The heads of the Italian and German space agencies said they supported most of the space-policy proposals made Feb. 11 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy but nonetheless expressed reservations about some of the ideas he outlined in recent remarks on European space policy.

In his first address on space policy since his election in May, Sarkozy called for a stricter set of rules governing how nations act in space that would discourage events such as China’s deliberate destruction of its own satellite in a widely used orbit. He said France would begin a diplomatic initiative on behalf of a stricter set of rules governing how nations behave in space – an area he said is of increasing economic and strategic interest.

“Just because it’s space doesn’t mean that it can remain a kind of [Wild] West,” Sarkozy said. In a speech delivered at Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, Sarkozy also called for a sharp increase in military space spending, and proposed that the commission of the 27-nation European Union assume responsibility for the maintenance of the spaceport.

proposals are

related to his preparations for

France’s upcoming control, starting in July, of the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, and also to

a planned November conference of ESA governments to set long-term strategy and spending priorities.

In a Feb. 13, interview Italian Space Agency President Giovanni Bignami applauded Sarkozy’s proposal that Europe work alongside the United States on a broad space-exploration program that would focus on Mars – not the Moon. But Bignami also said he is not convinced that ESA should be responsible for a space-surveillance system that, as a first step, would bring into a network the separate ground-based radar and optical sensors now operated separately in several European nations


“This is not really ESA’s role,” said Bignami, who accompanied Sarkozy on the trip to the Guiana Space Center. “There are other agencies in Europe to take charge of upgrading ground-based telescopes. I am ready to listen to others’ opinions about this, but my first reaction is that this is outside of ESA’s mandate.”

said Italy, as part of its effort to take part in an international space-exploration program, was poised to begin its own national effort to develop nuclear power sources for interplanetary missions for which solar or other power sources are unfeasible.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, said Germany also backs a broad exploration plan with the United States that would make Mars its main goal. Woerner was part of the large international delegation visiting the Guiana Space Center with Sarkozy.

In a Feb. 13 interview, Woerner said Germany also agrees with Sarkozy that a space-surveillance system should be developed to provide Europe an autonomous means of verifying what objects are circling in Earth orbit. But Woerner said he is skeptical about whether the European Union should take over the maintenance of the Guiana Space Center.

“That was an interesting point, but it is not clear to me,” Woerner said of Sarkozy’s proposal. “As a general rule I do not want to see space activities be transferred to the European Commission. Space is not the same priority for all European nations, and ESA’s financing policies reflect the different levels of interest. I also think we already make a strong contribution to the spaceport, in addition to our investment in the Ariane rocket.”

The Guiana Space Center

currently is funded one-third by France and two-thirds by ESA. When France’s share of the ESA investment is included, France pays around 45 percent of the total.

ESA guarantees member states that their industry will receive contracts in proportion to each government’s ESA contributions. The European Commission makes no such guarantees, and is financed by mandatory contributions based on national economic output. Germany is the European Commission’s biggest contributor, while

France is ESA’s biggest backer.

ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain, in a Feb. 13 interview, said ESA and the European Commission

already have agreed in principle that the Guiana Space Center should be viewed as a European infrastructure that merits European Union backing.

, who also attended the Sarkozy visit to French Guiana, said a space policy document agreed to in 2007 by ESA and the commission includes this idea, but does not spell out when or how it should be realized. “What [Sarkozy] said about this is perfectly coherent with what the European Space Policy document signed last year says,” Dordain said. “But the budget lines still need to be created at the European Commission.”