Surprisingly, while Europe knows how to do everything in terms of manned space flight, it still does not have the political will to become autonomous in this area. However, the situation could change in the coming years. Our explanations with those of Didier Schmitt, proposal coordinator for the ESA Ministerial Council for Robotic and Human Exploration.
During the back-to-school press conference, Josef Aschbacher, the Director General of the European Space Agency pleaded for a European capacity in the field of space transport, whether to sendor freight. As Didier Schmitt, proposal coordinator for the ESA Ministerial Council for Exploration and human, he is clear that today the question of manned flights is acutely posed ».
Today, we are in the same situation as in the early 1970s, ” when was it decidedto provide Europe with an autonomous capacity to access space “. At the time, there was no real market for launching satellites. The political decision-makers then made the choice to “ independence rather than buying foreign launch services “. As a result, Ariane not only gave us ” offered this for two decades in the competitive satellite launch market “. Today, we are also no longer in the era of Hermes when the ESA manned flight program was abandoned in November 1992, which would have enabled Europe to be autonomous in manned flight. This program was not as unifying as Ariane and the ESA ” chooses international cooperation by becoming a partner of the – and therefore to barter the flights of our astronauts – rather than developing its own manned space transport infrastructure ».
Thirty years later, we realize that today there is ” a market and the situation in low orbit has changed considerably “. The issues also with the economic development of low orbit, but also towards and around theand later to and around Mars “. Making sure you have access to all of these destinations becomes a ” major economic and geopolitical issue ».
While the United States, Russia, China, and India (in 2023), have developed and operate their own ships, ” it is clear that Europe is lagging behind, despite the fact that it has all the skills and key technological bricks “. However, this delay should not turn into a rush to fill it. Before submitting projects to its Member States, ESA must consider “ the immediate future of this newin low orbit and expected human operations around and near the Moon in the coming decade and, based on these lines of thought, determine what would be the architecture of a future transport system best suited to ” access all these destinations and new markets ».
The decision in the camp of political decision-makers
During his conference, Josef Aschbacher wanted ” put the dots on the “i” and put the European political decision-makers in front of their responsibility » before the informal European summit which, under the aegis of the French presidency of the European Union, will bring together the Ministers for Space Affairs of the States of the European Union and ESA on February 16 in Toulouse and also before the Council of ESA at ministerial level, which in November this year will decide on the programs and budgets for the period 2023-2025. These two events will decide the role that Europe will play in the next decades in the space sector. If, due to a lack of political will or ambition, no decision is taken, ” l‘Europe will remain behind its partners with an irrecoverable delay in view of what is happening in the United States with commercial projects such as the».
While ESA obviously does not expect a decision to be made on the development of a transport system during these two events, ” she wishes thata minima the green light is given to the funding of a study which should enable policymakers to make an informed decision at the ESA Council at ministerial level at the end of 2025 “. The objective would therefore be to initiate a program on this horizon with an operational system that could see the light of day from the beginning of the 2030s.
This definition study should probably assess the scenarios envisaged in low orbit and around and towards the Moon, determine the most suitable architecture for its future space transport system and quantify the cost of such a program.
Manned flights: when will Europe take its autonomy?
Article ofpublished on 12/12/2021
Surprisingly, while Europe knows how to do everything in terms of manned space flight, it still does not have the political will to become autonomous in this area. This is all the more surprising since low orbit, the LEO-Hub, will become a kind of eighth continent, seat of a new economy with significant human activity. We are taking advantage of the release in bookstores of a book, which wants to sound the alarm to say that it is time for Europe to have an independent means of access to space for its astronauts, to sum up the current situation with Philippe Coué, its author.
At the last interim ministerial meeting, held in Portugal on 19 November, on accelerating the use of space in Europe ” The Manifest of Matosinhos », No decision has been taken concerning a possible decision on the green light for a manned flight program which could have been decided at the next ministerial meeting, scheduled for the end of 2022.
A lack of audacity that we regret and that many specialists obviously do not understand. Philippe Coué, in a new book entitled ”“, for his part decided to “ to sound the alarm to say that it is time for Europe to have an autonomous means of access to space for its astronauts “. Surprisingly, since the abandonment in the early 1990s of the Hermes program, which would have enabled Europe to be autonomous in human spaceflight, ESA has chosen international cooperation – and therefore – rather than developing its own manned space transport infrastructure. Since this abandonment, Europe has ” all key technologies available, and generally demonstrated, in Europe explained to us recently Christophe Bonnal, senior expert in the Cnes launchers department and main author of a study that shows ESA’s ability to carry out a from an adapted version of .
As Philippe Coué points out, “ Europe knows how to do everything in terms of manned space flight. It is now necessary to decide to put the pieces of the puzzle together “. Indeed, from Hermes to theand from the X-38 to the ARD, without forgetting the , dont , and CTV studies (Crew Transfer Vehicle) and ARV (Advanced Reusable Vehicle), all these programs have provided access to this skill that few countries have acquired.
This lack of political will is all the more surprising since the cost of a manned program obviously cannot be the excuse that would justify this refusal. It could be achieved between 6 and 10 years at a cost of “only” a few billion euros. The budget of the European Space Agency being limited, the funds allocated to manned flights would necessarily be to the detriment of other programmes. To limit ESA’s budgetary effort, and therefore the postponement, or even the abandonment of programs or projects, it would be ” wise to‘involve the‘European Union because there is an obvious political dimension to such an initiative “, explained to us in July 2020 Didier Schmitt, coordinator of the proposal for the ESA Ministerial Council for robotic and human exploration. But, let’s be realistic. Given the European Commission’s timetable, no initiative of this kind can be decided before at best 2024, the date on which the ” discussions on the next multiannual framework program of the‘EU, for implementation in 2028 », wanted to clarify Didier Schmitt.
Will the LEO-Hub force Europe to become autonomous in human spaceflight?
Currently, the ESA is satisfied with its policy of international cooperation to fly its astronauts on board Russian and American vehicles. But, if this policy was justified, perhaps, a few years ago, the situation in low orbit changed considerably and the stakes too. Ensuring access to it is becoming a major economic and geopolitical issue. To understand this change, it is necessary to know that theof private actors in the resulted in a reduction in the cost of access to space and an increase in the capacity of space systems. Results, its new actors have laid the foundations for the economic development of low orbit, also called the LEO-Hub. This privatization of access to space and the use of low orbit today offers commercial outlets and new activities are possible, so that ESA and Europe can no longer afford not to not be there.
Tomorrow, most space activities will take place in low orbit. A situation that should prompt ESA and the European Union to reflect on the advisability of having aaccess to space for its astronauts, but also its scientists and entrepreneurs. Without this autonomous access to the LEO-Hub, Europe will not be able to discuss as equals with its partners and runs the risk of being marginalized when it comes to negotiating major international partnerships and programs.
As Philippe Coué asserts, he is “ time for Europe to have an autonomous means of access to space for its astronauts “. Given the stakes, we cannot can’t wait any longer at the risk of going to 3e spatial division – and in 3e division at all – while the United States, Russia, China, and India (in 2023), have developed and operate their own ships andand not only to revolve around the Earth “, he concludes.