The 19-nation European Space Agency () is counting on Germany, perhaps more than any other nation, to help craft a credible multiyear space program when ESA government ministers meet in November in Cazerta, Italy.
The last time ESA ministers met, in November 2008, they agreed to commit 10 billion euros ($13 billion) to a multitude of programs in space-based meteorology, telecommunications, Earth observation and science, among others. The German commitment, at 27 percent of the total, was more than any other government’s.
Four years later, the difference between Germany’s financial maneuvering room and that of ESA’s other large contributors, notably France and Italy, is more striking than it was in 2008.
That makes it all the more necessary for ESA managers to secure German support for planned new initiatives in launch vehicles, Earth observation missions, science satellites, maintenance of the international space station and the robotic exploration of Mars and the Moon — all of which will be on this year’s agenda.
As was the case in 2008, the German delegation will be led by Peter Hintze, parliamentary state secretary and the federal government coordinator of German aerospace policy. Hintze will be representing the German Economics Ministry, which provides most of the German civil space budget, and the Transport Ministry, which finances satellite meteorological and navigation programs.
Hintze’s interest in space policy appears genuine. In early May he attended a conference in Berlin on the international space station despite the fact that he was not among the conference speakers, and he remained in the audience longer than the usual protocols would require of someone in his position.
On May 21 Hintze provided written responses to Space News questions about the upcoming ministerial conference.
What are Germany’s top priorities for the ESA ministerial conference taking place in November in Italy?
Germany wants to play a strong role in making space an essential instrument for achieving economic, scientific and social goals. Our strategy seeks to serve the needs of our citizens and to benefit them as much as possible. We will confirm the continuation of approved programs that are already running successfully and will base decisions for new programs upon an assessment of the benefits offered.
In addition to satellite communications and space technologies, understanding our planet and our environment, of course, represents a major field of action. We want to strengthen our position in space research — something which will most certainly include the use of the international space station. We plan to contribute to ESA’s space transportation program to ensure that access to space is as cost-efficient as possible.
Our space strategy is very much in line with the title of the ESA ministerial conference — “Space for an Innovative and Competitive Europe” — proposed by ESA Director General [Jean-Jacques] Dordain. ESA has always been, and shall continue to be, Germany’s focus in European space programs.
In terms of the budget available from the Economics Ministry, will Germany be investing more or less than the amount pledged at the 2008 ESA ministerial?
For the time being, the midterm planning for future investments in ESA within the Federal Economics Ministry shall remain constant. We have asked ESA to acknowledge this situation and to align the disbursement planning for the programs to our yearly budget. We certainly need to avoid a repeat of the situation that occurred after the 2008 ministerial, wherein the yearly budgets made available by the member states did not match the commitments made.
Have steps been taken to avoid the difficulties with France at the last ministerial over the Meteosat Third Generation program, when France and Germany battled for program leadership? A Metop Second Generation proposal for future polar-orbiting meteorological satellites will be on the agenda at the November conference.
It is our firm commitment to provide ESA and Eumetsat with the means to develop satellites that offer the best value for money. We certainly agree with France on this point. We are in continual dialogue with our partners in Paris. I think that the capabilities and interests of the industrial players are much clearer today than they were four years ago. It should therefore be easier to come to an understanding.
Among ESA’s three main contributors — Germany, France and Italy, which together account for nearly two-thirds of the agency’s budget — we see Italy’s financial situation is extremely difficult, France’s public debt also being high and problematic, and Germany with a stable financial situation. Does this alter Germany’s role compared with what it was in 2008?
Both ESA and its programs are based on solidarity. We want to participate in programs in which we share common interests with other member states. In selected programs, we can and will play a leading role, but we will remain open to all other countries interested in joining in.
Coming back to Germany’s financial situation, we also have to prioritize our financial resources and use them in a targeted manner. The different financial situations across Europe put Germany in a leading position in the sense that our task is to consolidate and maintain our current position. We are reluctant to embark on adventures or to subscribe to new programs whose risks cannot be estimated reliably. Decisions which mean making a commitment for a period of many years — or even decades — have to be made based on a realistic calculation “toutes charges comprises” [all charges included].
ESA is looking at a 500 million-euro ($650 million ) lunar lander program that has been Germany’s special priority for some time. Germany has a smaller role in ESA’s ExoMars mission to Mars, which is in development but on shaky financial ground. Should we conclude that, after the international space station, Germany believes that the Moon, and not Mars, should be the next priority for space exploration?
Exploration missions have to be based on an evaluation of their scientific and technological potential. In our neighborhood, the Moon offers unique records of the history of our solar system. We can begin to unravel this history by using robotic technologies. Robotic systems that have been demonstrated on the Moon will be key to other exploration missions. Lunar missions should definitely feature on any exploration roadmap.
The German industry and research community has played an essential role in ESA’s design of a lunar lander mission. We are trying to convince other member states to join the program. At the same time, we are still in support of ESA’s ExoMars program if this can be made affordable.