The 2012/12/06 at 08:30
Marie Luginsland, in Germany
It is with decided relief that all twenty member countries of the ESA (European Space Agency) and observers hailed the conclusions of the Ministerial Council held in Naples at the end of November. Space activities remain a priority for Europe, for the continent sees their potential for economic development. Given the context of the crisis and the ensuing economic conditions, the meeting was a “big success” according to Frenchman Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the ESA. Indeed, the countries acknowledged the need to continue their commitment to domains that bode well for contracts for European industries. The Ministers for Space of the member countries including the brand-new member Poland and Canada, approved the ten billion-euro budget necessary for the agency’s financing and for the continuation of scientific programmes between now and 2017.
Beyond observation of the Earth, the development of telecommunications and meteorology are the main focuses of activities in the next five years.
There was good news as well for the space construction industry. The French and the Germans, the main locomotives of the ESA, came to an agreement on design work to be carried out on the new Ariane 6 launcher. The two countries also confirmed the financing, until 2014, of the development of an adapted version of Ariane 5 ME, scheduled to start flying in around 2017. These two issues had been a major source of conflict between the two countries: Berlin wished to develop the capacities of Ariane 5 to enable it to transport two satellites while Paris was already backing its successor Ariane 6. The objective will now be to define a maximum of common denominators between the two launchers.
Cooperation with NASA
Beyond defining these issues, the Council in Naples was an opportunity to prepare the ground for restructuring relations between the ESA and Europe. Ever since the Lisbon Treaty, space has been inscribed in the scope of the European Union. “We have signed a protocol giving the ESA the possibility to implement, in a targeted manner, programmes for the European Union,” declared a satisfied Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt, the German Aerospace Centre).
It is thus a close-knit Europe with eyes on its assets, that now sets out to conquer new challenges. Indeed, the continent now has an entrance ticket to the ISS, the International Space Station. Its contribution will be in the form of equipment: the Naples Council decided on the European development of a service module to fly on NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle.