European space policy update

Every other spring, including this spring, I say to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool to go to the Paris Air Show?” Then I realize that I have no time and no budget for such a trip (and the current lousy dollar-euro exchange rate doesn’t help matters.) So I’ll have to be content staying on this side of the Atlantic again this summer, and instead offer a quick update on European space policy.

Earlier this week the European Commission announced that it had completed the “first elements” of an overall European Space Policy. The policy’s two flagships with be the Galileo satellite navigation system and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES). The policy also features continued development of advanced satellite communications technologies, and calls on ESA to continue space technology development and scientific exploration. The policy expects that Europe will “maintain and develop” cooperation with the US but also “build up its space partnership” with Russia. Along those lines, the British newspaper The Observer reported Sunday that ESA may cooperate with Russia on the development of Kliper, a proposed successor to the Soyuz spacecraft, potentially giving Europe independent manned access to space. The policy is scheduled to be completed by November and, as one might imagine, its programs will “be subject to normal budgetary and programmatic approval procedures.”

However, one of those cornerstones of the European space policy may be in danger. On Sunday the French will go to the polls in a referendum on the EU constitution; polls suggest that voters will reject the constitution. Such a vote could disrupt a number of European initiatives, including Galileo, Space News reported this week (subscription required). The no vote would not kill the project, according to the report, because it is not tied to the constitution, but the effect of a French rejection of the constitution could at least cause some temporary disruption.

7 comments to European space policy update

  • Historically ESA has had very little to do with the EU, its funding and micromanagement come from the individual members not from the EC or the EU council. The Galileo project is a recent exception. The EU constitution has even less to do with ESA or, if the MSM are to be believed (ha ha), the people of those states holding referenda. Have no fear, decisions about monitoring the positions of EU citizen’s cars will not be affected by the almost irrelevant vote on the constitution.

  • ESA have had nothing to do with the EU. The European Union is becoming something like a federal state and ESA is an international organization. But ESA is on the way to become the space agency of the EU. There are some examples like the satellite centre and other organizations that were founded indecently and became an official institutional part of the EU later.

    Whatever the French people will decide in their poll of the constitution of the European Union we will see a developing space sector with its goal to become a major player in space exploration and space exploitation. If the constitution will come into force it will be the first constitution worldwide which mentions space exploration and exploitation (in this order) as tasks for a country.

  • Europe, by and large, does not share to “pro-colonization” ideology of many American space advocates. Since I believe it is that ideology that drives the overwhelming amount of money we Americans are prepared to spend on spaceflight, and also much of our innovation, Europe will continue to follow the United States until that changes. They are unlikely to become a space leader until they invent the new industries, rather than copy them (e.g., Galileo as a copy of GPS; Ariane-V as a better Titan-IV; comsats essentially identical to older American designs; or, for that matter, the A380 as a bigger and better 747).

    On the other hand, Jeff’s analysis fails to mention the European drive to develop satellite components so as not to rely on US components. This is a direct result of the insane ITAR regulations the Republican Congress fosted on us in one of their more silly attacks on the Clinton Administration that are slowly but surely strangling the United States’ commercial satellite industry.

    — Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    “the insane ITAR regulations..”

    What part of ITAR regs do you find “insane”?

    “..the Republican Congress fosted on us in one of their more silly attacks on the Clinton Administration”

    Should US technology be sold to China so that they can modernize their ICBM fleet?

  • Hello, Cecil,

    The ones that treat civilian communications satellites as weapons while we happily sell things that actually are weapons to almost all comers. I have no problem with banning the sale of satellites for launch on Chinese rockets. But, I have a big problem with saying you cannot sell a civilian comsat to, say, England, without it going through the same review that, say, the explort of a flighter plane would have to go through.

    I’d be more sympathetic if the United States were not the world’s largest exporter of arms. Why don’t we ban civilian airliners since they can be easily converted to tankers and thereby increase the range of China’s fighter force? Does it make any sense at all to hand the Europeans the comsat market, thereby removing any opportunity we do have for control of this technology?

    No, this was an opportunity for some supposedly free-trade Republican lawmakers to undermine the Clinton Administration, and a great example of ideology and the persuit of power trumping the national interest — especially our interest. If we make it hard to export civilian space technolgy, just who are all of these commercial space companies we hope to foster going to sell their wares to?

    — Donald

  • Jeff Foust

    Mr. Trotter,

    The ITAR concern stems from the inclusion of both launch vehicle and satellite component technologies on the US Munitions List, which results in a more restrictive and onerous export control process for developers of spacecraft and launch vehicles (orbital and suborbital). This is a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences: while designed to prevent high technologies from ending up in the hands of the “bad guys”, it also ends up hurting US companies as customers turn to other sources, like Europe, as Mr. Robertson noted above. In another case, ITAR could require operators of suborbital space tourism vehicles to obtain export licenses for each individual passenger who is not a US citizen, depending on the amount of technical information the operators have to divulge to those passengers. Export control is something that worries just about everyone in the aerospace business, from the small entrepreneurial firms to the giants. See this article by Taylor Dinerman for some more background.

    One of the problems of export control laws that it does not treat nations nominally allied with the US (like the UK, Canada, etc.) any differently than other countries. Virgin Galactic has run into this, and it working through its export control paperwork just so it can access the technical details of SpaceShipTwo. (See this article I wrote about a month ago for The Space Review on this particular example.) There has been some discussion on Capitol Hill of establishing a “two-tier” export control regime that would treat allied nations differently, but there’s nothing to suggest anything will be done on this in the foreseeable future.

  • TORO

    Bottom line is the Europeans won’t be united anytime soon. Even if they get “united”,look at our “united” states of the American “colony” – even “united states” can’t seem to get very united on anything LEO or higher.

    As for colonizing the moon, mars, etc – there is no political drive: ain’t gonna happen in my lifetime.