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Ministers back Europe’s sustainable and competitive space ambitions

6 November 2023

Europe will harness space for a greener future, take decisive steps in exploration, and ensure autonomous access to space while preparing a paradigm shift towards a more competitive next generation of launchers, following decisions taken today at the ESA Space Summit in Seville.

Government ministers representing ESA’s Member States, Associate States and Cooperating States resolved together to strengthen Europe’s space ambitions to better serve European citizens.

Meanwhile ESA is modernising how it runs its programmes, speeding up its procurements and increasing its role as an anchor customer to commercial suppliers, while fostering the development of cutting-edge technologies and programmes.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, said: “Space today is far more than space science, robotic and human exploration. Space has become strategic for the prosperity of any nation. Space policy is climate policy, industrial policy and security policy. It is a crucial tool for addressing global challenges. Space has become a topic at the global negotiation table. Europe must actively participate in this conversation.”

Anna Christmann, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy, who chaired today’s ESA Council meeting at the Ministerial level, said: “Today, ESA Member States have reaffirmed their commitment to a strong ESA. By doing so, Member States have enabled the first steps towards innovative and competitive approaches that will revolutionise how Europe secures its future access to space as well as its role in exploration. A strong agency will also help to better use space to deal with climate change, benefiting everyone on Earth. I look forward to continuing along this promising path when the Member States meet for the ESA Council meeting at the Ministerial level in Germany in 2025.”

Accelerating the use of space

Earth observation data from space was crucial to identifying climate change. ESA will now help Europe to move from monitoring to managing – and harness the use of space to pursue climate action, supporting national and European efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Working with international partners – many of whom are from outside the space industry – ESA will accelerate the use of space for a green future. It will build on several of ESA’s existing activities, including: the Green Transition Information Factory, which uses Earth observation data, cloud computing and cutting-edge analytics to help policymakers and industries to navigate the transition to carbon neutrality; the Iris system for satellite-enabled greener aviation; and efforts to use space data to enable greener agriculture, energy and transport that were recently catalogued in ESA’s “green dossier”.

ESA has agreed to work in partnership with the EU’s Director-General for Climate Action, which leads the European Commission’s efforts to fight climate change at the EU and international levels.

Simultaneously, ESA will work to actively reduce the environmental footprint of all space projects across their entire lifecycles and to foster a clean and sustainable space industry.

Climate change fuels hurricanes and flooding that threaten human life and prosperity in Europe, as do natural disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes. Meanwhile growing numbers of satellites are well placed to help respond to such emergencies.

ESA will accelerate the use of space to respond to such emergencies through the rapid and resilient crisis response accelerator. Ministers have voiced their support for ESA to engage with international partners – again, many of whom are outside the space industry – to deliver a comprehensive gap analysis to Member States.

Today’s world is becoming ever more dependent on space-enabled technologies. The protection of space assets accelerator aims to keep space-enabled technologies safe from hazards such as space debris and space weather. At the Space Summit, Ministers invited public organisations and commercial space companies to register their intention to sign a Zero Debris Charter in the coming few months.

Asserting Europe’s rightful place in the world

The world stands at a pivotal point in space exploration. Over the past few years, the landscape has changed fundamentally. It will evolve even more quickly in the years to come: a new economy is developing in low Earth orbit that will transform space exploration in the years following the retirement of the International Space Station; and private companies are revolutionising the landscape from launchers to exploration.

At the Space Summit, Ministers launched a competition between innovative companies based in Europe to deliver a space cargo return service that will see a European commercial provider deliver supplies to the International Space Station by 2028 and return cargo to Earth. The service vehicle could evolve to a crew vehicle and eventually serve other destinations, if Member States so desire.

Public funding for the initial stages of the project has already been secured, with private contributions being sought through the competition. The second phase will form part of the proposals to the next ESA Council meeting at the Ministerial level in 2025. By taking a decision at today’s Space Summit, ESA can start work immediately to meet the ambitious 2028 milestone.

The Ariane 6 and Vega-C launchers will soon guarantee European access to space, but the launcher market paradigm has changed radically. Europe must maintain the technical and industrial capacity for uninterrupted access to space.

Ministers have launched a new competitive European ambition in space transportation to empower Europe to regain its commercial position, reduce the need for public funding and retain its place in the world by making ESA an anchor customer and enabler of commercial space activities and services.

Next steps

ESA will work in partnership with the EU to coordinate the European demand for space services, demonstrating ESA’s role as the agency at the heart of Europe’s space ambitions.

Today’s decisions were passed by a resolution informed by the ESA Director General’s proposal to lift Europe’s ambitions for a green and sustainable future, access to space and space exploration.

They represent a further important step towards the Council meeting at Ministerial level to be held in 2025. The ESA Director General will propose an “ESA 2040” strategy to be prepared together with ESA Member States, which will be ready in early 2024 to serve as a foundation for the 2025 meeting.

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