DLR's Warner to Take Helm at ESA

DLR's Warner to Take Helm at ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) formally announced today that Prof. Dr.-Ing. Johann-Dietrich Wörner, currently the head of Germany’s space agency DLR, will become the new Director General (DG) of ESA next summer, succeeding Jean-Jacques Dordain.

A civil engineer, Wörner (whose name is often transliterated into English as Woerner), has led DLR since March 2007 as Chairman of its Executive Board.  Before joining DLR, he was President of the Technische Universität Darmstadt, where he previosuly was Dean of the Civil Engineering Faculty.  Prior positions included work for the civil engineering consultants König and Heunisch and, while a student, two years in Japan investigating earthquake safety.


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the Executive Board, DLR
Photo Credit: 
DLR website

Dordain will remain at the helm until June 30, 2015 and Wörner will begin his new duties as DG on July 1.  The ESA DG term is four years, but Dordain was reappointed twice and has been DG since July 2003.  He joined ESA in 1986 and held a number of high level positions in the agency before his appointment as DG.

ESA and Europe’s space program overall have undergone profound changes during Dordain’s tenure.  The membership grew as countries that were previously part of the Soviet bloc joined, and the European Union (EU) took on a larger role in European space policy.  The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon formally gave the EU a space policy role and it funds two of Europe’s more prominent space applications programs — the Galileo navigation satellite system and the Copernicus earth observation program (formerly GMES — Global Monitoring for Environment and Security).  ESA is deeply involved in those programs from a technical standpoint, but the EU owns them.  ESA and the EU have different but overlapping memberships (18 of ESA’s 20 members are in the EU — Norway and Switzerland are not; while 10 of the EU’s 28 members are not in ESA) and different rules and procedures.  They work together based on a 2004 Framework Agreement.

Wörner will be taking over an agency with stable funding of about 3 billion Euros a year, but as with most space agencies, aspirations often exceed available resources and he will have his work cut out for him navigating the ESA-EU relationship and convincing member states to fund ESA’s many mandatory and optional programs.

ESA is governed by a Council of Ministers which meets every two or three years to make policy and budget decisions.  It just met on December 2 and approved building a new Ariane 6 family of launch vehicles instead of upgrading the existing Ariane 5 into an evolved Ariane 5 ME.   Germany reportedly preferred Ariane 5ME, but acquiesced to the French position supporting Ariane 6 shortly before the meeting.  In announcing that the ministers had approved Ariane 6, Dordain said the issue would be revisited at the next ministerial meeting in 2016, but the decision would allow contracts to be signed for the development phase.  ESA also is trying to obtain funds from its members to support the council’s 2012 agreement to support the International Space Station (ISS) through at least 2020.  At the December 2 meeting, Dordain was able to announce funding commitments only through 2017.  (NASA is hoping ESA and its other ISS partners (Russia, Japan and Canada) will agree to support ISS through 2024, but that topic was not on the council’s agenda at this meeting.)   Launch vehicles and ISS are part of ESA’s optional programs where member countries can choose to participate or not and Wörner will need to continue convincing participating members that they are getting sufficient return on their investment in ISS.  Germany is viewed as the strongest supporter of ISS within ESA.

Wörner is well known in Washington space policy circles not only for his effective representation of Germany’s space interests, but charmingly quirky sense of humor and entertaining stories.


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