Euro Ministerial Space Confab 2012 to be Biggest Yet

Europe’s space ministers, the knights of the roundish table, in 2008. (Credit: ESA)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

ESA’s throwing a party next month, and everybody — and I mean EVERYBODY — is invited.

Well, maybe not a party per se. (Although there probably will be a few during the evening.) But, the next ESA Ministerial Council meeting in Caserta, Italy on November 20-21 will be the biggest one yet, featuring anyone in Europe with any interest in space whether they’ve joined the agency or not. And it will be crucial meet for Europe’s future in space.

Just how many groups are involved? Well, this many:

  • 20 member states, including newly minted member Poland (two more members than last time)
  • Cooperating member Canada
  • Nine European countries with cooperative agreements with ESA
  • Bulgaria, the only EU country without a cooperative agreement with ESA
  • European Union
  • Eumetsat
  • European Science Foundation
  • European Defence Agency
  • European Maritime Safety Agency.

In other words, 35 space heavyweights. And Bulgaria.

The meeting is actually pretty crucial. The ministers will be asked to settle a long-running dispute over whether to develop an upgraded Ariane 5 or to go directly to a new Ariane 6 rocket. Germany favors the former while France has been supporting the latter.

There is also the question of whether Europe will build the service module for NASA’s Orion deep space capsule in lieu of operating payments for the International Space Station. The service module would be based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle, a freighter that transports cargo to the International Space Station. Opponents of the service module project want to see the ATV technology developed for other uses.