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Europe Moves Toward Independent Human Spaceflight Capability

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
February 16, 2022
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Credit: ESA

European leaders kicked off the process of developing an independent human spaceflight capability at a space summit chaired by French President Emmaneul Macron on Wednesday.

Officials representing the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Union (EU) directed ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher to initiate detailed discussions on how to initiate the program.

“A high-level advisory group will be established; it will report progress to the next ESA Council of Ministers held in November 2022 ahead of a space summit held in 2023,” the space agency said in a press release.

“I am very happy to accept President Macron’s proposal to establish a high-level advisory group on ‘human space exploration for Europe’,” Aschbacher said. “This decision will shape what Europe will look like in the decade to come. We have to involve experts from all walks of life and mainly from non-space, for example historians, economists, geo-political experts, explorers on Earth, and philosophers to fully grasp all its implications and help us take the right decision.”

If the program is given the go ahead, Europe would join the United States, Russia and China in an elite group capable of launching astronauts into orbit. India is planning to join the club next year with the launch of its first human spaceflight under its Gaganyaan program.

On Wednesday, the Association of Space Explorers – Europe issued a manifesto on Wednesday calling leaders to develop an independent human spaceflight capability. The group represents astronauts from across the continent and is part of the larger international Association of Space Explorers.

“To enable us to bring these values forward, to shape the future of space exploration, one key piece of the puzzle is missing: we need to be able to count on our own autonomous access to space for humans. Power is the capability and the capacity to act: only then, as fully fledged global partners, we will have a seat at the decision-making table,” the manifesto said.

It is understood that this capability comes at the price of an initial investment. Yet it is a myth that space exploration is prohibitively expensive: on the contrary, the recent interest of the private sector shows that it is an accelerator and multiplier for the entire economy, and it is well affordable for Europe. It is a superbly powerful tool to project our values and capabilities in a globally visible and awe-inspiring domain,” the document added.

“Imagine the powerful inspiration and sense of European identity provided to young Europeans, seeing their fellow Europeans launch on a European transportation system, to peacefully work in space together with their international partners,” the group said.

To date, European astronauts have flown aboard American, Russian and Soviet spacecraft. ESA has sent astronauts to China to train for future flights aboard that nation’s orbital vehicles.

ESA is a partner in the International Space Station along with Russia, Japan and Canada. The space agency is also part of the U.S.-led Artemis program, which plans to land astronauts on the surface of the moon and construct a space station known as the lunar Gateway in orbit around Earth’s nature satellite.