ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, has concluded in Seville, Spain, with the endorsement of the most ambitious plan to date for the future of ESA and the whole European space sector. The meeting brought together ministers with responsibility for space activities in Europe, along with Canada and observers from the EU.
The Member States were asked to approve a comprehensive set of programmes to secure Europe’s independent access to and use of space in the 2020s, boost Europe’s growing space economy, and make breakthrough discoveries about Earth, our Solar System and the Universe beyond, all the while making the responsible choice to strengthen the efforts we are making to secure and protect our planet.
For the first time in 25 years, there will be a significant boost in funding for ESA’s world-class and inspirational science programme, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of who we are and where we come from. It will allow the first gravitational wave detector in space, LISA, to fly alongside the black hole mission Athena and enable fundamental advances in our understanding of the basic physics of the Universe. There is also a strong reinforcement and accordingly funding for research and development and ESA’s laboratories, to underpin the missions of the future.
With worldwide partners, Europe will take its place at the heart of space exploration going farther than we have ever gone before – we continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030 as well as contributing vital transportation and habitation modules for the Gateway, the first space station to orbit the Moon. ESA’s astronauts recruited in 2009 will continue to receive flight assignments until all of them have been to space for a second time, and we will also begin the process of recruiting a new class to continue European exploration in low Earth orbit and beyond. European astronauts will fly to the Moon for the first time. Member States have confirmed European support for a ground-breaking Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA.
ESA will help develop the commercial benefits of space for innovators and governments across the Member States, boosting competitiveness in the NewSpace environment. We will develop the first fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks, as well as next-generation optical technology for a fibre-like ‘network in the sky’, marking a transformation in the satellite communication industry. Satellite communications will join forces with navigation to begin satnav for the Moon, while closer to home commercial companies can access funding for new applications of navigation technologies through the NAVISP programme.
Our Member States have committed to the responsible use of our environment both on and off our planet. ESA’s world-leading position in Earth observation will be strengthened with the arrival of 11 new missions, in particular addressing topics linked to climate change, Arctic and Africa.
There was also a significant development with the adoption of Space Safety as a new basic pillar of ESA’s activities. This will lead to new projects in the areas of keeping the space environment operational – through the removal of dangerous debris and plans for automation of space traffic control – and early warnings and mitigation of damage to Earth from hazards from space such as asteroids and solar flares. The Hera mission marks a joint collaboration with NASA to test asteroid deflection capabilities. New investments in the field of cyber-resilience and cyber-training have also been confirmed.
The coming years will also see ESA reinforce its relationship with the European Union and increase its own organisational agility, effectiveness and efficiency.
“Bringing together our Member States, 22 governments that change regularly, and agreeing on such inspirational projects to share a joint future in space might seem an impossible task on paper. But in two days in Seville, we have proved it is possible,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner. “It is possible because we work together to develop good programmes, and it is possible because people are dedicated, and invest all their effort in a long and thorough decision process involving the scientific community, industry and national delegations.
“Together we have put in place a structure that sees inspiration, competitiveness and responsibility underpin our actions for the coming years, with ESA and Europe going beyond our previous achievements with challenging new missions and targets for growth along with the wider industry.”
Co-chairing the meeting, Manuel Heitor, Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education declared: “Today at Space19+ in Seville, together with my colleagues Ministers from ESA Member States, we secured a further step to foster Europe’s competitive position in the global space arena. We approved an ambitious portfolio of space programmes, and addressed the challenges linked to the sector. We therefore invited all ESA Member States to seriously engage in taking stock of space activities in a continuous way and strengthen the role of ESA in Europe in close articulation with EC. In addition, we invited ESA Member States to work with ESA to take the necessary steps towards modernising ESA´s industrial policy and guarantee the agency evolves in a way to match a constantly changing environment, changing markets and a fast rate of digital transformation of our societies.”
Also co-chair of the meeting, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frédérique Vidal said: “Space19+ has demonstrated the value of space as a critical infrastructure and enabler for our daily lives. Thanks to the European excellence in space, we are able to mutually tackle human and global challenges such as climate change, space safety and security. In subscribing to the programmes, Member States have made a great step towards inspiring society and renewing our ambition to address those challenges. The high level of subscriptions that was decided at the Sevilla ministerial conference will permit to strengthen the European excellence in space and will also commit us towards European citizens.”