conducts work eligible for publication in specialized scientific reviews and also carries out research for the French space industry. It plays a significant role in training and informing people, through targeted seminars or workshops. The Chair has already published a number of well-regarded articles on a variety of subjects, including satellite registration, the right to exploit space resources, HAPS (high-altitude pseudo-satellite) regulations, the New Space environment and innovation. It provides an international showcase for its sponsors’ activities, especially via publications and through major events such as the International Astronautical Congress.

Teaming up with research labs and universities in Italy

Thales Alenia Space is resolutely committed to building networks and partnerships with top universities, research centers and laboratories across Italy. This continuous effort to establish and leverage research partnerships has been in place for a long time, but it has been stepped up in recent years.

Like all major companies, Thales Alenia Space needs to draw on the expertise of the entire ecosystem to design and deploy the space systems and infrastructures of tomorrow. Universities, research laboratories, small businesses and startups are crucially important for the success and competitiveness of our solutions — especially for the huge innovation potential of these players and the new technologies and technology transfer opportunities they bring. This kind of collaboration has sometimes given rise to joint research labs, further fueling technological advances and clever new ideas.

Recently, the PNRR (Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza, Italy’s recovery and resilience plan) — and in particular the “From Research to Business” mission — has helped us extend the reach of the collaboration between industry and academia in specific strategic and technological areas, such as artificial intelligence, quantum science and technologies, innovative materials, process digitalization, products and production.

This initiative is clearly in synch with Thales Alenia Space’s consolidated approach in Italy, allowing us to create new national and regional joint laboratories and research centers.

Besides technology, research and transfer, Thales Alenia Space in Italy is also seeking to establish closer relationships to support the education and training of new talent entering the industry and help shape industrially-aware research approaches to foster technology transfer and joint research initiatives and ensure they are effective. This goal is being met by directly funding research groups and by funding and supervising industry-oriented PhD programs that, independently of the PNRR, have been significantly expanded in the last two years — especially in critical new technologies such as HPC (high-performance computing) and onboard processing, distributed computation in space, edge and cloud computing, AI, robotics, COTS for space, Industry 4.0, additive manufacturing, cybersecurity and quantum technologies. More than 25 PhD spots are planned (or already running) for this year, with more potentially opening as part of the PNRR program.

Here are some of the most representative collaboration initiatives in Italy.

Quantum Initiative. Recognizing the disruptive potential of quantum technologies for space applications, the many new opportunities created by European and national initiatives, and the excellence of Italian research in this area (as well as the European and international reach of Italian research collaboration), Thales Alenia Space in Italy has begun bringing together the most relevant national players. This initiative takes the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Thales Alenia Space, CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Richerche), FBK (Fondazione Bruno Kesller), GARR (Gestione Ampliamento Rete Ricerca), GSSI (Gran Sasso Science Institute), INFN (Istituo Nazionale di Fisca Nucleare), INRIM (Istittuto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica), Politecnico di Milano, University of Padova and University of Rome “Sapienza”. The MoU was signed in 2021 and, in line with its open approach, has been further extended to other academic and industry players, most notably the University of Trieste, University of Trento, University of Pavia, Leonardo, Telespazio, ThinkQuantum and QTI.

Framework agreements. Supporting Thales Alenia Space’s coverage across Italy and with the twofold objective of gaining access to the excellence and specific skills across the country and increasing regional capture and funding opportunities, Thales Alenia Space has built and is continuously improving a rich network of partnerships with the academic world, enabling us to collaborate with the top universities and research centers in multiple disciplines through long-term framework agreements. These agreements are then leveraged in industrial and research collaboration and direct funding of research and partnerships, as well as via joint research initiatives at European level. We also leverage them for education by means of PhD programs as well as thesis supervision and internships. Agreements of this type are in place with the University of Torino, Polytechnic of Torino, Polytechnic of Milano, University of Milano “Bicocca”, University of Padova, University of Bologna, University of Firenze, University of Roma “Sapienza”, University of Roma “Tor Vergata”, University of L’Aquila, Polytechnic of Bari and Fondazione Bruno Kessler.

Thales Alenia Space is a member of CRAT, a consortium of universities and industry partners created in 2006 with a focus on telecommunication and computer systems and energy.

Along with framework programs, Thales Alenia Space in Italy has also joined a number of more specific partnerships. Examples include the agreement signed with FBK for the development of quantum-enabled technology for sensing and communications and our membership in the Cyber 4.0 Competence Center — one of the eight national centers of excellence established by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.

Gran Sasso Tech Foundation (GSSI). In 2021, Thales Alenia Space and GSSI announced the creation of the Gran Sasso Tech Foundation (GSTF). This new entity is consistent with the long and close collaboration between Thales Alenia Space and GSSI in research and their joint effort in scientific payload design and development. GSTF closely ties Gran Sasso Science Institute’s scientific and educational excellence with Thales Alenia Space’s industrial capabilities to form an operational link between research and industry in the high-tech and space sectors. It also supports opportunities for sustainable economic development and qualified employment. The Gran Sasso Tech Foundation will be involved in the development of space projects spanning the value chain. This will include the entire national space science community and, in turn, the main European, North American and Asian research centers. GSTF will also act as a specialized, high-level education center in space disciplines, with the ability to provide on-the-job training for the most promising young talent.