The European Space Agency will vote on Wednesday on whether to spend billions of additional euros to keep up with growing competition in space, as well as unveil the long-awaited new batch of astronauts.
The 22 member states of the European Space Agency, whose ministers are assigned outer space The tariffs have met in Paris since Tuesday and will decide to meet the agency’s request for a record 18.7 billion euros for new programs over the next three years.
This figure is more than 25 percent higher than the 14.5 billion euros agreed at the last ESA ministerial council in 2019.
European Space Agency director general Josef Ashbacher told AFP that Europe risked being “out of the race” in space if it did not expand the budget.
Europe faces an increasingly crowded market in space, with competition coming not only from long-dominant US but also from rising powers like China and private companies like billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
However, the demand for countries to open up their restrictions comes as Europe grapples with high inflation and an energy crisis.
France on Tuesday called for a united Europe in space.
“At the end of these discussions, there must be one Europe, one European space policy, and unwavering unity in the face of Chinese ambitions and American ambitions,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said at the meeting.
“If we want to be independent, we have to put money on the table.”
Opening the council, Achbacher stressed that countries stand to reap huge economic gains from their investments.
Each country can choose how much to contribute to the budget, which includes three billion euros for monitoring Climate change3.3 billion for the Ariane 6 missile launcher system and 3 billion for robotic exploration missions, among other projects.
Rocket launcher boost
Some of the toughest negotiations revolved around rocket launchers, which are needed for Europe to be able to launch missions into space without outside help.
The European Space Agency has struggled to get off the ground since Russia withdrew its Soyuz rockets earlier this year in response to European sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The task is made more difficult by the delay in the next generation of the Ariane 6, whose first flight was supposed to begin in 2020, but will now take off at the end of next year.
The European Space Agency even had to resort to using Falcon 9 rockets from rival SpaceX to launch two upcoming science missions.
Philippe Baptiste, head of the French National Center for Space Studies, said the issue of missile launchers is regularly a source of “friction” between European countries.
But the talks were given a boost on Tuesday when France, Germany and Italy, the largest contributors to the European Space Agency, announced their support for Ariane 6 as well as the small Vega-C launcher.
ESA’s director of space transportation, Daniel Neuschwander, noted that the agreement signaled that countries recognized “interdependence” in space, and paved the way for paying for rocket launchers.
Projects that help monitor the impact of climate change on Earth are expected to be less controversial.
A poll released last week by the European Space Agency showed that nine out of ten European citizens “want to see space used more to monitor and mitigate climate change,” Ashbacher said.
But the toughest may be the European Space Agency’s €750m contribution to the European Union’s satellite constellation project, Iris, which is set to provide secure communications throughout the bloc from 2027.
The project is mostly funded by the European Union, which has different member states than the European Space Agency – most notably the UK.
Once the budget is approved, the European Space Agency plans to unveil its newest group of astronauts — the agency’s first new recruits since 2009.
Four to six people were selected from more than 22,500 applicants after a lengthy selection process.
One of the new recruits could eventually head to the International Space Station.
Frank de Winn, head of the facility, said training for new recruits will begin in April 2023 at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany.
In addition, the European Space Agency is also expected to announce one or more astronauts with a physical disability – a first in the history of space travel.
More than 250 people have applied for the job after the European Space Agency conducted a “Parastronnaut Feasibility Study”.
© 2022 AFP
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