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European Space Agency chief seeks ‘forward-looking decisions’

Image: European Space Agency 

Josef Aschbacher suggests new programme on space exploration and different relationship with industry

The head of the European Space Agency has called for “forward-looking decisions” from ministers at upcoming meetings on European space projects and budgets.

In recent months, Esa director-general Josef Aschbacher (pictured) has repeatedly warned that Europe faces a “crisis” in its ability to loft craft into space due to a shortage of access to rocket launchers.

Causes include technical failures with new European launchers and the loss of Europe’s access to Russia’s Soyuz rockets following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a 24 May blog post, Aschbacher said the crisis “forces us to candidly reflect on the causes and decisions that brought us here, draw the subsequent and necessary painful lessons, and come out stronger than before”.

“Forward-looking decisions must be taken” by ministers over the coming years to resolve the crisis and put Europe on a stronger footing for “a new frontier in space exploration”, Aschbacher said.

Opportunity knocks

The agency head said he wants Esa to launch a new programme focused on access to space and exploration, to boost European activities in low-Earth orbit, on the moon and beyond.

As recommended recently by an independent panel, he said this should be driven by a new form of engagement between the public and private sectors, with public agencies more efficiently procuring technological solutions from industry.

Europe should develop smaller launchers in addition to completing the roll-out of its new larger ones, Aschbacher added, and should increase its financial and technical support for smaller space-related companies. 

“If Europe is to become once again a key participant in the new race to exploration, leading in several domains and ensuring enhanced strategic autonomy, then the time to decide and to act is now,” he concluded.