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Dordain lays out ESA's next 10 years


Dordain lays out ESA's next 10 years


The General Director of the European Space Agency Jean Jacques Dordain welcomed Euronews to his Paris headquarters just a few days before the triannual meeting of the 18 ministers from ESA’s 18 member states responsible for space affairs.
They have to approve ESA’s three billion euro annual budget, and decide on policy for the years to come.

“What are the big programmes you are going to discuss in The Hague?”

Jean Jacques Dordain:
“One of the essential goals of Europe’s space policies is to improve the quality of life on earth. Public service programmes concern, for the council of ministers, the Global Monitoring of Environment and Safety programme that watches over the planet and its atmosphere, to manage environmental and security problems, notably environmental security.

The second programme we will decide on is the third generation geostationary weather satellite project, and the third of this type will be developing Galileo, Europe’s GPS competitor.

It may seem strange we’re talking about developing Galileo when it hasn’t started working yet, but you always have to think of the next generation if you want improved performance in tracking air land and sea traffic.

Then we’ll discuss a whole category of programmes aimed at scientific progress and expanding knowledge. These are space science; the better understanding of the planets, the universe, or the interaction between Earth and the Sun. This isn’t done just to keep the boffins happy, but clearly Earth is not an isolated system. Everything we learn about other planets or the rest of the universe teaches us about the Earth itself.

The third section is industrial competitivity. The fact that European industry can hold its own in the global market is a major element because it creates wealth and jobs. In terms of industrial competitivity the most commercial segment of space activity is telecoms. So we devote a lot of time to technological improvements to enhance the entire industrial sector.

Finally, we address access to space and exploration, which are vital elements in all space activities.

Access to space, because without it there’s no use of space. At the moment that means Ariane 5 and in a year’s time Soyuz and Vega as well. That will give a us a complete range of launch systems which will need to be constantly used and improved. Then there’s exploration, which involves science, technologies, and competitivity; but there’s also the dream element. Dreams are a part of the quality of life, a part of this great exploration programme which will involve an international effort for the Moon, then Mars, in which Europe has to play a major role.”

“What are ESA’s trump cards when it comes to convincing decision-makers, who hold the purse strings, to go ahead with projects?”

Jean Jacques Dordain:
“With investments that are much smaller than the sums being spent elsewhere around the world Europe is leading the race in several areas, either in pure science or launch services, where we have 60 percent of the market, or in the environmental domain. I believe ESA is the world’s leading agency doing the most work in understanding the Earth and its environment. Taking this into account, we can only invest in space and ESA, there’s no question. They are investments in the future. I know that tody we are in the midst of serious financial problems, but money spent in space is with a 10-year horizon, and it needs to be free of annual or biannual economic fluctuations. We will get back 10 years from now the money voted on today.”

“You realise that the average European citizen doesn’t really understand these investments. I remember a conference in Edinburgh when I went out on the streets to ask people about this, and someone said to me, ‘Hah! Space? It’s given us Velcro and that’s about it, and at what a cost!.’ How would you have answered him?”

Jean Jacques Dordain:
“Well, my dream is to switch off all satellites for a day a year to show no-one can live without space anymore. If we did that, no taxi driver would be able to get around Paris, there would be fewer intercontinental flights, there would be no five-day weather forecasts, so farmers and people planning weekends would be in the dark. And if that day were, say, the world cup final, and no-one would be able to watch the match live, then I think people would realise just how much space adds to our quality of life.”

“And what about the new players, like China and India?”

Jean Jacques Dordain:
“At the beginning it was a USA-USSR competition, and Europe began 10 years behind. It has now caught up on the science and technology fronts, but not on a budgetary level. We’re still underfunded.

Recently we’ve seen new big space powers emerge, like China and India, but also Japan and Brazil. Space has become so important that there are now many space powers, and more and more countries taking advantage of it. International space co-operation is not just between the big nations. ESA co-operates with everyone, with the big space powers as well as other nations who don’t have space capability, but who need what space can offer, notably African, South American, and Asian nations. They aren’t space-capable, but they need space and must have access to it, whether it’s for tackling drought, or for agriculture, education, or medical science and sevices. Space offers vital development gains for nations that have no space programmes of their own.”

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