Esa between the moon and Ariane

Council meeting of Esa
Europe’s plans for space

The Council of the European Space Agency ESA met in Paris to prepare for the major Council of Ministers conference in November. There, the plans for the next few years are to be decided by the member states. In a press conference, Esa explained where you stand.

These are challenging times. The corona pandemic is not over yet when the war in the Ukraine worldwide waves. Inflation and energy prices hit everyone. Also the European Space Agency Esa. And it still faces the problem that the relationship with the Russian space agency Roskosmos, which has been a partner for many years, is difficult. If the Soyuz rockets were a pillar of space missions, they have now more or less broken away. The own rocket “Ariane 5” is getting on in years and currently only three are available. Because it is to be replaced by the successor system “Ariane 6”, which, however, suffers from delays. Just a few days ago, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher announced that it would not start until the fourth quarter of 2023.

That is why Esa is relying on a Falcon 9 from the US company SpaceX for the European space telescope “Euclid” next year. A Russian Soyuz rocket was originally intended for this purpose. Euclid is to measure the distribution of the ominous “dark matter” in the cosmos, which should explain why there is more mass in the universe than we can see. In addition, it should collect data on the no less mysterious “dark energy”, which is crucial for the expansion of the universe.

Also at “Hera”. who are now putting Esa on a “Falcon 9”. The probe is scheduled to launch in 2024 to the asteroid Didymos and in 2025 to study its “moon” Dimorphos in particular. There suggested few Weeks “Darts” a: a US probe with which one wanted to test whether one can deflect asteroids. In the event that such a celestial body is on a collision course with the earth. Originally, however, an “Ariane 6” was intended for Hera. Due to the delay in development, the US system is now used.

In addition, Esa wants to stick to the ExoMars mission. The should actually these days with the rover Launch “Rosalind Franklin” to our neighboring planet. With a Russian Proton rocket. The war in Ukraine made that impossible. The European space agency is now aiming for a launch in 2028. Probably in cooperation with NASA. After all, there are many instruments from the USA on board. But for this, the program would have to be revised for launch with a different rocket. In a first step, Esa expects a further 360 million euros to modify the system. Subject to approval by the Council of Ministers in November.

In addition, the rover is to be revised. Russian instruments are still installed. They are also considering using the time now gained to retrofit other functions. Among other things, it should be able to “shake off” Martian dust, which would otherwise impair the efficiency of the solar cells.

After the launch, the rover would drill up to two meters deep into the Martian soil from 2030 onwards. Organic compounds are protected from the radiation there. “Rosalind Franklin” could go in search of former life on Mars. Or possibly still existing microorganisms that have adapted. If there is or has been. From a scientific point of view, the mission is of great importance. The question is whether member states will bear the additional costs.

In addition, people are already thinking about expanding the technology for the “Ariane 6” in order to make it even more powerful and thus competitive for many years to come. According to a recent report by the Market Analysts “ReportLinker” The market for launch systems has reached almost 17 billion US dollars this year and will grow to almost 30 billion US dollars by 2027. In fact, there are already numerous bookings for the “Ariane 6”. Esa would also like to expand the European navigation system “Galileo” and maintain its strong position in earth observation. In December, for example, the third generation of the Meteosat weather satellite system will be launched on an Ariane 5.

They also want to continue working on the automated transport ferry, which should transport material from a space station in lunar orbit to a base on the moon from 2030. The European “Large Logistics Lander” or short EL3 meets the name “Argonaut”. 380 million euros are earmarked for its development in particular, but also for other “moon robots”. If the Council of Ministers agrees, which is to decide on a package totaling 18.7 billion euros for the next three years. An increase of 25 percent compared to the last Council of Ministers meeting in 2019.

And what about working with Russia? Since you are at Esa something buttoned up. The Dane Andreas Mogensen will start in 2023 with a SpaceX CrewDragon capsule to the ISS. The scientific work on board the international space station will continue. A conversation between ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher and the Paid Content Roskosmos boss Yuri Borisov have not existed so far. But Aschbacher is looking forward to it. However, there are still some financial and legal questions to be answered. Also because money has already flowed to Russia. For Soyuz launches canceled with the war in Ukraine.

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