It’s a quiet week for space policy in the US because of the Thanksgiving holiday, but across the Atlantic it’s a very big week for space. Today and tomorrow ministers from ESA’s member states (now 20 with the accession of Poland this week) are meeting in Naples to make decisions on the future of the agency’s major programs. The stakes are high: even ESA calls the meeting “Two days that decide Europe’s space future.”
A wide range of issues are expected to be up for consideration during the ministerial meeting. They include whether to cooperate with NASA on development of the Orion spacecraft by developing the vehicle’s service module. The future of the workhorse Ariane 5 launch vehicle will also be up for debate: should ESA support upgrades to the vehicle, or start work on a next-generation Ariane 6? (Elon Musk offered his thoughts on the debate to the BBC recently, claiming that the “Ariane 5 has no chance” to compete against his Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, and that ESA should instead focus on Ariane 6.) Earth and space science programs will also be up for discussion, including perhaps the future of the ExoMars program. Off the table, though, is a proposed lunar lander mission: German media reported this weekend that the project, supported by the German space agency, was unable to win promises of funding from other major ESA member states.