Preview of the ESA Ministerial Meeting

ESA ministerial meeting in Naples. (Credit: ESA)
ESA ministerial meeting in Naples. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS, 27 November 2014 (ESA PR) The next Council at Ministerial Level (C/M 14) for the European Space Agency (ESA) takes place in Luxembourg on 2 December. The main topics for decision are reflected in three Resolutions:

  • the Resolution on Europe’s access to space, which recognises the strategic and socio-economic value for Europe to maintain an independent, reliable and affordable access to space for institutional and commercial European customers and underlines the new governance principles related to the exploitation of Europe’s next launcher, Ariane 6, and of the evolution of Vega, Vega-C;
  • the Resolution on Europe’s space exploration strategy, addressing ESA’s three destinations (low-Earth orbit (LEO), Moon and Mars) and, for the LEO destination, in particular the International Space Station (ISS) Programme; and, finally,
  • the Resolution on ESA evolution.

Europe’s Access to Space

Space activities require independent access to space, so the decision to be taken on Europe’s next-generation launcher is of fundamental importance. Ariane 5, with its roots planted in the Ministerial meeting in 1985, is a remarkable European success story: it has now had more than 60 successful launches in a row, it has secured over 50% of the commercial market for launch services and has generated direct economic benefits in Europe exceeding 50 billion euros.

Artist's impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)
Artist’s impression of Ariane 6. (Credit: ESA)

However, the world launch service market is changing rapidly, in both supply and demand.

On the supply side, new non-European launch service providers are now present in the commercial market at highly competitive prices, providing a challenge to the cost model of Ariane 5.

On the demand side, satellites are also changing. The commercial market, consisting mostly of telecommunication satellites, favours the introduction of electric propulsion, which could reverse the decades-long trend of higher and higher tonnages and will require new orbit injection strategies.

At the same time, there is an increasing number of European institutional payloads with the advent in particular of the Galileo and Copernicus constellations, providing a fairly stable market for recurrent launches of medium-sized satellites.

In response to these rapid changes, the ESA Executive and European launcher industry have defined a modular Ariane 6 in two configurations to serve the medium and heavy launch segments as from 2020, and a Vega upgraded launch system (Vega C) to serve the small launch segment. Ariane 6 will profit from the best re-use of Ariane 5 Midterm Evolution results and investments and from the common use of a solid rocket motor (P120C) as both first stage of Vega C and strap-on booster for Ariane 6.

In Luxembourg, Ministers will therefore be asked to take decisions on the development of Ariane 6 and Vega C which, through modularity and flexibility, will be able to satisfy the European institutional market requirements and to compete on the world-wide market.

These development decisions are associated with a new governance of the European launcher sector allocating increased responsibilities to industry and with a decision point by Participating States in 2016 on the continuation of Ariane 6 on the basis of a set of technical and financial criteria, including respective commitments for the exploitation phase.

The budget required from Member States for completion of Ariane 6 and Vega C development programme is 3.8 billion  Euro.

ISS Exploitation and Space Exploration

Within the three destinations of exploration (LEO, Moon, Mars), the operation and utilisation of the International Space Station is an essential element.

In addition to the invaluable research activities which are conducted on board the ISS, the Station yields a wealth of experience for ESA and its international partners that will be crucial as we plan the next stages of human exploration.

The decisions to be taken in December by Ministers relate to supporting ESA’s ISS exploitation activities for the next three years (to the end of 2017), at a cost of €820 million, as well as supporting its research activities (ELIPS Programme) with additional funding.

As a contribution to the ISS common operation costs, ESA is developing NASA’s new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Service Module, drawing upon the expertise gained with the ATV. Funding to complete the MPCV-ESM development is included in the €820 million to be funded at C/M14.

Regarding the “Moon destination”, ESA is proposing preparatory elements of a contribution to Russia’s Luna-Resource Lander (planned for launch in 2019) and Lunar Polar Sample Return (planned for launch in the early 2020s) missions; a full decision on this programme would be sought at the Ministerial in 2016.

Regarding the “Mars destination”, ESA’s ambitious ExoMars programme, involving two missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018, is also on the table for further subscription in order to ensure the implementation of the ExoMars programme. In addition, the Mars Robotic Exploration Preparation Programme (MREP-2) is proposed for further subscriptions, allowing for the adequate preparation of future exploration activities, leading to a broad Mars Sample Return mission in which Europe should be involved as a full partner.

ESA Evolution

The third topic on the agenda for Ministers, the Evolution of ESA, focuses on the vision to enable ESA to maintain its role as one of the world-leading space institutions, addressing its key relationships with its partners and its efficiency.

