UK Space Agency – Call for Bilateral Space Science and Exploration Missions – Invited Full Proposal Phase for Bilateral Missions

For the official UK Space Agency announcement, please click here.

The UKSA Bidder’s briefing took place on the 3rd October 2022. Please see below the Q&A from the session.

Q1 – The 25-page limit – presumably this excludes the appendix (which contains the 10-page SOI and WP descriptions etc)? 

A – Yes, excludes the appendix.

Q2 – Section 6.1.2 “Overview of consortium…” – I assume the CVs are only to appear in appendix C, or do you also want brief summary of the CVs in this section?

A – You only need to put these in appendix C

Q3 – Section 6.1.8 “Reporting” – this appears to be an instruction about monthly reporting, so is this supposed to be a section on the form to be filled in, and if so, what would you like to see in this section?

A – No action is required here, other than to indicate compliance. This is an instruction to successful projects on the requirements for monthly progress reporting.

Q4 – Section 7.1.1 “Overall estimate cost to the consortium” – Do you want the full cost of the mission overall across all partners (e.g., including overseas colleagues and the work implemented internationally so far, and in the future), or is this about the UK costs already received/to be received from other sources outside of this call?

A – Please provide a high-level cost estimate of the mission overall where possible, otherwise the focus will be on costs to the UK. You will need to explain and justify your costs, so please provide sufficient detail to do that.

Q5 – Section 8.1 “Key Milestones: High Level Plan” – Is this section an unintentional carry-over from the SOI, as a lot of the content of this section now seems to be covered in section 1-7?

A – This will be going to a new assessment panel, and high-level view of the key milestones will be required to understand sequencing. We assume that material from the SOI may be re-used with updates/elaboration as necessary.

Q6 – Appendices – Are you able to please provide a template or framework for e.g., LoE, Benefits Map etc?  I would assume CVs, WPs etc follow the usual ESA/UKSA single-page templates?

A – Badly worded on our side. The LoE would just be the email confirming approval to proceed. If you are familiar with the benefits map methodology, it would be helpful to the reviewers, but a simple brief and bulletised benefits summary would suffice. CVs should be focussed on the proposed role and should not exceed a single page. WPs should follow the ESA format.

Q7 – Does LoE stand for “Letter of Endorsement”?

A – Yes, Correct

Q8 – The template seems to ask for the risk register in sec 5.1.4 and as an appendix – do you really want it twice?

A – Please describe the headline risks in the main proposal text but referencing a full risk register (such as would be used as a living document during the work) presented in the appendix.

Q9 – Do you really want to us submit our Statement of Interest again as an appendix?

A – This will be going to a new assessment panel, who will not have seen the SOIs. We assume that material from the SOI may be pasted/re-used with updates/elaboration as necessary.

Q10 – Do we know when the outcome will be announced?

A – Evaluations by the review panel will occur in November. Outcomes should be known prior to Christmas, but December date is TBD.

Q11: Please confirm dates for funding.  Is initial funding to March 2023? i.e., just 3 months? Or was it March 2024?

A – For Categories B and C, the funding is for just 3 months to end March 2023. For Category A the funding window is limited by the current Spending Review period. You should however make a proposal for the full mission timeline and costs, including post launch operations. We can assume initial funding to March 2025. Onward progress depends on the costs needed. For very high-cost work, BEIS and even Treasury clearance will be required. As soon as new budgets are clear, there are options to proceed. No new proposals would be needed, but new Je-S forms reflecting current rates will be required. However, if the mission baseline were to change, some additional documents may be needed to cover the changes, but not a full proposal. This will be overseen by a Programme Management Board.

Q12 – In Category B proposals, how much detail about potential bilateral partners is expected?

A – Please tell us who the partners are, their roles, along with an estimate of the total mission costs. For more tentative concepts, please lay out the status i.e., is the concept in competition with other missions? Has it been selected? Has it been funded? Where are you in the selection process? What are the dependencies? Letters of support as evidence of engagement will be an advantage but are not essential for early-stage mission concepts.

Q13 – In category B, do international partners have to be space agencies or are accredited international institutions are also eligible (e.g., non-UK universities)? How far should we go in the description of the full proposal (specially the other partner part), if, as in my case, it is a mission where we should provide an instrument. I am thinking in how much they would like to share openly at this point.

A – UKRI rules apply. Universities and research bodies (e.g., like RAL Space) are eligible and would normally engage via their national space agencies. Industry would not normally be a partner directly, but may appear as subcontractors to agencies, rather than direct consortium partners. UKSA is open to discussion on whether industrial partners can be included. In the proposal need sufficient information to be able to assess the quality of the science. We expect less detail on technical issues. We need to know where the mission is in the selection process. See answer to Q17 regarding confidentiality.

Q14 – In category B, are there any restrictions on applicants having permanent positions at their institute – are ECRs able to be lead applicants? If the PI of the grant is an ECR, then their personal (non-permanent) position should outlive the end of their requested grant?

A – Regarding ECRs, they can lead, and do not need to have a permanent position. We would however need to have funding/support confirmed by their institute, for example in a letter of support. It is not likely we would terminate or withdraw from a Space Agency agreement once the PI has been funded.

Q15 – Are UK based companies eligible to be partner/collaborator under category A? If so, are they eligible to receive funding and will state aid/subsidy control rules apply?

A – Only institutes eligible to receive UKRI grants can normally be funded directly. However, industry can participate if subcontracted to a grant holder. State subsidy rules would not apply here, as the relationship would then be a commercial one between the HEI and the company. However, if there was a great benefit in having a company as a full partner, then they would need to be contributing something to the cost depending on company size and role. This would need to be discussed with the Agency.

