PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union will plough more money into rocket launches, satellite communication and space exploration to preserve its often unsung successes in space and keep up with US and Chinese ambitions, its space chief said on Sunday.
Over the past decades, Europe has sought to build independent access to space from U.S. and Russian pioneers to help its industry, with successes such as Ariane rockets or GPS-rival satnav Galileo.
But the recent emergence of U.S. competitor SpaceX and its reusable rockets as well as China’s rapid advances, including the first ever landing on the far side of the Moon last year, is giving new urgency to Europe’s ambitions.
“Space is one of Europe’s strong points, and we’re giving ourselves the means to speed up,” European Commissioner Thierry Breton, whose brief include the space sector, told Reuters in an interview.
Breton, the former French head of IT company Atos, said that for the first time, the EU budget will be used to support new technology to launch rockets, including reusable ones.
The EU will for the first time sign a 1 billion euro agreement with Arianespace with guaranteed orders to give it more visibility, in exchange for more innovation.
Related slideshow: Best space and celestial images of 2020 so far (Provided by Photo Services)
Russian search and rescue team members help NASA astronaut Christina Koch to leave the Russian Soyuz MS-13 space capsule after she landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan on Feb. 6. Koch landed in Kazakhstan after 328 days in space, the longest continuous spaceflight by a female astronaut. During her time on the International Space Station (ISS), she and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir also became the first women to participate in an all-female spacewalk.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a payload of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., on March 18.
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying an Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) military communications satellite launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 26. The launch was the first under the newly established U.S. Space Force.
Hundreds of thousands of star trails span the night sky over St Paul’s cathedral in London, England, on April 3.
A combination of multi-exposure shots show star trails during the Lyrids meteor shower over Michaelskapelle in Niederhollabrunn, Austria, on April 21.
A long-exposure photo shows a satellite and meteors crossing the sky over the town of Herrnleis, Austria, during Lyrid meteor shower on April 21.
In this picture taken with a long exposure, the Milky Way stretches across the clear night sky above Salgótarján, Hungary, on April 22.
A stack of images shows the path taken by the ISS while passing in front of the sun, as seen from Brynmawr, Wales, on April 24.
A series of satellites from SpaceX’s Starlink program passes over Lichtervelde, Belgium, on April 24. The Starlink is a massive network of satellites that will help provide low-cost internet to remote areas.
Trees completely covered in snow are seen under a spectacular display of the Northern Lights above the Riisitunturi National Park in Finland on April 28.
Long March-5B, China’s large carrier rocket, blasts off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan, China, on May 5. On its maiden flight, the Long March-5B sent the trial version of China’s new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space.
The Flower Moon, the last supermoon of 2020, rises behind the Statue of Liberty in New York City, New York, U.S., on May 7, as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S. The third of the spring full moons of this year, it was seen around the world from May 6 until the morning of May 8.
Satellites Xingyun-2 01 and 02 are launched by a Kuaizhou-1A (KZ-1A) carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China on May 12. The satellites were sent into orbit to test the space-based Internet of Things (IoT) communications technology.
The ISS passes over Farley Mount monument in Hampshire, England, on May 24.
The hazy contour of the Milky Way is seen in the early morning sky over Irixoa, Spain, on May 27.
A handout photo made available by the website Cielos La Palma shows a view of the Milky Way in the early morning sky above the pink tajinaste (Echium wildpretii) plants in Garafía, Canary Islands, Spain, on May 27.
This photo provided by NASA shows Bob Behnken (2nd, R) and Doug Hurley (R) joining the crew at the International Space Station (ISS) after the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked on May 31. The astronauts were part of the “Launch America” mission – officially known as Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission – which sees NASA partnering with private space company SpaceX. This was the first time in nine years that humans left U.S. soil in a U.S. rocket to reach low-Earth orbit.
The full moon is seen behind palm trees during the Strawberry Moon lunar eclipse in the sky over Basra, Iraq, on June 5.
The “ring of fire” created during annular solar eclipse when the moon moves in front of the sun is seen in Xiamen, China, on June 21.
“SpaceX has redefined the standards for launchers, so Ariane 6 is a necessary step, but not the ultimate aim: we must start thinking now about Ariane 7,” Breton said.
Breton, who hopes the European Commission will provide 16 billion euros for space in its next budget, said he would propose a 1 billion euro European Space Fund to boost startups. He also wants to launch a competition to give free access to satellites and launchers to startups, to spur innovation.
For the Galileo satnav system, Breton said he would bring forward to the end of 2024 instead of 2027 the rollout of a new generation of satellites, “the most modern in the world”, that can interact with each other and provide a more precise signal.
He wants to launch a new satellite system that can give high-speed Internet access to all Europeans, and begin work on a Space Traffic Management system to avoid collisions, made more likely with the rapid increase in the number of satellites.
(Reporting by Michel Rose)