Record budget, new astronauts: Europe is fighting to stay in the space race
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Nearly 17 billion euros will be allocated to the European Space Agency (ESA) for the period 2023-2025, French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire announced on Wednesday, after a meeting of twenty-two ministers. ESA member countries.

Will Europe remain a space giant? The European Space Agency (ESA) voted Wednesday, November 23 a budget of 17 billion euros for the next three years, a sharp increase but below the 18.5 billion requested by its director general, announced the French minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire.

After tough negotiations, the 22 Member States, gathered for two days in Paris, decided on an envelope up 17% compared to the last three years. This contribution is intended to finance space exploration, Earth observation and launcher programs.

The effort required in the midst of the economic crisis is “huge”, but necessary if “we do not want to get out of the race”, pleaded its director general, Josef Aschbacher, arguing that space budgets are increasing all over the world.

Stay in the race against the United States and China

The Old Continent does not want to be left behind by the United States and China, who are investing massively in space and in particular exploration. And maintain its rank on a chessboard where competition is raging in the midst of the “New Space” revolution, which is seeing private actors multiply, the American group SpaceX in the lead.

“If we want to be independent, we have to put money on the table”, judges the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, in charge of space, who calls on Europe to “unite against Chinese and American ambitions “.

“We must accelerate the commercialization of space” to catch up with Europe’s delay in private investment, urges Josef Aschbacher, insisting on the massive economic fallout from these budgets.

These investments, to which each State contributes as it pleases, relate in particular to Earth observation, which makes it possible to measure the impact of global warming (3 billion euros requested), space transport, in particular for the Ariane 6 launcher ( 3.3 billion) or the human and robotic exploration of space (3 billion). Almost all the budget lines requested by ESA are clearly increasing, with the exception of the contributions requested for the scientific programs (3 billion euros) which are only adjusting to inflation.

Crucial launcher negotiations

Negotiations promised to be difficult on launchers, a crucial subject for independent access to space. European sovereignty is weakened by the delays of Ariane 6 – considered the response to Space X – and the war in Ukraine, which deprived Europe of Russian Soyuz launchers. ESA, for example, was forced to use the services of Elon Musk’s company to launch two scientific missions.

The issue of launchers is regularly a source of “tightening” between France, Germany and Italy, recognizes Philippe Baptiste, president of CNES, the French space agency.

To ease tensions, these three main ESA contributing countries agreed on Tuesday to guarantee the future operation of the Ariane 6 rocket and its little sister Vega-C, and allow micro and mini-launchers to be sent on behalf of ESA.

The discussions on the future Earth observation satellites, which make it possible to measure the impact of global warming, promise to be longer than expected, because “we are for the moment below the required level”, according to Josef Aschbacher.

New generation of astronauts

Also on the table is ESA’s contribution of 750 million euros to the Iris project for a constellation of secure communications satellites from the European Union, which plans to devote 2.4 billion euros to it.

As soon as its budget is adopted, ESA will lift the veil on its new promotion of astronauts, which will succeed that of 2009, which includes the Frenchman Thomas Pesquet. Between four and six people were chosen from over 22,000 applicants, after a long selection process (medical and psychological tests, interviews, etc.).

A Frenchwoman or Frenchman could be one of the winners called to fly into orbit, in the International Space Station (ISS) initially – the few places for future lunar missions will be reserved for the previous generation already experienced in low orbit stays .

For newcomers, training will begin in April 2023 at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. At the same time, ESA will present one or more astronauts with a physical disability, with whom a “feasibility study” on a stay in space will be conducted. A first.

With AFP

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