A bridge to international research partners
Science is a universal language that can serve as a bridge between cultures and extends beyond national limits. Researchers all over the world work together in their quest for fundamental knowledge e.g. on our origins, the evolution of our environment and all aspects affecting our quality of life. They also investigate the technology that will help us shape our future. Space is also a world-wide enterprise with a global reach. At the European Space Agency, a 20-country multinational organisation, the thrill of people of all backgrounds and nationalities working together is a usual element in every project that is undertaken. ESA has built its success on such multinational environment in the last four decades. The Agency enables its member countries to work as partners, for them to develop programmes of interest to all of them. Beyond its member states, ESA also interfaces with international partners in order to carry out joint space missions, instrument collaborations, joint operations and data analysis. ESA extends this cultural exchange to space R&D work by supporting cooperation between research groups in Europe and those based elsewhere, in study areas of mutual benefit. A number of ESA programmes participate and provide opportunities for such cooperation. The need for this facilitation has motivated the creation of ESA's Alcantara (القنطرة,"bridge" in arabic) initiative: a dedicated instrument to support research promotion that recognises the critical role in such effort of leading academic institutions inside and outside Europe. The initiative acknowledges the constraints and challenges that these entities often face in terms of e.g. administrative resources, and builds on previous successful ESA experiences. Alcantara is implemented within the ESA General Studies Programme (GSP) (http://www.esa.int/gsp) and provides access to partnership opportunities within ESA's scientific and application programmes. Earth observation and satellite navigation were the first programmes within ESA to particpate. The Earth observation programme has a long tradition of research partnerships e.g., through its TIGER initiative for water resource management, and the satellite navigation programme, already has research partners from all over the world, especially from regions of interest to study the propagation of satellite signals (e.g. the equatorial regions). The GSP main role in this domain is to carry out preparatory analyses, as it does routinely to help lay the groundwork for the Agency's future activities. The assessment studies undertaken by the GSP provide ESA and its member states with the necessary information on which to base their decisions about the implementation of new programmes and the future direction of space activities.