“So­ve­rei­gn ac­cess to space is more stra­te­gic than ever for Eu­rope”

La Tribune Hebdomadaire - - INDEPENDEN­CE -

Chi­na per­for­ming more or­bi­tal launches a year than the Uni­ted States for the first time in 2018, it may well land the title as the world’s lea­ding space po­wer. This is un­thin­kable for the Uni­ted States.

Ha­ving clo­se­ly stu­died this is­sue, LREM (En Marche) re­pre­sen­ta­tive and fa­mous ma­the­ma­ti­cian, Cé­dric Villa­ni, says that “this is not just a scien­ti­fic and tech­no­lo­gi­cal is­sue, it is al­so a high­ly po­li­ti­cal one, in­vol­ving na­tio­nal so­ve­rei­gn­ty and the le­ve­rage that such scien­ti­fic and tech­no­lo­gi­cal re­search has on the eco­no­my”. This says it all. It is up to Eu­rope and France to de­cide the re­le­vant areas on which to fo­cus their ef­forts. Along­side the not in­si­gni­fi­cant com­mer­cial and tech­no­lo­gi­cal is­sues, the no­tion of so­ve­rei­gn­ty is still key. Eu­rope has tru­ly wo­ken up in recent years, laun­ching the Ga­li­leo sa­tel­lite ra­dio na­vi­ga­tion pro­gramme that will free Eu­ro­peans from the sha­ckles of Ame­ri­ca’s GPS sys­tem and give them in­de­pen­dence from the Uni­ted States. Ga­li­leo helps make Eu­rope a sa­fer, more se­cure place and pro­jects a stron­ger Eu­rope on­to the world stage. “So­ve­rei­gn ac­cess to space comes at a cost, one that must be sha­red more equal­ly among Eu­ro­peans”, ex­plains De­fence Mi­nis­ter, Flo­rence Par­ly, in her res­ponse to the Court of Auditors’ re­port on Eu­rope’s space laun­cher po­li­cy. Eu­ro­peans need a po­wer­ful Eu­rope to pre­serve their ex­per­tise, jobs and in­de­pen­dence. This comes at a price, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in the space sec­tor. As prag­ma­tic as ever, the Uni­ted States un­ders­tood this a long time ago and has built up a consi­de­rable com­pe­ti­tive ad­van­tage in the field. Com­man­ding the hi­ghest ci­vil space bud­get in the world (NA­SA with $19.5 bil­lion in 2018 ver­sus the Eu­ro­pean Space Agen­cy’s $5.6 bil­lion), it pro­vides its laun­chers with a cap­tive mar­ket sus­tai­ned through pu­blic pro­cu­re­ment. This en­ables US ope­ra­tors like SpaceX to of­fer ve­ry low prices on the com­mer­cial mar­ket and in­flict se­rious da­mage to its com­pe­ti­tors, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in Eu­rope. “SpaceX’s success is down to overw­hel­ming fi­nan­cial sup­port from the US Go­vern­ment through pu­blic pro­cu­re­ment, and its suc­cess­ful in­dus­trial and tech­no­lo­gi­cal choices”, ex­plains the Court of Auditors in its re­port on space laun­cher po­li­cy. In 1974, since France and Eu­rope had no space laun­chers, they had to ask the Uni­ted States to put Sym­pho­nie, the old con­tinent’s first te­le­coms sa­tel­lite, in­to or­bit. Wa­shing­ton ac­cep­ted on one condi­tion: the sa­tel­lite could not be for used for com­mer­cial pur­poses. Eu­rope then rea­li­sed that a laun­cher was a so­ve­rei­gn ve­hicle be­cause, wi­thout one, it would be at the mercy of coun­tries that control­led ac­cess to space. Such a stra­te­gic in­ter­est was par­ti­cu­lar­ly im­por­tant to France, with close sy­ner­gies bet­ween its ci­vil space sec­tor and nu­clear de­terrent ac­ti­vi­ties. Ariane launch ve­hicles and bal­lis­tic mis­siles are made in the same de­si­gn of­fices and pro­duc­tion plants.

“If we aban­don our laun­chers, we will find our­selves in an un­bea­rable si­tua­tion of de­pen­den­cy across Eu­rope: what will stop our Chinese, Rus­sian and Ame­ri­can friends from concoc­ting exor­bi­tant prices, ul­ti­ma­te­ly sa­bo­ta­ging all of our in­dus­try in this field?”, Cé­dric Villa­ni asks. Both ins­ti­tu­tio­nal and com­mer­cial sa­tel­lites are laun­ched. Ins­ti­tu­tio­nal sa­tel­lites are not usual­ly open to com­pe­ti­tion be­cause of the tech­ni­cal in­ter­faces bet­ween laun­chers and sa­tel­lites. A so­ve­rei­gn laun­cher is es­sen­tial to pro­tect against the risk of a fo­rei­gn po­wer, com­mis­sio­ned to car­ry out a launch, res­tric­ting the use of a sa­tel­lite or in­ter­cep­ting its da­ta. This is why, in spite of some tech­no­lo­gi­cal gaps with in­ter­im laun­cher Ariane 6, Eu­rope must have so­ve­rei­gn ac­cess to space to launch its ins­ti­tu­tio­nal sa­tel­lites. The “Buy Eu­ro­pean Act” is al­so a stra­te­gy akin to that of the Uni­ted States, and yet we see that this year and next, SpaceX is set to launch the three SA­Rah re­con­nais­sance sa­tel­lites used by the Ger­man Ar­my...


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