Press Release

Europe’s united response to US space plans

By SpaceRef Editor
February 19, 2004
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Europe’s united response to US space plans

On 16 February 2004 European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin and European Space Agency (ESA) Director Jean-Jacques Dordain presented Europe’s response to the new US space strategy. Also announced was the formation of a new group dedicated to fully analysing US plans.

US President Bush’s recent speech in which he revealed plans to send people back to the moon and ultimately to Mars comes as the EU is taking its own new and ambitious space initiatives. A major reorientation on the part of the Americans will have important consequences for all of its international partners, among whom Europe stands foremost.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, the two men leading Europe’s space push spoke to the implications for Europe and the rest of the world.

“Europe has made an enormous amount of progress in the last year,” said Busquin. “With the recently published White Paper on European Space Policy, with the GMES Communication, with the progress we have been making on the GALILEO programme and on bringing the European Union and ESA together. All of these show a readiness on our parts to make a major contribution as America undertakes new goals.”

The internationalisation of space

“The EU and ESA are now closer than ever on space,” said Dordain. “The important point in looking at the American vision is that space is an international field. A coherent European Space Policy does not make any sense if not grounded in the larger global context.

“Unlike in the days of the Cold War, getting to the moon and Mars is not about proving one’s superiority over a political enemy. It is about all of us, around the world, working together for the common benefit. This is why we are now carefully studying the implications of the US plan, seeing how it affects and is affected by our own vision.

“ESA is the US’s main partner in space today and, while we have achieved a great deal on our own, what most people don’t realise is that almost every task now being undertaken in space, whether by us, by the Russians or by the Americans, is the result of co-operation. Only a few days ago, our ESA scientists participated in a demonstration in which they took over control of NASA’s Spirit rover on Mars.

“This demonstration of interoperability between European and American systems is only one example of what we have been doing now for several years. The International Space Station (ISS) is another major example. Mr. Bush’s remarks on the ISS will have important ramifications for our own plans. This is why a full review of the President’s speech is so essential to us today, to ensure that Europe remains a clear leader, along with our space partners.”

With this Dordain announced the formation of a group whose goals is to analyse in depth the American plan and its implications for European Space Policy.

Security a key issue for the future

From the beginning of the space age, NASA financing has been closely linked to America’s defence budget, giving it a huge advantage over its rivals in terms of its ability to take on major space programmes.

“Europe is now moving towards its own Security Research programme,” said Busquin. “The fact that Mr. Dordain himself is part of the high-level Group of Personalities now developing a European Security Research programme is a clear sign of the importance we attach to space in this area. The fact is that Europe has long been handicapped in this area due to the fact that security has been a ‘no-go’ area for us. Space will clearly be a major contributor and benefactor as we move into this important area of research.”

“Now, more than ever, Space is seen as a major security asset,” said Dordain, “but in fact the distinction between defence-related and civil space systems makes little sense today. The same satellites, the same systems can be used for both. In the US, defence is the main driving force behind the development of space systems that offer important civil benefits. In our case, we will undoubtedly be funding systems through our civil institutions that play a major role in European security and defence.”

No bucks, no Buck Rodgers

While the American plan is long on ambition, critics have asked where the money to fund new forays into space will come from. Both Busquin and Dordain agreed that a grand vision without the necessary resources is a waste of time. “We cannot speak to US budget questions,” said Dordain, “but the same criticism will be made against us if we do not fund our own vision, in the form of the Space White Paper.”

“We have managed to create of wave of enthusiasm over recent months,” said Busquin, “and we must carry this forward if our vision is to become a reality.”

SpaceRef staff editor.