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More Space for Europe

More Space for Europe

Commentary by Louis Gallois, Chief Executive Officer of EADS, published in CEO Column, posted on 27.02.2008. Source and Courtesy Astrium (©) .

Today I would like to talk to you about space challenges. We can all feel great pride and joy at the events of the last few days. With the Columbus laboratory, Europe has taken an important step towards establishing a constant presence at the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch of the Space Shuttle carrying the Columbus spacelab had been postponed so many times. But now, finally, the 13-tonne module has docked onto the ISS and started operations. The first spacewalks by 'Columbus astronauts' have also taken place. These achievements, which received huge media coverage around the world, are the result of our efforts. So this is also our success! The spacelab comes from Astrium and was built at its Bremen facility. And this renewed fascination with space exploration, which Columbus has obviously triggered, was 'Made by EADS’!

Very soon, in March, an Ariane launcher is due to bring the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) 'Jules Verne' into space, where – in an automatic rendezvous manoeuvre – it will approach to within 60cm of the ISS orbiting at 28,000 km/h and then dock on in order to deliver seven tonnes of payload.

Thanks to two great technological achievements under EADS leadership – Columbus today and the ATV tomorrow – Europe is becoming a full partner in manned space exploration and asserting its presence in this field.

In other sectors that are crucial to our future, EADS is contributing to the fact that space fulfils the desires of Europe's citizens and serves the needs of states: scientific Earth observation satellites such as TerraSAR-X launched in 2007 for the exploration and surveillance of our planet, telecommunications satellites, military space programmes and space access by means of the Ariane launcher, which has just logged its 23rd consecutive successful mission. Seven-day weather forecasts, better anticipation of climatic change, increasingly efficient means of communication – none of these would be possible without space technology!

Despite these successes, however, the European space industry is now at a crossroads. Also, the global picture of the principle players in the space industry is constantly changing. It’s no longer just the US, Russia and Europe on board –China, Japan, India and Brazil have also joined the space club. Other nations are likely to follow suit.

Each year, Europe invests in space five billion euros in commercial activities and one billion in defence, while the US spends $17 billion and $25 billion respectively. This is not just a gap – it's a veritable chasm! Following the example of the US, Russia is increasing its space budgets. India, too, has raised its space budget – by 24% from 2004 to 2005 and by 35% from 2006 to 2007. It now stands at more than $800 million, which in buying power is comparable to the European budget. And, to conclude, there is China with its expenditure of more than $2 billion per year on space activities. Trend: this is set to rise.

This situation requires joint action now for Europe, for which space budget is still stagnating, to remain in the race – because today's successes are the result of investment programmes launched several years ago. So what decisions need to be taken today so as to guarantee Europe's position tomorrow in a highly competitive environment and against a backdrop of major economic and political challenges? Following the successful Columbus launch, both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy stressed the importance of an ambitious space policy.

The Ministerial meeting of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is due to take place in late November, must see the transformation of ambitions into actions – and into budgets. This is a chance not to be missed as this conference is organized every three years only! The EADS contribution towards preparing this meeting is a top priority and it is our duty to make proposals that give a new impulse to European space policy. Beyond consolidating the access to and exploitation of space, we need to promote space as a means of managing sustainable development and climatic change, and developing telecommunications services and satellite navigation. But, more than this: it is through a space exploration programme in which human beings have their place that Europe will show its ambition and gain the support of the public.

I believe in the importance of space exploration and in the capabilities of Europe and EADS to make a significant contribution to this adventure. Along with Astrium's remarkably dynamic and inventive teams, I will be working hard to convince the national and European decision-makers to make the upcoming ESA Ministerial meeting a real success for space in Europe.

Louis Gallois

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).