The European agency aims to develop a spacecraft to carry astronauts to the moon

The European Space Agency is drawing up proposals to develop spacecraft over the next decade that could carry ESA astronauts into orbit and to the Moon, according to its Director General Josef Achbacher.

Talk to the Financial Times before FT Investing in Space Summit In London, Ashbacher said that developing an autonomous human launch capability was crucial for Europe to catch up with a rapidly developing global race to space.

“What’s happening in the United States, China and India is impressive,” he said. If you go back and see where Europe stands globally, you will see that Europe did not participate at the same level. I see a lot of opportunities, some of them missed.”

A recent independent report commissioned by the European Space Agency on human and robotic space exploration found that more than 100 lunar missions had been announced before 2030, by both national space agencies and private companies. “At the moment, only two of them are led by Europe,” the statement read.

the a report He noted that Europe does not have an independent human launch capability and has relied on non-European partners to send people into space, “which threatens its future as a reliable actor in space.”

At present, the European Space Agency is working as a junior partner with the US space agency NASA on lunar exploration projects. There is no agreed timetable [with Nasa] “It’s about when a European astronaut will be on the moon, but I hope we can make it happen before the end of the decade,” Ashbacher said.

Ashbacher said the European Space Agency’s program to develop spacecraft capable of carrying European astronauts to low-Earth orbit and beyond could improve the way Europe manages space procurement.

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NASA’s decision in the early 2000s to privately purchase cargo transportation services, rather than develop its own vehicles, fueled the rise of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, now the dominant launch provider. “This is exactly the model we are discussing,” he said.

Ariane 6 test model at the European Spaceport in French Guiana © ESA / Stephane Corvaja

The European Space Agency was preparing “different scenarios and different cost estimates” to present to a meeting of ministers of member states in November. A decision to proceed with a fully funded program will be made next year.

The agency, which is independent of the EU but acts as a procurement agency, includes non-EU countries such as the United Kingdom and Switzerland. “We will certainly have enough items on the table for politicians to give us clear guidance on how Europe wants to move forward,” Ashbacher said.

However, Europe is still struggling to resolve a crisis over its current satellite launch capacity after losing access to Soyuz missiles in the wake of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. An Ariane 5 rocket, which launched in April the €1.6 billion Juice European spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter’s icy moons, is due to make its last flight this month, while its successor, Ariane 6, has been subject to years of delays. The new Vega C rocket has been parked pending investigation into a failed mission last year.

But Ashbaker said Europe already has many of the building blocks needed to absolutely develop its own human capabilities over the next decade.

ESA astronauts Tim Peake, Megan Christian, John McFall - the world's first semi-astronaut - and Rosemary Cogan

ESA astronauts, from left, Tim Peake, Megan Christian, John McFaul – the world’s first semi-astronaut – and Rosemary Cogan © Joel Saget / AFP / Getty Images

This included the European Service Module, which provides electricity, water and oxygen for NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will send astronauts to the Moon. Europe also has an automated transport vehicle that delivers cargo to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit every year.

While Ariane 6 could eventually be upgraded to have a human launch ability, this was not a foregone conclusion. “Other vehicles can be developed,” he said, in the same way that NASA’s strategy encouraged the emergence of SpaceX.

In November, the European Space Agency unveiled 17 new astronaut members — including the world’s first disabled astronaut — at a ministerial summit in Paris, which agreed to increase spending by 17 percent to 16.9 billion euros over the next decade. the next five years.

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