Portugal: Future of European space programme may be decided in Lisbon

The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to discuss with European Union (EU) member states in Portugal the guidelines on the way forward for the space programme, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher announced on Wednesday.

The ESA will hold an inter-ministerial meeting which, said Josef Aschbacher today, “will probably take place in Portugal, at the end of this year, in Lisbon or another city, to prepare the Space Summit”, planned for 2022.

The ESA Director General argued – during a virtual press conference from Paris, where he presented the outlines of the space agency’s Agenda 2025 – that “Europe has to have a serious debate on where it wants to be in the next 15 years in terms of economics, value and impact in space” and proposed that this discussion should take place “at a high level, ideally with the heads of state, to discuss what the ambitions are, the priorities for Europe in space”.

The intention is that this “preparatory dialogue” will lead to “recommendations for new activities, new flagship projects, but also new directions for Europe in space”, a “starting point” in the process with a view to defining these ambitions at the 2022 summit.

“I believe that Europe must seriously reflect on where it wants to be in the next 10 or 15 years in space,” he said.

“It is necessary to decide what investments to make or if Europe wants to focus on explorations with “greater visibility, such as the Moon or Mars,” given that the funds invested by countries like the United States or China are much higher.

In the case of the United States, investment in space programmes is five times higher than in Europe, Aschbacher stressed.

It is important for the agency to focus on aspects such as partnership and cooperation with institutions; negotiation with the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement (FFPA), the entity with which the community financing is decided; and to accelerate the increase in investment, namely private investment, in Europe for space projects.

Aschbacher stated that “the agency has an excellent relationship with NASA, one of trust and benefit for both”.

Asked about the possibility of the ESA becoming the space agency of the European Union, Josef Aschbacher stressed that he wanted closer relations, but noted that “the member states of the ESA are not the same member states of the EU”.

“We can implement EU programmes, but that does not mean that ESA is an EU agency, but an implementing agency of the EU space programme. We would like to work closely to implement the EU space programmes as an independent entity,” he stressed.

The European Space Agency Agenda 2025 aims to set priorities and strategic objectives for ESA, such as strengthening the relationship with the European Union, boosting green and digital commercialisation, developing space for safety and security, addressing critical programmatic challenges and implementing the agency’s transformation.