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ESA's space chief Wörner on future of ISS, Moon and Mars exploration


the global conversation

ESA's space chief Wörner on future of ISS, Moon and Mars exploration

Jan Wörner started his career as a civil engineer in Germany.

After studying how buildings survive earthquakes in Japan, he held offices at the Gelsenkirchen institute for glass construction, and was later selected as President of the Technische Universität Darmstadt.

Wörner was head of the German Aerospace Centre DLR from March 2007 to June 2015.

On July 1 2015, the 62-year old became head of the European Space Agency.

Wörner has been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by Germany, and was made Knight of the French Légion d’Honneur by France.

In October 2016 Wörner oversaw the EXOMars mission, which ended with the Schiaparelli probe crash-landing on the surface of the Red Planet.

Jeremy Wilks of euronews interviewed the ESA’s director general for the Global Conversation:

“We’re here at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne in Germany. This is where the astronauts train before they go to space, But what’s the future of the International Space Station, because there’s a big question mark over that at the moment?”

Jan Wörner, Director General, European Space Agency (ESA):
“For us it’s very clear. The space station will work until 2024 or even longer. All the other partners in the station – the Americans, the Russians, the Japanese, and the Canadians- decided already like that, so now it’s up to the Europeans also to confirm use until 2024. And I hope that with our meeting of all the ministers of our 22 European member states we will confirm this.”

Jeremy Wilks, euronews:
“And after 2024, what happens then?”

Jan Wörner:
“Nobody knows, so there is some idea from the Americans to use it more as a commercial station.”

A commercial space station?

Euronews:
“Like a space hotel?”

Jan Wörner:
“For instance, but not only that but also for public use driven by commercial entities, because microgravity is of utmost importance for research, especially for astronauts doing for instance health investigations, osteoporosis.”

Euronews:
“So you mean like a pharmaceutical company sending an experiment to space, or a car manufacturer sending something to space?”

Jan Wörner, ESA:
“Why not? We are open to that. What we have to do in order to have more of a magnet for the international space station is to have easier access, because usually it takes too long.”

Moon or Mars?

Jeremy Wilks, euronews:
“What’s the next step then, after the ISS? Imagine the ISS goes off and has another life, where do we go? Because when you came to office you talked a lot about going to the Moon, NASA talks a lot about going to Mars – what’s the next step for you?”

Jan Wörner:
“Yes, so the Americans are saying ‘journey to Mars’, which I think is a nice idea. They do not say ‘We go to Mars tomorrow’. They say ‘Journey to Mars’ which is a different expression.”

Euronews:
“Yes, there’s a subtle difference there.”

Jan Wörner:
“This journey to Mars has several steps in between, and one step is the Moon. And therefore it’s not a contradiction that I’m arguing in favour of having something on the surface of the Moon, and what the Americans are proposing to go to Mars. But my goal is a little bit closer time-wise.”

Rosetta’s final moment?

Euronews:
“Let’s look at some of the great things that have happened this year in space. ExoMars is one of the examples, Rosetta is another. Let’s talk about Rosetta now. Rosetta came to and end. How did that feel for you because that was an exciting moment, an emotional moment.”

Jan Wörner:
“Yes, of course. After ten years to reach the comet was already a big achievement, and then to have a touchdown of the small lander Philae, just unbelievable. Yes, it was inspiring, it was motivating.”

Rosetta: the sequel?

Euronews:
“Do you have plans for a sequel? It was kind of like a Hollywood blockbuster – is there going to be a Rosetta 2? Is there something that’s going to follow up?”

Jan Wörner:
“We are planning of course something, and we have the mission AIM which we are proposing to our ministers, where we would like to fly to a small moon of an asteroid, to investigate this moon, but also to make something like deflection of its orbit, in order to protect in the future the Earth from asteroids coming towards the Earth. So we have missions like that in our portfolio.”

What next for ExoMars?

Jeremy Wilks, euronews:
“ExoMars was a bit more of a mixed bag. It wasn’t the complete success that Rosetta and Philae was. Although you still seem to defend that it was, you wrote that blog post saying it was 96 percent successful, but when you crash land into Mars at 300 kmh that doesn’t seem particularly successful to the outside viewer shall we say!”

Jan Wörner, ESA:
“I know that the outside is viewing that in a different way, but to land on Mars is really, really difficult. Yes, you’re right it crashed on the surface. But the advantage is we got all the data until the crash. This is for a scientist, for an engineer, the most important thing.”

Euronews:
“And you’re pretty confident that you’re going to be able to go and persuade those ministers at the end of this month to write the cheque that you need for ExoMars?”

Jan Wörner:
“We try to convince them. I’m personally convinced that trying to look for life on Mars by drilling into the surface is an interesting and very inspiring thing, but of course it costs money, we need some additional money from the ministers, so I hope we can convince them but of course they decide finally.”

The future of Ariane 6

Euronews:
“Let’s talk about some of the other big projects on the table. Ariane 6, which is the new launcher. Is that on time, on budget, when’s the first launch going to happen?”

Jan Wörner, Director General, European Space Agency:
“So we made an investigation , and a review of the whole programme, that was a condition to go forward, we said we should first make a review. And you know it’s not Ariane 6 only, it’s Ariane 64, 62, two versions of Ariane 6, plus Vega C. And this review was very successful from a technical point of view. We then needed some agreements between some of the main participating countries.”

Euronews:
“And first launch is 2020?”

Jan Wörner:
“2021, yes, but Vega C will be even earlier. So we will at that time have the first launches. And I’m quite sure that this family of launchers will be a very competitive family.”

Ariane vs Space X

Euronews:
“How much do you feel competition from Space X, from the likes of Space X?”

Jan Wörner, ESA:
“Worldwide there is a competition in launchers, and for us competition is a very important thing, yes, but at the same time it’s a strategic decision. So it’s not only a question of competition, it’s a strategic decision to have an autonomous access to space from Europe. And with Ariane 6 we will have 50 percent of the launch cost only, so therefore this is really a very big step.”

Euronews:
“So how much will a launch cost if I want to send my satellite to space on an Ariane 6?”

Jan Wörner:
“We have to discuss about that, but if you are a very normal customer we would ask you for about 70 million (euros) But maybe if you can offer to us to buy 10 of them, or something like that.”

Euronews:
“I can get a bargain price!?”

Jan Wörner:
“Yes, we can, so it depends.”

New astronauts?

Jeremy Wilks, euronews:
“We’re here at the European astronaut centre. Are there any plans to recruit any new astronauts? If there are any young people watching can they dream of becoming a European astronaut, or is it something where you don’t have any plans at all to recruit?”

Jan Wörner, ESA:
“This is really a question of utmost importance. If Europe wants to go on – and I personally believe we should – with human spaceflight, then of course we need to look to a new generation of astronauts soon. But we have to make sure also that there is an opportunity to fly, and this means because we do not have our own capacity to fly astronauts we have to look to possibilities in East and West where we can be passengers, where we can send our astronauts doing research and science in space. So therefore it depends very much what the ministers think of the future of European human spaceflight.”

Euronews:
“Would you personally like to have been an astronaut?”

Jan Wörner:
“I would. If you offer me a flight tomorrow I would cancel all my appointments and I would do it immediately!”

Jan Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency, was talking to Jeremy Wilks of euronews for the Global Conversation.

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