ESA, China Open Moon & Mars Exploration to Private Sector

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ESA and the Chinese space agency have made separate announcements opening their deep space exploration programs to private sector participation.

ESA issued a Call for Ideas for exploring the moon and Mars on its website.

Private-sector partners are welcome to join ESA in its space exploration strategy. Join us to explore beyond Earth’s horizon by sharing knowledge, capabilities, risks and benefits.

The Agency is now issuing a Call for Ideas to assess how companies could join forces with ESA in novel partnerships.

Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, stresses the importance of this opportunity: “ESA’s perspective on private-sector organisations in space exploration is evolving and this Call welcomes partnerships beyond the space industry. Furthermore, we welcome initiatives from outside Europe as long as they support the ESA strategic plan and global cooperation goals for space exploration.”

ESA has a vast network of means and facilities, from hypergravity centrifuges to future robots on Mars, as well as access to the most isolated places on Earth and beyond, such as the International Space Station and Antarctic bases. ESA can make its platforms, facilities and knowledge available to work on the most promising ideas for partnerships received in this call.

Bernhard Hufenbach, Head of ESA’s Strategic Planning Office, explains: “The scope of the Call is very broad: anybody with a sound business plan that has synergy with what ESA does to explore space is welcome to share their ideas.”

Without wanting to influence the submission, examples of partnership ideas could be developing software to control robots in space and on Earth, researching drilling techniques on Earth and the Moon, manufacturing lightweight but low-maintenance health and safety equipment for astronauts and emergency workers, demonstrating technology in space, and even creating documentaries or video games promoting European space exploration.

Meanwhile, China is focusing its commercial opening on its next lunar mission.

The next mission to the moon, to be carried out by the Chang’e 4 probe in the next two years or so, will serve as a platform “for technological research and development, product tests as well as data application” for private companies, the official China Daily said, citing a government statement.

“The move will help break the monopoly in the space field, accelerate technological innovation, reduce the government’s investment and improve efficiency,” added the statement, released by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, which oversees the space program.

The English-language newspaper cited an unnamed source as saying China should learn from the example of the United States, which has shown the “obvious” benefits of private enterprise getting involved.

“The U.S. opened its space program to the private sector a long time ago, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has allowed private companies to conduct near-Earth manned missions. By contrast, our State-owned enterprises still hold a tight grip on the industry,” the source said.