The main partners of ESA are: its Member States, the scientific communities, industry, the European Union, European non-Member States and the non-European States. These relationships are intricately interrelated and driven by the common objectives of achieving a competitive European space sector and ensuring maximum return on public investment in space.

The previous Ministerial Council in 2012 decided to establish a High-Level Forum involving industry, the Member States and the ESA Executive. This has met twice and made a number of recommend-ations to the ESA Director General. The most important of these is to request that industry be given a greater degree of responsibility in ESA R&D programmes, with a commensurate change in risks and rewards sharing. The Forum also proposed that ESA increase its presence in the development of space services and be prepared to be an economic actor in the upstream space sector.

Since 2012, measures have been taken to strengthen ESA’s relationships with its Member States, seeking better coordination and cooperation of space programmes in Europe through the sharing of information on national space-related programmes. Ministers are invited to go further in this area to achieve mutual further benefits.

ESA’s relationship with the EU both in programmes and in setting the context in which the European space sector operates is vitally important for Europe. C/M 12 mandated the Director General to elaborate and assess scenarios together with the European Commission for responding to a series of objectives on how this relationship might develop.

After intense discussions among delegations of Member States, Ministers are invited to confirm the preference of Member States for a relationship between ESA and the European Union which keeps ESA as an independent, world-class intergovernmental space organisation and makes ESA the long-term partner of choice of the EU for jointly defining and implementing the European Space Policy together with their respective Member States.

Publication of Resolutions

Following the conclusion of the Ministerial Meeting, the adopted Resolutions will be made public on ESA’s web site.

  • Maybe ESA should just license Falcons from SpaceX and build those. Kind of like how Americans built Rolls-Royce engines for the P-51 under license, because the Merlin was simply the best engine for it, instead of trying to come up with a homemade design out of ego or national pride.

    I’m guessing if their national survival depended on it (as it was during WW2) then it’s what they would do.

  • Tonya

    Arrangements in wartime between allies are not exactly comparable to the commercial world.

  • Roncie Weatherington

    Why does the meeting photo look eerily like the space station meeting in “2001 A Space Odyssey?”

  • Douglas Messier

    If only these guys were working on something as interesting….

  • Terry Stetler
  • Solartear

    It is not just what you build, but how you build it. ESA could not get away with all the manufacturing being done in one building, and not for the wages or hours it sounds like SpaceX does.

    Even if ESA could, SpaceX does not what to lose its advantage in mass production but sending sales and profits elsewhere. Why would SpaceX agree to this?

  • joe tusgadaro

    Maybe we should just disband ESA altogether and just get SpaceX to be our agency?

  • It is not just what you build, but how you build it. ESA could not get away with all the manufacturing being done in one building, and not for the wages or hours it sounds like SpaceX does.

    Yeah you’re right about that, they have to spread the work around to various countries and pay union wages and so on. They’d make a mess of it.

    Even if ESA could, SpaceX does not what to lose its advantage in mass production but sending sales and profits elsewhere. Why would SpaceX agree to this?

    Well that’s only true if SpaceX is able to satisfy all customer orders. But if they can’t build rockets fast enough to keep up with demand, they’re losing sales. A customer that has to wait years for a Falcon delivery will go with a competitor even if they have to pay more. In this scenario it makes sense to increase production by licensing to other manufacturers.

  • therealdmt

    I wish they’d decide to build something akin to the Altair lunar lander.

    Yes, it would be useless without SLS/Orion or a similar partner (SpaceX, the Russians) , but SLS/Orion is semi-useless without a lunar lander. And with the US, SpaceX and Russia (and presumably China, being that they have their own lunar ambitions) working on heavy lift, and with multiple launches from somewhat smaller rockets being an alternative to the Apollo-style “do it all in one launch” method, it is likely that they would have their choice of multiple partners for return to the moon missions.

    Of course it would be prudent to tie such into a treaty agreement like that which kept the ISS alive through succeeding U.S. administrations (as Colin Powell pointed out, Bush couldn’t just dump the ISS when he first came into office — the US had committed to its completion at the treaty level). But Europe could take the initiative in getting that going — it would be a bold move and guarantee a European would be in that first return mission (and probably all or at least most missions thereafter). What a dramatic payoff for the European investment that would be!

  • windbourne

    I think that it is good that they are finally moving up to 6, rather than 5+, HOWEVER, I have to wonder if they are not in the same boat as the SLS?
    Basically, SLS is an expensive nightmare that satisfies a number of neo-cons (and some dems) requirement of turning this into a job’s bill. And Thankfully, Griffin re-thought the private approach as a back-up and then got W/CONgress to fund COTS.