Q16 – Cat A: do you need a Je-S on Oct 31 or is the submission process via email of the pdf document?

A – Je-S forms are only needed once you have been notified that your proposal has been successful, and an award has been made. The Je-S is simply a mechanism to request the funding.

Q17 – I assume you can confirm that the assessment process is confidential? So that we can assure our partners that we can provide information in our proposal that the assessors will not distribute further?

A – Our process mirrors the confidentiality arrangements for review of academic grant proposals. The proposals will be seen by the CEOI proposal administrators, the UKSA SS & SE teams, and the members of the review panel only (who will have signed confidentiality and conflict of interest declarations). Please highlight anything that you are concerned about sharing in the proposal and we can speak to you before sharing with reviewers.

Q18 – Can we assume that future calls will still have the same structure, i.e., that the category B bids this time could well be the category A responses of the future? Do you anticipate the next call to be at the same time in 2023?

A – Yes, the Category B proposals are preparing the ground for future Category A proposals. Once the Category B work is complete, the Agency would look to moving to Category A SOIs as soon as funding is available, i.e., hopefully earlier in the year than the current call.

Q19 – Category A: Given all these missions have long timescales, and we must present full mission cost now, is there a preference for how we present different future funding scenarios (e.g., depending on negotiations with partners)?

A – Please describe your preferred route and describe other likely scenarios as risks/mitigations.

Q20 – Are UK and overseas-based start-up companies eligible to be partner/collaborator under category A? If so, are they eligible to receive funding and will state aid/subsidy control rules apply?

A – Normally overseas partners must provide their own funding. Note the answers to Q15 on participation of industry. There may be an exception if an overseas supplier is the only source of specific expertise. However, there must be exceptional reasons for UK grant money to flow outside of the UK.

Q21 – For future calls, will SoIs be needed for Cat A again, to be sifted before full proposals?

  1. Yes – The SOIs are very useful to allow UKSA to cut down the workload and to consider only the most viable and plausible concepts, before sending to reviewers.

Q22 – How many Cat Bs will be taken forward and what procedure follows for those selected at end of that stage.

A – Anticipating around 10, but we might be able to support more. This will depend on the development position of the proposal. Once work is complete in March 2023, some may be ready to go forward directly to Cat A SoI, whereas some (most?) may need to do more technical work. UKSA will review that.

Q23 – Will the Cat C funding be constrained to capital, or can it cover operational costs?

A – Initially it could cover operational costs, but we will need to see what the operational cost structure is.

Q24 – How many Cat A’s will be awarded?

A – It depends on the costs, as this can range from a few hundred £k to £millions. It depends on what is submitted by everyone. Also see answer to Q11.

Q25 – I’ve noticed in the submission that we require a statement of acceptance from the UKSA. How do we go about receiving this statement?

A – This is a misunderstanding. You only need to state your acceptance in your proposal of the UKSA Terms and Conditions, which will not be negotiable.

Q26 – The AO mentions that Je-S forms should be submitted which I’m not familiar with. Will these be available or sent out to companies?

A – See the answer to Q15 and Q16. Only organisations eligible for UKRI grant funding would normally be able to be directly funded, i.e., industry is not normally eligible. However, it can be a subcontractor to an academic grant holder. The Je-S forms are the standard way of application for funds for UKRI-eligible grant holder.

Q27 – Please can you clarify further on what you would like to see in section 7.1.1?  It’s not clear if this section is requesting costs of the mission across all international partners (i.e., including NASA’s costs to date) or just the UK consortium’s costs (although that would presumably be covered under 7.1.2)?

A – Section 7.1.1. is the total mission cost, i.e., for the whole consortium, so strictly speaking all the mission costs plus instruments.  But all we need is a ball-park figure. It is to provide us with an idea of what is being leveraged.  For example, Wikipedia states ‘On 2 March 2020, NASA announced that it had approved WFIRST to proceed to implementation, with an expected development cost of US$3.2 billion and a maximum total cost of US$3.934 billion, including the coronagraph and five years of mission science operations’, with a reference. That level of detail would be adequate.

Q28 – In category A in 2023 call, will you fund only hardware projects that provide UK instruments or their subsystems? Can you also fund other types of contributions to space missions:  operations software, analysis software, diagnostics methods, or participation in instrument operations?

A – These activities are not excluded.  You would need to be clear about the science benefit to the UK and how the specific intervention would benefit UK scientists.  Particularly if the science data is going to be made open within a few months.  One question the panel will ask will be ‘What would happen if the UK did not fund this activity?’ – I suspect the mission would still go ahead as planned. You also need to be careful not to cross the boundary between operations and science exploitation, the latter being the Research Councils responsibility.

Q29 –Would grant funding cover the costs of international partners?

A – International partners need to provide their own funding.

Q30 – Section 7.1.2 asks for the ‘overall estimate cost to the UK’: the section asks for costs at the £M scale per FY.  Does this section only require aggregated institutional costs per FY? i.e., no fine details?

A – There is a need to explain and justify your costs, so please break down UK costs sufficiently to allow you to transparently justify them.

Q31 – On the assumption that in this proposal we need to specify detailed costs (i.e., individual effort levels, details of individual equipment/consumables etc), where should these detailed itemised costs and personnel effort go in the proposal template for Category A?

A – See answer to Q30. At this stage we need to see sufficient detail to explain and justify the costs, but not exhaustive detail.