ESA Looks Toward Expansion, Deeper International Cooperation

Credit: ESA
Credit: ESA

The 20-member European Space Agency (ESA) is looking to rapidly add two more nations to its list of member states while deepening cooperation with five other European countries, according to a resolution approved by ESA ministers on Tuesday.

In addition, ESA is looking at “seizing future cooperation opportunities” offered by its three strategic partners — the United States, Russia and China — while improving cooperation with new emerging space powers outside of Europe.

The Resolution on ESA Evolution calls for “the finalisation on both sides of the decision-making and ratification process for accession of Hungary and Estonia to the ESA Convention, including the approval of the corresponding draft accession agreement.”

The resolution also authorized ESA to take steps to “secure the entry into force of the European Cooperating States (ECS) Agreements for Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.” ECS agreements are interim steps toward full membership that allow the countries involved to participate more fully in ESA programs.

European ministers also authorized ESA to begin discussions with Bulgaria and Croatia to establish formal cooperation in space.

The evolution resolution also directs ESA to deepen its cooperation and coordination with the European Union (EU) and Eumetsat while remaining a fully independent agency. ESA will work with member states and the European Commission to develop a European Space Policy and Long-Term space plan for submission to the ESA Council by the end of 2015.

There had been previous discussions about the European Union taking over control of ESA. However, those ideas were rejected by the space agency, which wants to remain independent.

A separate space exploration strategy resolution calls for further cooperation with the United States, Russia and China on

LEO exploration, including a continuation of ISS cooperation and the development of a robust plan for the coordinated use of space transportation vehicles and systems for exploration purposes, participation in robotic missions for the exploration of the Moon, the robotic exploration of Mars, leading to a broad Mars Sample Return mission in which Europe should be involved as a full partner, and human missions beyond LEO in the longer term.

The ministers also called for discussions with Israel, Australia and South Africa on future association agreements with ESA. The ministers noted that “concrete cooperation is at an advanced stage” with these nations and that “prospects for mutual benefits are existing”.

For non-space powers, ESA will emphasize data sharing and training activities.