    It seems that the smart thing for ESA to consider is working on their own COTS as an alternative. And in this case, it would be better to focus on technologies that can shake up the industry even more than SpaceX has.

    Do not get me wrong. I have no doubt that Europe will force their gov. and most of their businesses to remain with Arianne Space. However, without outsider money from , well mostly the US, their price will jump way up. Even on 6.

    As such, it makes good sense for them to have a COTS program in place.

  • Tonya

    And why was the picture taken by HAL? That’s obviously his fisheye lens!

  • Jim R

    No chance in hell that would happen… But I always wondered why ESA doesn’t cooperate more with JAXA in terms of launchers, they both are starting the development of next generation launchers, their launch technology is very similar (solid boosters + Hydrolox core), seems to me a common launcher design could save both a lot of money (the production can be separate if they so desired).

  • Aerospike

    That comment makes no sense.

    However, just like with NASA in the US, I think it is time for ESA to leave the business of building launchers to the private sector. Start a COTS like competition for a launch capability that meets their requirements and schedule and let European businesses figure out how to meet those demands. We may not have something comparable to SpaceX yet, but Airbus is a close match for Boeing and there are enough capable companies and/or organizations in Europe that could band together for an “Orbital Sciences Corporation” approach.

  • Aerospike

    Totally agree on “COTS needed for Europe”, see my comment above.

  • DavidR2014

    I would like to see ESA better funded. The combined economies of the ESA member countries are larger than the US, but the funding for ESA is something like a quarter of that which NASA receives. It is very difficult to do a lot in space on low budget when it is expensive to reach orbit, and there isn’t any money left over for cost reducing technologies.
    This ministerial meeting looks like it is a rubber stamping exercise of decisions that have effectively already been taken by more junior bureaucrats.

  • Tonya

    “I have no doubt that Europe will force their gov. and most of their businesses to remain with Arianne Space”

    What is the mechanism by which Europe would force it’s businesses to use Ariane? Which European body do you think would be behind this?

  • Matt

    Are companies as Airbus and OHB and soon no commercial companies? What is your definition of “commcercial” in context? How commercial is SpaceX that receiced already billions of taxpayers dollars and will receive further billions governmental money?

  • Matt

    No German taxpayer money for French or Italian space companies!

  • Aerospike

    What are you talking about? I never made any comment on how “commercial” SpaceX or any other company is…

    I was just saying, that there is no SpaceX in Europe, as in “impressive, disruptive, low cost, and at least partially proven rocket startup”.

    I would be happy if you could point me to comparable companies, because if there are any, I would apply today!

  • joe tusgadaro

    It was sarcasm…I’m just a wee bit tired of (mostly) Americans coming in every time ESA is mentioned and just blightly saying why don’t us Yuropions just stop making things and just buy American.

  • Aerospike

    Oh… I’m sorry, guess my sarcasm detector needs some maintenance. 🙂

  • Matt

    I would say the space company OHB is an example, that can be compared to SpaceX, even if this company works not directly on propulsion topics.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    If meeting demand becomes an significant issue, they are far more likely to simply open additional manufacturing facilities. Besides the Falcon will be gone in the early 2020’s and they may well not be able to build a large core replacement at Hawthorne.

  • Tonya

    By the same token, why did America continue with the Delta II rather than retire it and use the Ariane 4. Why develop the EELV launchers (with Russian engines!) rather than use the Ariane 5.

    Rockets are part of national security, and US and EU interests are not always the same.

  • Tonya

    It’s closer to a third, but the ESA budget also excludes the expenditure that goes directly to national agencies, which is considerable.

  • windbourne

    Exact same mechanism that us gov used on telcos to open up: threat of losing gov work. How many space based companies in Europe do not depend on at least 10% of gov. Work?

  • windbourne

    Very bad idea.
    For us to go beo, we need redundant launch systems with different builders. Ideally, we would come up with interface standards to make it possible to plug and play.

  • Aerospike

    OHB is (as far as i can tell) a “boring” space systems (satellites, experiment modules, etc..) manufacturer. I don’t see anything disruptive in them that could be compared to SpaceX.

    I would rather compare them to Orbital Sciences Corp.’s satellite division.

  • Tonya

    Most of the money that is in private payloads is in countries that have little to nothing to do with the Ariane project. Largely the UK and Luxembourg. There is no such Government interest or possibility of a threat in those nations, in fact the opposite, they would protect their space industries from higher costs.

    ESA is not part of the European legislative structure and the European Union has no say in space policy.