When the American Congress enacted the Commercial Space Launch Amendment Act in 2004, the world changed for many entrepreneurs. The act enabled private space exploration to become legal, in order to (as NASA wrote) “advance the commercial space sector”. By now, many companies have developed active space plans to either partner with NASA or establish themselves in the space.
But what are the consequences of space privatisation? Firstly, commercial motivations will outpace military applications, which means that space missions will be less dependent on military expenditures to be economically feasible. NASA may benefit from the cost-effectiveness of this measure – Astropreneurship, or space entrepreneurship, has made the per-launch cost to drop from $4 billion to less than $50 million, thus allowing NASA to use its money elsewhere. Some of the big private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been able to cut costs through technological advancement and are challenging old space monopolies. In fact, this privatisation is pushing innovation, making companies compete to come up with new technologies. However, this competition is usually driven by profit and the pursuit of customers, rather than the urge to show dominance by being the first to achieve a certain goal. Profit, not research, drives private companies’ bottom line, which may result in several space exploration projects being left on the oblivion that might have benefited humankind.
Many have argued that a second space race has begun, with companies competing against each other and against government organisations. But this time, competition extends amongst countries. The U.S. has always been a leader in the space exploration, but a diverse range of motivations is pushing other countries to space: Japan, China, South Korea, India, North Korea and Iran, count as its newest competitors. Many of these newcomers are concentrated in Asia, led by South Korea and Japan, two of the world’s most technologically advanced nations. But what role plays Europe in all this? How do they participate in this space race?
Concerning the role of Europe in the space, ESA is in the limelight. The European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states and the world’s second largest space agency. ESA develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, and cooperates in the human exploration of space. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its member states, ESA can undertake programmes and activities beyond the scope of any single European country. At the moment, the Agency has joint projects with the European Union, NASA of the United States, and is participating in the International Space Station together with the United States (NASA), Russia and Japan (JAXA). Although ESA is not an agency of the European Union, it shares strong ties with the EU, with various agreements in place and being worked on, to define the legal status of ESA with regard to the EU. With goals such as maximising the integration of space into European society and economy, fostering a globally competitive European space sector and ensuring European autonomy in protecting its infrastructures, the agency expects to strengthen links with Europe, and so by 2030 Europe should be able to fully benefit from ESA’s space solutions to implement its policies.
In July 2015, Johann Dietrich Wörner became the Director of the European Space Agency. Recently, he called on member states to cooperate with China in order to develop key space technologies, despite rivalry with other world powers. Claiming that cooperation was needed worldwide, he affirmed that isolation, would not be a good instrument to secure the future.
“For me, it’s clear that if we open the doors for cooperation then cooperation will happen.” – Johann Dietrich Wörner
On next Wednesday 20th of February, we will have the honour to receive Mr Wörner for an exclusive interview with Room for Discussion. Interested in what the future in space will look like for Europe? Make sure not to miss the interview at 1 p.m.! Furthermore, Rostra will release an analysis if its interview to keep you up-to-date.
Hope to see you all there!