It’s high time Macron or Juncker gave a speech at ESA

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Space entrepreneurs believe a moon base will be important for human exploration of Mars. [European Southern Observatory/Flickr]

Europe’s leaders need to set forth the threats to Europe that could come from failure to exercise space leadership. Vidvuds Beldavs suggests what Emmanuel Macron or Jean-Claude Juncker could say to take Europe to the forefront of space exploration.

Vidvuds Beldavs is a physicist at the University of Latvia. He is a futurist and founding member of International Lunar Decade.

At the recently convened National Space Council US Vice-President Pence announced: “We will return NASA astronauts to the Moon …to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond.” The Space Council includes the Secretary of State, other cabinet members and key officials involved with national security, energy, research, and economic development.

Elon Musk is launching reusable rockets offering significant reduction in launch costs. The Ariane 6, Europe’s entry in the reusable launch competition, may be obsoleted before its first test launch in 2020. Bezos has also achieved reusability. Other space entrepreneurs and countries like China, India, Russia, and Japan are progressing with plans to mine the Moon and asteroids and to develop industries in outer space.

Nowhere in the priorities identified in French President Emmanuel Macron’s vision for Europe speech on 26 September is there mention of outer space. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also avoided space as an important issue for Europe in his State of the Union speech. While these top European leaders demonstrate no commitment to leadership in space, key priorities raised by both depend on existing and to be developed EU space capabilities and technologies.

Presidents Macron and Juncker need to address the opportunity of outer space for member states and the people of the EU. They also need to set forth the threats to Europe that could come from failure to exercise space leadership. Here is what either one could say if they decide to visit the European Space Agency (ESA).

Colleagues, fellow Europeans, I am here today to set forth a new vision for the European Union in outer space.

The security and future well-being of our people depend on the space technologies and capabilities developed by the research centres and industry of Europe. Priorities identified by the European Council and Commission depend on space capabilities developed by member states together with ESA. The Digital Union and disruptive innovations on the horizon coming with smart cities, autonomous transportation, robotics, and precision farming depend on space capabilities. The Commission has led in the development of Galileo for positioning and navigation and the Copernicus constellation of satellites for Earth observation. But satellite services markets are undergoing disruptive change as increasingly capable competitors enter satellite markets in increasing numbers. The EU must change faster and better to stay ahead of competitors.

NATO and EU defensive capabilities are dependent on space services to coordinate military and security forces and to secure European borders. Rogue states and non-state actors are gaining space capabilities formerly the domain of leading powers in space. The threat of anti-satellite weapons from such actors can no longer be ignored. The EU needs a union-wide space command to counter emerging threats. EU space defenses need to be closely coordinated with NATO, the US and other partners.

European space industry and the research community have shown a strong interest in the Moon Village idea raised by ESA DG Jan Woerner. The Commission, European Council, and European Parliament have been notably silent. This must change. Moon Village is the next stage in international cooperation in space following the highly successful International Space Station. Unlike ISS Moon Village envisions industry participation from the outset. Disruptive innovations are likely in multiple areas critical to the future of Europe.  While developments in space have often been measured in decades, we are entering an era of extraordinary change. The EU has the opportunity now to do much more in space for the benefit of Europe and humankind. This opportunity must not be missed.

The Outer Space Treaty calls for the exploration and use of outer space to be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind. International cooperation is key in outer space as it is in meeting global challenges like climate change. The EU is a union of sovereign states. No one else has comparable experience to foster cooperation among sovereign states.

I call for the following measures:

  1. An EU commitment to develop a self-sustaining Earth-Moon economy starting with support for the Moon Village and endorsement of the International Lunar Decade. The EU has created funding vehicles to engage industry in partnership to accelerate disruptive innovations. Moon Village offers major opportunities for innovation in materials, robotics, ecological engineering, energy systems, health, and more.
  2. EU action to address policy gaps relating to outer space. There are no agreed to rules for appropriation of outer space resources. The absence of rules of conduct for outer space activities poses increasing risks with space debris and other concerns. I will work for France to ratify the Moon Treaty and to use the international regime called for in the Treaty as a process to clarify outer space policy to provide regulatory certainty with minimal regulatory burden for industry.
  3. Better coordination of outer space policies and activities among member states. I encourage all EU member states to develop laws governing space business and to become parties to the Moon Treaty to facilitate the more rapid negotiation of clear policies urgently needed by industry as well as for global security.
  4. More effective integration of outer space policy in EU development assistance. This is important within the EU neighborhood policy, specifically with Ukraine where the survival of a strong national space industry is under threat. I call for greater effort to engage space research and emerging space business in Africa and other developing regions.

Outer space needs to be a much higher priority for the EU than it has been. Paris is the home of ESA. I strongly support ESA and applaud its many successes and contributions to the EU and to the world. Thank you for your commitment and excellence of achievement! You have my commitment to the vision of Moon Village and the realisation of the potential of outer space for Europe.

Musk, Bezos and other American space entrepreneurs are launching a new interplanetary space age with the commitment of the US government. Let’s make sure Europe is part of it.  Now is the time for European leaders to set this in motion with their visionary speech.