Tag Archives: European Space Agency

European push for more space regulations under international law

In the European space community and governmental circles, there appears to be a new push to revise the Outer Space Treaty, focused specifically on increasing the treaty’s regulatory power in the area of large satellite constellations and space junk.

This week [the city of] Darmstadt hosts a closed-door, governmental meeting of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Whether it was planned or not, the IADC is set to discuss a much-needed renewal of international space law, which is, experts admit, rather vague. But how far they will go is anyone’s guess.

…There is a palpable sense that the space community needs enforceable international laws and regulations, rather than – or merely to bolster – its current inter-agency agreements. They’ve served us so far, but few countries have actually signed up to them. That leaves a lot of wriggle-room, especially as space becomes increasingly commercialized.

Most of our space activities are governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. It’s a short document that primarily seeks to ensure space operations are “peaceful” and for the good of all humanity. It is complemented by other agreements, including a set of documents on mitigating space debris. “We have a good, coherent set of justified rules and we don’t intend to alter them drastically,” said Christophe Bonnal of the French Space Agency, CNES, and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in closing remarks last week. “But we will improve them at the IADC meeting to include mega-constellations.”

It appears to me that this is a push-back against Luxembourg’s recent announcement that it is going to request a renegotiation of the Outer Space Treaty to allow for property rights in space. What this article is advocating instead is that the treaty increase its control and regulatory power over private satellite constellations, which at present are not covered by the treaty.

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ESA contract for hypersonic engine research

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency has signed a research contract for 10 million euros with Reaction Engines to build a ground-based prototype of its hypersonic rocket engine.

While ground testing is always necessary, I am not sure what they gain by building a solely ground-based prototype. Hypersonic engines use the oxygen in the atmosphere, much like jet engines. Their operation however is dependent on altitude as well as the speed in which they are traveling, neither of which is easily tested on the ground.

This project is also one part of the United Kingdom’s new space agency program.

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Europe aims for the Moon

The new colonial movement: The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a video interview this week that building a lunar base is their next major goal.

The head of the multinational agency, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, said the village would “serve science, business, tourism and even mining purposes.” In a video interview posted on the agency’s website, Woerner said a permanent lunar base is the next logical step in space exploration. He said the village could replace the International Space Station in the future. The ISS has been continuously occupied since 2000. It was originally set to be decommissioned by 2020, but its operation has been extended through 2024. The agency said it could take 20 years before the technology is ready to make the Moon village happen.

My next words might sound familiar (see the post below), but few technical details were provided in the video. Instead it appears from the article and the actual interview that the focus here is to establish a bureaucracy, not design rockets or spaceships. I suspect Woerner is looking for projects that can justify the existence of ESA and its bureaucracy, not actually build anything. That he thinks it will take 20 years to make it happen, based on our technology today, is strong evidence of this, since the pace of innovation in the past decade suggests instead that such a Moon colony could happen far quicker, once private space starts making real money in orbit.

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Europe might end its ISS partnership in 2020

Despite agreements by Russia, Canada, and Japan to extend their ISS partnership with the U.S. through 2024, both France and Germany of the European Space Agency (ESA) are having second thoughts and might pull out in 2020 instead.

In separate statements Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, the heads of the French and German space agencies said a detailed study is under way to assess the future operating cost of the station, and whether the cost can be justified given the pressure on near-term budgets.

Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, which is Germany’s space agency, said DLR would make no promises until after a full review of ISS’s value. “In view of the high cost involved and the resulting implications on budgets of [European Space Agency] member states, we have to evaluate very carefully costs and benefits of a continued participation in the ISS,” Ehrenfreund said in a Jan. 5 statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “It’s only based on this evaluation that we will be able to take a definite position.”

Germany has been Europe’s ISS champion — its biggest paymaster and most vocal booster — for more than 20 years and at times has had to strong-arm France into boosting its support under threat of reduced German backing of Europe’s Ariane rocket program, a French priority.

Eventually, all the partners running ISS with the U.S. are going to come to this decision, which means the U.S. government should begin thinking about what it does at that time. I say, when that time comes the government will privatize the station, giving it to the private companies best able to make a profit from it. And by 2024 the U.S. is likely to have a number of companies quite capable of doing so, from SpaceX to Blue Origin to Bigelow.

There also will be no reason to destroy the station at that time. Being modular, much of it is relatively new, and what is old could be replaced with relatively simplicity. This is a national asset that should not be abandoned nonchalantly.

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A streamlined Arianespace to build Ariane 6?

The competition heats up: The merged Airbus/Safran rocket division has surprised the European Space Agency with a proposed new design for Ariane 6.

The Airbus-Safran proposal, if carried to its logical end, would mean a single company building Ariane vehicles, with fewer subcontractors and much less government oversight. It would likely mean the end of the CNES launcher division as industry takes more control of Ariane design and operations.

In other words, the contractors who build the rockets for ESA want more power over that construction. They want less government oversight, and more ownership of the rocket they build.

Sounds like what’s happening in the U.S., doesn’t it? Giving ownership to the rocket builders means they not only have more flexibility and thus can be more efficient, it makes it easier for them to innovate in both construction and sales.

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Arianespace, under severe competitive price pressure from SpaceX, begs for more subsidies from ESA.

The competition heats up? Arianespace, under severe competitive price pressure from SpaceX, begs for more subsidies from ESA.

In comments responding to a Feb. 11 audit of the French Accounting Court, Cour des Comptes, Israel said that since 2005 Arianespace has improved its competitiveness to the extent that some €200 million ($273 million) in annual subsidies from the 20-nation European Space Agency (ESA) have been halved. In addition, the reliability of the Ariane 5, which has seen 58 consecutive successes since 2002, has allowed the company to increase launch prices. The company also has reduced costs with a recent bulk buy of 18 Ariane 5 rockets that saved Arianespace 5%.

Nevertheless, Israel said the arrival of the medium-lift Falcon 9 as a competitor at the low end of the commercial communications satellite market, with prices substantially lower than what Arianespace charges for Ariane 5, means the company may be forced to ask ESA governments to increase price supports beyond the current €100 million per year. [emphasis mine]

In other words, this government-funded boondoggle doesn’t know how to compete effectively on the open market, and wants an additional government bailout to keep its head above water.

Note also the text in bold. Several commenters on this website have repeatedly insisted that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 was not the bargain claimed, despite numerous examples in the past three years of their competition saying they were that inexpensive. This statement by Arianespace’s CEO reaffirms the fact that SpaceX is cheaper, and is forcing major changes to the launch industry.

In related news, French government auditors have found much wrong with Arianespace’s current long term commercial strategy.

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