ESA to set up a committee to study manned space exploration options

WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency will establish a committee made up of representatives from inside and outside the space industry to develop options for a European manned space exploration program.

The creation of what ESA called a “high-level advisory group” was one of the main outcomes of a one-day “space summit” held in Toulouse, France, on 16 February, which brought together representatives of ESA Member States and the European Union to discuss future European space initiatives.

Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, said the advisory group’s proposal came from French President Emmanuel Macron. “We have received a very clear message from President Macron that such a group is necessary. He asked ESA to set up the group,” he told a press conference after the summit.

In a speech earlier today, Macron spoke of his willingness to explore options for a European manned spaceflight program. “By the summer, we want to come up with more specific European goals and ambitions for manned space travel,” he said through an interpreter. “We need to know what our priorities are, have the data to back them up and prepare the choices we are going to make for the month of November. [ESA] ministerial meeting.

Those options, he said, included a European mission to Mars by the end of the next decade or an “ISS-like” project. “These are bold ambitions,” he said. “These are fundamental human issues that we will be working on over the next few decades.”

Aschbacher said draft terms of reference for the new advisory group will be presented to ESA members at an ESA Council meeting in March, with the aim of the group starting work immediately afterwards. The committee will prepare an interim report in time for the November ministerial meeting, with a final report next spring.

“It is clear that this group must be independent and composed mainly of non-space experts,” he said, “because we would really like to look at various aspects of society from an economic point of view, from a from a historical point of view, from a geopolitical point of view. This means including people such as artists and philosophers in the group to examine various aspects of exploration beyond science and technology.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who chaired the summit meeting, said the group would help Europe establish strategies for space exploration. “The Chinese have defined an exploration strategy. Americans, too,” he said through an interpreter at the press conference. “We haven’t done it yet, and we need the right method.”

Issues the group would consider, he said, would include the level of cooperation Europe will seek with other nations as well as the roles of humans versus robots. ” What are the schedules ? What type of funding arrangements? These are all important questions, and we have tasked this group of experts with finding answers so that we can then establish guidelines. »

ESA had, in the weeks and months leading up to the summit, lobbied for support for a human space exploration program. This included the publication of a “European Astronaut Manifesto” by the European branch of the Association of Space Explorers, the professional organization for astronauts.

“A Europe that projects itself as a leading society must have the capabilities to set its own goals and decide for itself how far it wants to go in space exploration, united in our European values,” the document says. “We now have a unique window of opportunity to accelerate and become a fully recognized partner in the global space effort.”

“While Europe is still at the forefront of many space ventures, such as Earth observation, navigation and space science, it lags behind in the increasingly strategic areas of transport. and space exploration,” Luca Parmitano, an ESA astronaut, said over lunch. at the top, reading the manifesto. “Urgently, European leaders must decide now whether Europe should step up its efforts to remain at the forefront of space nations shaping the future of this planet, or fall behind as a junior partner for decades to come.”

The summit endorsed other European space initiatives with few major developments. This includes a set of “accelerators” and “inspirators” previously supported by ESA members, of which human space exploration is a part, as well as European Union initiatives on a constellation of secure connectivity and space traffic management. Participants also agreed to hold a second summit in 2023.

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