ESA’s Smaller Members Get a Glimpse of Future Possibilities

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  Space News Business

ESA‘s Smaller Members Get a Glimpse of Future Possibilities

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 29 July 2008
03:23 pm ET






KOUROU,
French Guiana
— Representatives from 29 European governments met here June 20-22 to discuss space policy objectives and determine whether a consensus exists about where
Europe
‘s space program should go, but the event produced no clear direction for European space-based environmental and security-related programs, manned or unmanned exploration and space surveillance for military and civil purposes.

The meeting was organized by French Research Minister Valerie Pecresse as part of
France
‘s six-month presidency of the European Union (EU).

During the weeks leading up to the conference, organizers were obliged to lower expectations as it became clear that not all governments would be sending the ministers responsible for space to the meeting, which was billed as “informal.”

The conference took place atEurope‘sGuianaSpaceCenterspaceport here, a locale that bears no resemblance to a holiday beach resort despite its location on the northeast coast of South America. “These delegations didn’t come here with a vacation in mind,” one French government official said.

At the end of the meeting, several government representatives said the value of having high-level delegations from many of the EU’s smallest and newest member states would be demonstrated over time as these governments come to view space investment as pertinent to Europe as a whole, and not just to the biggest nations.

Besides
France
, few of
Europe
‘s biggest space powers sent their ministers responsible for space policy,
Spain
being a notable exception.

Nations sending ministers included the
Czech
Republic
,
Greece
,
Hungary
,
Ireland
, Latvia Lithuania,
Luxembourg
,
Romania
and
Slovenia
.

In an EU still bound by rules that permit small nations to block legislation even if a large majority is favorable to it, the smaller governments who sent high-level representatives now have a better understanding of what space investment can buy, several of their representatives said.

“I hesitated before accepting the invitation,” Greek Development Minister ChristosFolias said in a July 21 interview. “But I wanted to see what goes on at a launch site because space is one area where the EU can act as a single entity immediately instead of waiting for a competition between EU member states to resolve itself first.”

Folias
said he left the meeting persuaded that Greece, which has a negligible space program now, should raise its investment in space as a vector for high technology, and as a way of encouraging Greek aerospace engineers – many in the United States – to return home.

“I am convinced that this is an asset we can invest in,” Folias said of the EU’s emerging space program.

During a July 22 press conference after the conference closed, Pecresse said numerous smaller countries, many of them new members of the EU, are likely to support a planned increase in the EU space budget at least in part because of what their representatives learned here during three days.

The EU is gradually fine-tuning its relationship with the European Space Agency (ESA), whose 18 member states are mostly EU members. ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain, who attended the conference here, has said he is convinced ESA will have 25 or more members in the coming years as new EU entrants also decide to support ESA, which requires an annual financial commitment from each nation. The size of each nation’s commitment depends on the size of its economy.

“The very strong message that came from this meeting is that space is back on stage as a European priority,” said GuenterVerheugen, vice president of the EU’s executive commission and head of the commission’s enterprise and industry directorate. “It was extremely important to convene the ministers here in Kourou so they could see the realities on the ground. I myself was not fully aware of how complex it is, and I was definitely not aware of how European it is,” Verheugen said of his visit to the spaceport installations.

The meeting’s focus on Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, or GMES, program yielded a statement that the EU Commission should prepare to make a long-term commitment to the program to assure that users have uninterrupted access to Earth observation data.

ESA and the EU Commission together have committed well over $1 billion to GMES satellites and user preparation programs, and ESA is preparing to ask its governments in November for another $1 billion or so for more GMES satellites.

But over time, ESA, a research agency, wants to hand off GMES to an operating agency funded by the EU Commission.

Pecresse
said the governments attending the meeting also gave informal endorsement to a proposed space surveillance program that ESA will propose to its governments in November.

As currently imagined, the ESA effort, funded at 100 million euros ($158 million) over three years, would connect existing optical and radar observation platforms in
as the start of a long-term effort to produce something similar to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network. The European version would feature an unusual tie-up between ESA and
Europe
‘s military sector, which currently owns some of the ground-based telescopes that would be put into the ESA-funded network.



ESA