Press Release

Independent first-class European space science as a strategic drive for promotion European interest and leadership

By SpaceRef Editor
December 3, 2008
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Independent first-class European space science as a strategic drive for promotion European interest and leadership

Leading European space scientists put forth a set of recommendations to shape future space research policy for Europe.

In a report recently published by European Science Foundation (ESF), the European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC), an ESF’s expert committee, urge for stronger public funding of space sciences and space exploration programmes if European Union and European countries in general are to maintain and strengthen their technological development and effectively promote their interests. The document has been prepared for the consideration of the upcoming Ministerial Conference of European Space Agency (ESA) Member States (25-26 November 2008, Den Haag, Netherland) which will discuss ESA’s new three-year science budget and new exploration and Earth observation missions.

In the paper, the ESSC appeals to Europe’s decision makers that without increased funding effort of the ESA Member states Europe would be left behind other world’s space players in its scientific and technological capacity. Taking the example of the USA and NASA, the authors stressed that more independent European space science and its involvement in first-class space research is “absolutely essential for the promotion of European interests and leadership, as it imparts a strong strategic drive to its technological and industrial system”.

The greater independence of ESA in space science and space exploration programmes is crucial specifically in two closely interconnected areas: data storage and analysis, and critical technology development. The proper space data analysis is essential to more effectively exploit Europe’s achievements and successes. According to the ESSC-ESF’s proposals, ways to support the analysis, interpretation, archiving, and distribution of space data so as to generate a high-quality return on the investments made by Europe in building satellites and outstanding instruments. As ESA is now constitutionally unable to fund that kind of research, US scientists collaborating in European mission are – with much larger support from NASA – often better able to analyze and archive the data obtained from satellites financed and built in Europe. European scientific community thus looses significant benefits from the substantial investments in successful space missions carried out by ESA.

The lack of capabilities to properly analyze and archive space data is most evident in the ESA’s Earth observation programme where ESA’s existing and planned environmental satellites offer a unique set of measurements. It is therefore ESA’s responsibility to ensure and foster the best possible exploitation of the data and their products. The ESSC report hence encourages “ESA and European Commission to consider relevant mechanisms for funding of scientific database exploitation techniques”. Moreover, these proposals are in accord with requirements stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to facilitate the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change, a recognized binding reference in global context.

The development of necessary space technologies is another area where ESSC experts recommend reducing the Europe’s dependence on external suppliers from USA or Russia. A larger funding of innovative technology research in space science and exploration is essential “to ensure European independence in critical areas and provide an added value to ESA’s future developments”, states the paper.

ESA’s new programme for space science, Cosmic Vision 2015-2025, is a good example of the proposed approach. The successful implementation of this new programme would necessitate to raise the ESA’s science budget from current 400 MO to 500 MO per year. However, the ESSC believes that the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme will not only help ESA to strengthen its position in the international space research community but also give an impetus to European industry through stimulation of advanced technology development, enforcing thus the link between science and technology, as envisaged in the EU’s Lisbon strategy.

Consequently, the authors endorse increase in funding the ESA’s European programme for Life and Physical sciences (ELIPS) focused on research on the International Space Station (ISS). With the successful attachment of the Europe’s Columbus orbital laboratory to the ISS in February 2008, the ESA must ensure its best usage to deliver good return of the European investments in the ISS.

The exploration of Mars has to be the highest priority of Europe’s Exploration Programme. According to the report, “Europe’s vision for this technology-driven programme should be to prepare for a long term European participation in a global endeavour of human exploration of the solar system, with a focus on Mars and the necessary intermediate steps”.

Although the ESSC experts clearly state that the first steps in the programme should be aimed at robotic exploration, they emphasize as well that the ultimate goal in the longer term is to send humans to Mars and that the research on humans in space environments must be strengthened. In this regard, overarching science goal of the Exploration programme should be called “Emergence and co-evolution of life with its planetary environments”.

For all these future space research plans and for future prosperity of Europe, it is absolutely necessary to create a pool of highly trained and motivated scientists and engineers. ESA must therefore play a larger role in education and in public outreach activities to attract young people to the space science early in their professional career. The report says that besides much closer collaboration with universities, ESA also needs to enhance as many communication means as possible and offer dedicated resources for various audiences, from specialist to school pupils.
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Media contact:

Mr. Thomas LauE-Mail

Science contact:

Dr. Jean-Claude WormsE-Mail

SpaceRef staff editor.