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Independent experts urge European Space Agency to start human space exploration project

Artist’s impression of ESA’s next heavy launch rocket, the Ariane 6, which is due to fly later this year but is not human-rated

Artist’s impression of ESA’s next heavy launch rocket, the Ariane 6, which is due to fly later this year but is not human-rated

Photo by ESA

27th March 2023

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The European Space Agency (ESA), which is not an agency of the European Union, has been urged by a panel of independent experts to develop a full-spectrum crewed spaceflight capability. Known as the High Level Advisory Group (HLAG), the 12-strong panel, composed of leading figures in European industry, academia, government and civil society and led by former Danish Prime Minister and former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, presented its report, “Revolution Space: Europe’s Mission for Space Exploration”, to the 315th session of the ESA Council, in Paris, France, last week.

“Let us be bold, let us put Europe at the forefront of space exploration,” proclaimed Rasmussen, when he represented the report to the ESA Council. “If we fail to do so, we will fall behind and become dependent on others.”

The HLAG also urged ESA to further develop its existing robotic space exploration capabilities. Further, the intergovernmental agency had to maintain and further develop the continent’s own space launch capabilities. And, to fulfil these ambitions, ESA had to change the way that it did things.

“Countries and regions that will not secure their independent access to space and its autonomous use, will become strategically dependent and economically deprived of a major part of this value chain,” highlighted the report. “Europe’s goal should be to capture one third of this future market.”

The HLAG made three “complementary and indivisible” key recommendations to ESA.

“Act Visionary”, was the first of these. “Europe should establish autonomy in Earth orbit, on the Moon and beyond with human and robotic capabilities complementing each other,” urged the report. “Europe should extend its leadership in space applications and science into space exploration, with sustainability as the differentiating factor.”

“Act Differently”, was the second. “Europe should unleash entrepreneurship and intra-European competition to stimulate transformation of the whole European ecosystem and ESA itself. Europe should pursue symbiotic public private partnerships by embracing a culture of risk and reward-sharing, further lowering the cost of the entry ticket, reducing bureaucracy and fostering new sources of investment.”

“Act Now”, was the third. “ESA should act now, despite current challenges and difficulties: postponing the decisions will further widen the competitive gap with our US partner and China.”

The report has been welcomed by ESA director-general Josef Aschbacher.

“Europe is a technology leader in many domains. From ground transportation to clean energy production and from chip manufacturing to the circular economy,” he pointed out. “We lead in the space domain too, except for human spaceflight where we have been relying on international partners. We mustn’t let access to space be an area that escapes European expertise and leadership. The Revolution Space report is a wake-up call for European leaders to act now and not miss this opportunity. ESA has the expertise and the ambition. Together with our innovative industry, ESA can make it happen.”

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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