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The new ambitions of the European Union's space programme

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Tobias Arhelger / Shutterstock.com

French MEP Christophe Grudler (MoDem) explains how space technologies are used on a daily basis and what Europe's space strategy is.

Why developing a European space strategy?

Space technologies are indispensable in our lives today. From farmers to observe the state of their fields, to the fire brigade to visualise a disaster area, but also for travellers to help them find their way: every day we use data produced by European satellites.

This is why I am convinced that the European Union must continue to invest in this sector, particularly to ensure our European independence from Chinese, American or Russian technologies.

Having a real European space strategy enables us to bring coherence to the diversity of opportunities offered by this space policy: from observation and telecommunications satellites to exploration programmes and manned flights.

In addition, this European strategy aims to unite the strengths of all the players that make up the Europe of space: from the European Space Agency (ESA), to national space agencies (such as CNES in France), to European agencies (such as EUSPA, the European Space Programme Agency), and of course companies and research centres specialising in space.

What does the adoption of the new European Space Programme entail?

During the night of 15 to 16 December 2020, we reached an agreement on the Regulation establishing the European Space Programme. As rapporteur for my group Renew Europe, I am delighted with this victory, because this text makes it possible to set out the main guidelines for European space for the coming years.

At the same time, we managed to obtain, in the framework of the negotiations on the European Union's budget, an envelope of 14.8 billion for this programme, i.e. almost 4 billion more than in the previous period. This is a huge step forward!

If we think further and go into a bit of detail, this regulation strengthens the EU's flagship programmes: Copernicus for Earth observation, Galileo and EGNOS for satellite positioning (the "European GPS"), GovSatCom for secure telecommunications, or the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme for tracking space debris.

This roadmap will make it possible to develop space services that are increasingly useful to our citizens, with an emphasis on innovation.

Innovation is obviously a key issue to strengthen the European Union's position in the space race. It is thanks to it that we will, for example, be able to implement the European constellation of quantum satellites, a project that is particularly close to my heart and which will make our European telecommunications more secure.

What is the role of the European Space Agency (ESA) in setting up this programme?

The European Space Agency (ESA) is an international agency based in Paris, which does not depend on the European Union, but with which the European institutions work closely, as it is a major player in European space policy in terms of research and innovation. The majority of European space programmes are developed in collaboration between ESA and the European Union.

ESA implements several aspects of our space policy: Earth observation, monitoring European launchers and conducting scientific observation missions.

In addition, it should be noted that the new Space Regulation provides for the establishment of a European Space Programme Agency (EUSPA, based in Prague). This will replace the former GSA agency and will be responsible for coordinating certain programmes financed by the European Union, in particular the most sensitive ones such as secure telecommunications.

Thus, the Europe of space was built on cooperation between ESA, the agencies of the European Union, and the agencies of the Member States. And this cooperation is our strength!

Is the European Union lagging behind its American, Chinese and Russian competitors?

I do not believe that the European Union is really lagging behind. If you take space skills and technologies, Europe is at the forefront!

We have with us some of the best engineers, researchers and technicians in the space field. Our know-how in terms of launchers and satellites is exceptional, and Europe sells its technologies all over the world.

Until recently, it was a French instrument - the SuperCam - which was embarked on the American "rover" Perseverance, which successfully landed on Mars on February 18th.

However, it is true that from a space strategy point of view, the EU has not always been sufficiently coordinated and united. And for certain missions, it is not as autonomous as one might wish.

If we take manned flights, Europe currently depends on American or Russian ships to get into space. Whether to go to the International Space Station (ISS), or the future Lunar Gateway, a future station in orbit around the Moon.

It is for all these reasons that it is essential to build a coherent European space strategy, and I am actively working on it every day in the European Parliament!

The European Space Agency has announced that it wants to recruit new astronauts, can you tell us more?

For the first time since 2009, the European Space Agency is recruiting a new generation of astronauts.. A total of around twenty astronauts will be recruited, including 4 to 6 who could go around the Moon as early as 2025!

This is an exceptional opportunity for all Europeans who dream of space, science and discovery. Above all, for the first time, the selection will also be open to people with certain disabilities to try out technologies specific to the first "parastronauts".

The main requirements are to have a master's degree in natural sciences, medicine, engineering, mathematics or computer science or to hold a test pilot diploma. Three years of professional experience are also required, as well as a very good command of English.

If I had a message to send out about this recruitment campaign: encourage applications from women around you! Indeed, during the previous wave of astronaut recruitment in 2008, women only represented 18% of the applications. We can do much better!

So spread the word and visit the ESA website between 31 March and 28 May 2021 to apply.