BepiColombo. Credit: ESA

This story was updated Aug. 8 to clarify that Serco no longer runs the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory.

LONDON — British outsourcing giant Serco has won a 39.1-million-euro contract ($46 million) to provide a range of scientific and engineering services to the European Space Agency over the next three years.

The contract is a continuation of a previous cooperation between ESA and Serco and could be extended up to five years, which would increase its total value to 66 million euros, Serco spokesman Adam Williams said.

Serco said in a statement the contract covers specialist services across 16 fields including engineering, electromagnetics, optics, space science, robotics, navigation, large-scale data analysis, product assurance, business management, software development and IT.

According to Williams, 120 full-time equivalent employees will work on the contract, which includes key ESA projects such as Europe’s global navigation satellite system Galileo, support of the Mars Express orbiter, as well as participation on the BepiColombo Mercury exploration mission.

“We have supported ESA for many years and this award is testament to the skills and commitment our experts have demonstrated, as well as our ability to meet complex requirements across multiple countries,” Michael Alner, Managing Director, Serco Europe, said in a statement.

Serco will work with ESA in nine of the space agency’s 22 member states. The work falls under the responsibility of eight ESA directorates including Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration; Space Transportation; Navigation, and Earth Observation.

According to Williams, the competition was open to all companies and consortia excluding large system integrators such as Airbus Defence and Space. Williams further said the agency “awarded a number of frame contracts with different consortia having access to different combinations of services or manpower allocation in different activity domains.

An ESA representative was not available to comment.

Serco, sometimes dubbed “the biggest company you’ve never heard of” specialises in large government contracts outsourcing public services. Serco previously ran the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory and still runs London’s bike-sharing scheme. The company operates multiple rail lines in the UK, runs school inspections and manages several public healthcare facilities.

In the UK, Serco has been subject to a string of controversies over the past years, including over-charging the government for a prisoner-tagging contract and falsifying performance data related to a National Health Service contract.

Serco employs 50,000 people around the world, 1500 of which work in the space sector, mostly in Europe, North America and the Middle East. The firm provides services in Earth observation, telecommunications, science, spacecraft management and IT and has a four decades-long tradition of cooperation with ESA.

Serco also has contracts with the German, French and Italian space agencies and Europe’s EUMETSAT meteorological organization.

Tereza Pultarova is a London-based science and technology journalist and video producer, covering European space developments for SpaceNews. A native of the Czech Republic, she has a bachelors degree in journalism from the Charles University,...