European space policy, the conquest of Mars is not for now

The American Elon Musk, recently the richest man in the world, has just recalled the crazy project to make Man a “Multiplanetary species” by sending a million people to Mars by 2050. China brought pieces of the moon back to Earth last December, which had not happened for 44 years, and last July sent a rover to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) also wants to show its ambition. But on the occasion of its 13th European space conference organized remotely, the stated objectives concerned a whole different register: “The revival of the economy, the development of secure public telecommunications, the resilience of our societies and the digital and green transition”. A policy more of preservation than of conquest.

Consolidate the existing

The European space program has a budget of 14.9 billion current euros (13.2 billion constant) over the period 2021-2027. Thanks to these resources, the European Commission plans to “Strengthen Europe‘s space leadership and consolidate its achievements”. The bulk of the money, in fact, will go to existing programs: 9 billion for the Galileo program (satellite positioning), 5.4 for Copernicus (Earth observation) and 400 million for the GovSatCom government communication program. by satellite …

“Now is not the time to be complacent and congratulate ourselves on our accomplishments. We have to think about the future, for the next 10 to 20 years. Galileo and Copernicus must evolve. Otherwise, they will quickly become obsolete ”, underlined the European Commissioner in charge of space issues Thierry Breton. A new constellation of satellites must take over to provide high-speed Internet, allowing Europe to have secure communications thanks to quantum technology.

Space for everyone … but on Earth

Nathalie Huret, director of the Observatoire de physique du globe de Clermont Ferrand, admits that the time has passed for demonstrations of technological force, even if Europe has been able to compete in this category in the past. “You shouldn’t have too short a memory. Let us remember that in 2016, the Europeans showed themselves capable of landing a probe (Rosetta) on a tiny comet (Tchouri), the Americans couldn’t believe it ”, emphasizes the researcher who was in charge of monitoring several national research programs in connection with the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes).

→ ANALYSIS. The race to Mars has begun

Exit, the hunt for the exploit which involves human space flights! The European Space Agency (ESA) rather relies on access to space for ordinary people, and benefits at the citizen level. Thus data from Copernicus, on the state of the earth’s soil, oceans and atmosphere, are freely available. “The logic is the same in the economic sector, concerning SMEs, for whom nanosatellites are becoming within reach”, continues Nathalie Huret.

This is how Thierry Breton unveiled on Tuesday January 12 the launch of a fund with the EIB, intended to support innovative companies and start-up of the space sector. Called Cassini, it will be endowed with one billion euros. Thanks to the progress made in the satellite field, the EU prefers to talk about well-being on earth than about the future on Mars. In terms of adaptation to climate change, the European Commissioner for Innovation and Research, Mariya Gabriel, rather promises a “Digital society”, with the creation on the Old Continent of “One hundred smart cities neutral in carbon by 2030”.

The EU as an actor in the sciences of the Universe

If ESA has never really invested in the conquest of space strictly speaking, it continues to explore as part of the Cosmic Vision program, the solar observation mission. Solar Orbiter. Probes must also fly over Venus, or Titan, the satellite of Saturn. ESA is also working with NASA on the International Space Station. The agency is also working with the United States on the InSight mission, to study the internal structure of Mars. For Nathalie Huret, Europe keeps a coherent and very active program in the field of the sciences of the Universe, with a less flamboyant position than the United States or China, but just as important for space discovery”.

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