AFET

Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)

Reach for the stars: The humankind is facing many pressing challenges and the relevance of space exploration to society is sometimes not well understood. With the European Space Policy in place, how can the European Union be a competitive player in the field of space travel and how can space exploration contribute to our common future?

By: Marek Příplata (CZ)

What?

Challenges surrounding space travel and space exploration are often not considered a problem worth mentioning in the eyes of the government and its citizens.

To combat this issue, the European Commission and European Space Agency (ESA) put the European space policy in place. The European space policy (ESP) aims to increase efficiency in agriculture and fisheries, improve crisis response, etc., using satellite-enabled applications. As one of the most recent events, there has been the recent landing of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, which is a part of a big project of Mars rovers such as Curiosity, Spirit or Opportunity. Those rovers are meant to find any evidence of possible life on Mars from the ancient past when there was liquid water on Mars. The European Union (EU), either through ESA or via individual Member State’s (MS) space offices has its own projects such as the navigational system Galileo or the ExoMars mission, which is a mission for the first non-American planetary rover. The first part of ExoMars crashed when its atmospheric probe malfunctioned. ExoMars has planned the launch of their rover in September 2022.

The EU has been maintaining its competitiveness in space exploration only via its collaboration and synergy. If any of its current partners decided to withdraw, the EU would start to lag behind.

For more information check out these links:

Podcast NewSpaceVision: https://open.spotify.com/show/2cjyg7dhKPGhMvSz5Uhoek

The philosophy of space travel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkTeSI-B9D0


Why?

Since 2007, when the ESP was set up, the agencies involved have met multiple times to update the ESP. The last meeting for this was held in 2016. The ESP was put in place with 3 major goals:

  • Meeting key societal challenges: providing service and data to EU public authorities, companies and citizens;

  • Jobs and industrial growth: space sector provides around 230,000 jobs in the EU. It is worth €46–54 billion to the EU economy;

  • Ensuring EU autonomy: Europe’s access to space is necessary to reinforce the EU's role as a strong world actor, ensuring the EU's competitiveness of European industry and businesses, as well as its security, defence and strategic autonomy.

The ESP sets common goals for the EU, European Space Agency (ESA) members and cooperating States. Nevertheless, each State works on its own or collaborates with a few other states. The ESP does not put all States’ effort together which means that even though the EU is among the world leaders with its technology, it has only about a 10-year development advantage ahead of China and India, with those countries racing to catch up. Even though the effort of Member States has been considerable, it is no match to the effort of agencies such as NASA, CNSA (China) or ISRO (India). Individual Member States cannot match their financial resources and number of experts working on a single problem at the moment.

With each Member State funding its own space exploration development, it means each State can implement its own legislation and focus on this field as much as they desire. On the contrary, ESP has been funded by the EU's financial programme aimed at improving research and innovation Horizon 2020. The successor of Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe, brings more money to this programme but it also brings new challenges. Some of the challenges are that the space exploration finances will now fall under the Digital, Industry and Space cluster which will have to divide finances in this very competitive field. This could mean fewer resources for space exploration because of the fields inside the cluster and the lack of competitiveness of space exploration against other development areas.

For further research, check out these links:

The inevitable and exciting commercialisation of space, the Engineer - https://www.theengineer.co.uk/commercialisation-space/

What Is Space Exploration Doing For You?, Seeker, Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZBjrwqxfnk


Who?

The European space policy (ESP) is a joint programme of the EU and the European space agency (ESA). The ESP is not the only measure the EU uses, to explore the other ones you can visit one of these links:

The ESA works as an executive branch providing the launcher systems and launching facilities, helping to coordinate collaboration between states, all the while maintaining its own development and research. Besides that, the EU works closely with some external agencies such as GSA (a body based in Prague, Czechia, that operates the Galileo navigation system) or EUMETSAT, that operates certain satellites in order to monitor weather, climate and the environment.

The EU helps to fund the ESA, where around 20% of the ESA’s budget comes from the EU's finances. Some of the ESA States are Norway, Switzerland and the UK, which is in the process of leaving the EU. Thus, discussing any change to the ESP would come with great diplomatic challenges considering that the EU does not rule over the ESA. What is more, many Member States are not a part of the ESA itself. Any change in this could affect each nation’s space institute as given in the example of CSO (Czech Space Office), German Aerospace Center (DLR), and so on. Besides, there have been many companies connected with the ESA alongside state space agencies such as Aerotech Czech, who will be manufacturing parts of the fuel system for launcher system Ariane 6 set to be finished in 2022.


How?

The ESP has been successful so far with achieving its initial aims. Whenever involved States and organisations felt that it was necessary to update something, they did so.

The question is, are we pushing ourselves hard enough? Considering there are private space exploration companies starting to gain their momentum, the space race is at its most competitive since the Cold War. The space race ended with a handshake in space, which meant collaboration between world leaders on space exploration, leading to projects such as the ISS (International Space Station). With the private sector entering the world of space travel, the so-called space race is opening up with the aim to put a human on the surface of Mars. This presents a new challenge for the EU and many space agencies are ramping up their efforts. Many think that now is the perfect time to start investing and paying more attention to this problem, if the EU acts later rather than sooner, it might lose the advantage in this “space race”.

Is the EU ready to establish itself as a driving force or will it look from the sidelines as others try? This is the time the EU should show itself as a force to be reckoned with.

There are many options to consider: The EU could join forces with one of the big international players, which would probably be one of the biggest resource pools in the history of space exploration. On the other hand it would leave the EU dependent on its partners. The EU could also employ a private company to help with its development. This option would leave the EU independent of its partners, yet it could prove to be a more financially difficult version.


For more information check out these links:

The Future of space settlements by Neil DeGrasse Tyson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_m1mPtYzTk&ab_channel=WorldGovernmentSummit

Details of the rocket equation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-73MZsj8bVI&list=PLnaXrumrax3Wyn1oMYWYlpcwrc76Nm40Q&index=5&ab_channel=StarTalk


Research challenge:

I encourage you to familiarise yourself with the TO and do further research going beyond this TO. Try to find as many interesting and useful facts as you can. It will come in handy during the committee work. As for your motivation to do so I am going to organise a small trivia quiz. And to make things interesting, the winner of said trivia quiz will get a chance to make a meme out of me. So, buckle up everybody, we are going all in.



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by Karel Zajíc (CZ)