European Advisory Group Calls for Space Autonomy, European-Led Lunar Landings in 10 Years

European Advisory Group Calls for Space Autonomy, European-Led Lunar Landings in 10 Years

A group of European dignitaries is calling for European autonomy in human and robotic space exploration. Established by ESA but conducting its work independently, the 12-person High Level Advisory Group insists that Europe must step up and ensure independent access to and use of space or be dependent on others, with economic and geopolitical consequences. Among the recommendations is for “independent and sustainable” European human landing missions to the Moon within 10 years.

The HLAG was mandated by ESA’s governing body, the ESA Council, to “provide an independent and objective assessment on the geopolitical, economic and societal relevance of human and robotic space exploration” last summer. It met four times between September 2022 and March 2023.

Anna Rathsman, Director General of the Swedish National Space Agency and chair of the ESA Council, was a member of the group, but the others are not from the space community. They include a former Prime Minister of Denmark who was also NATO Secretary General, former government ministers from Italy and France, a current Austrian politician, economists, an explorer, a science communicator, a comic book artist, and a climate scientist.

The essence of the report is clear from the title: “Revolution Space.”

The group made three “complementary and indivisible” recommendations to ESA in order to “stimulate hope, inspiration and a unified European space narrative for current and future generations”:

  • Act Visionary
  • Act Differently
  • Act Now.

The report calls on ESA to develop a plan before ESA’s 2023 Space Summit in November for a “transformation and invigoration” of the space ecosystem in Europe.

That includes a “scenario for independent and sustainable European human landing on the Moon within 10 years” and “proposals for visionary and transformative European flagship projects in space for the 2030s and beyond.”

HLAG member Stefania Giannini, Italy’s former Minister for Education, University and Research, said at an ESA press conference this morning that they viewed the question as whether Europe should be in the driver’s seat of the global space ecosystem or only “an observer, a junior partner as we actually are now” to the United States and other countries like China and India.

To her the answer is clear: “Now it’s really time to step up, jump to another level.”

Cedric O, another HLAG member and former Secretary of State for the Digital Sector of France, said he believes the United States and China are betting on a “huge revolution” in space and if they’re right it could be a problem for Europe if it doesn’t have a seat at the table. The cost of not investing in space could be higher than the cost of doing so especially considering the “echoes between space technology and defense technologies that we’ve been seeing” in Ukraine.

He also emphasized the need to “reset the organization” to become more competitive. Procurement policies need to change to avoid monopolies and encourage the emergence of new space actors. Ten years ago Europe had more than half of the commercial space launch market, but today “we are almost out of the market” due to more efficient players like SpaceX that gets its funding both from the government and the private sector.

The report says Europe should “unleash entrepreneurship and intra-European competition to stimulate transformation of the whole European ecosystem and ESA itself.”

“Europe cannot afford not to do this,” Rathsman stressed.

The press conference came at the end of the quarterly ESA Council meeting of representatives from ESA’s 22 member countries. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said the report was discussed in depth and “there’s a lot of work to be done” before the November summit. He emphasized it is not an ESA report, but a report of the HLAG. He was “a little worried” at the beginning because Rathsman was the only space expert on the panel, but they did a “fantastic job” and he’s grateful for their enthuasiasm.

ESA’s members are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania are Associate Members, and ESA has Cooperation Agreements  with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Malta, as well as Canada.

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