Is Europe building future Leadership in Space?

Compared to unemployment, debt and social issues, Space might seem irrelevant in macroeconomic terms today, although most of our communications, media and national security systems depend on satellites orbiting the Earth. Yet there has been a real acceleration in the development of new technologies aimed at opening space to future opportunities. The media interest in a company like SpaceX gave evidence that most of the people remain very interested in what can be the next frontier. Surprisingly, the same media did not give the attention which the latest achievements made by Europe in space technologies deserved. Most famous is Europe’s longstanding leadership in going to orbit thanks to Ariane rockets.

But there is much more: in November 2014, Europe succeeded for the first time in history the feat – mission “Rosetta” – of landing a module – “Philae” – down to a comet. In February 2010, Thales Alenia Space Italy and its main industrial partners presented the new Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) design baseline, a major step for the European low earth orbit return ambition. 5 years later, “mission accomplished” since the Vehicle has flown a flawless reentry and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just west of the Galapagos islands. “European Space Agency (ESA) and its Member States, together with European space industry, are now ready to take up new challenges in several fields of space transportation, in future launchers, robotic exploration or human spaceflight,” explained Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General.

Europe’s ability to returning to Earth means Europe could land on another planet someday. Indeed, mastering reentry will open a new chapter for Europe, said a communiqué issued by the ESA. “Such a capability is a cornerstone for reusable launcher stages, sample return from other planets and crew return from space, as well as for future Earth observation, microgravity research, satellite servicing and disposal missions,” it added. Far from media hype, Europe is making great strides in mastering the four essential components of space exploration: launching, orbiting, landing, re-entering. Simultaneously, the deployment of its own global navigation satellite system “Galileo” continues, adding up to Europe’s growing capacity – and possibly future leadership – in most advanced technologies and space exploration.