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#SpaceWatchGL Perspectives: Next Gen ESA: What’s the vision?

by Markus Payer, Editor-in-Chief of SpaceWatch.Global

Flag of European Union on the blue sky

When ESA’s Director General Jan Woerner started his last 12 months at the helm of the European Space Agency end of June, he wrote a blog that witnessed a certain impatience and urgency about the future and direction of the organization. “We are at the dawn of a new space age,” he wrote, heading into an “unknown future”. He was calling for a change, urging to tackle three predominant questions: the role of ESA and its Director General in the European concert and in the global competition as well as the need for ESA to become more “agile, adaptable and flexible”.

Nobody could have said that better, and nobody could deny that Director General Jan Woerner was right. ESA’s far-flung decentralized structure often makes it difficult to understand its mechanisms; many project processes are still not speedy enough; and its role in international cooperation is often unclear for outsiders. As one space agency executive put it recently in a professional conversation with me:

“ESA’s problem is that my adolescent kids go out shopping or even to school with a NASA, not an ESA T-shirt; ESA is not cool.”

Where is ESA? Where does it stand, what does it stand for and where does it go? How does it deal with the dramatic paradigm shifts and disruptions that the global space sector is undergoing? How is the role and task of such an important European public institution defined in a sector which is inundated with private investment and challenged by fast-moving entrepreneurs from the U.S.? How can ESA create downstream value chains into different commercial non-space segments, translating space assets into cutting-edge, societally and economically beneficial applications? How can it attract talent?

As Elon Musk once said: We would prefer that young, smart and talented people do not all join banks and funds but come to space!

Young talent, that’s the keyword. Director General Jan Woerner was raising the question of his succession in his blog, opting and advocating for a “dynamic young successor”, and rightly so. The application process is starting, and we will see dozens of candidates emerge and campaign, many of them undoubtedly young and dynamic, some of them maybe even not coming from an administrative background but as entrepreneurs, start-up pioneers, impatient first and fast movers. Fresh wind, new spirit: we might even imagine the next director at the helm of ESA to be a woman, for the first time in its history.

SpaceWatch.Global wants to accompany ESA in its transition and help us to understand the transformation that it is going through. In a new editorial series, SpaceWatchGL Perspectives, we therefore invite key actors to give their views on where ESA stands today and where it should go. Next Gen ESA: What’s the vision? – this is the moment to put the cards on the table and have an open dialogue about the principles and objectives that all stakeholders can embrace for ESA’s journey into the 21st Century Space.

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