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Europe aims to secure ambitious space budget

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-11-23 10:00

Missions to Mars and the moon and plans for weather and communications satellites are all on the agenda as Europe's research ministers meet in Paris to discuss future plans for the European Space Agency, or ESA, and set its budget.

The ESA is a 22-member organization whose leaders meet every three years, and is not connected to the European Union, although the two bodies do work closely. Its members include France, Germany, Italy and non-EU members Norway and the United Kingdom.

The ESA also has an interest in the on-going NASA Artemis lunar mission, having designed the service module for the Orion capsule which is currently orbiting the surface of the moon.

Its proposed budget of 18.5 billion euros ($19 billion) is close to a 25 percent rise on its previous resources, agreed at the last meeting three years ago, and in the time of the cost of living crisis, the agency's director-general Josef Aschbacher admitted members may need some persuasion for the money to be secured.

"This is true, but let me say the package we have on the table is found by every member state of ESA to be very attractive," he told the BBC. "No-one is saying 'this is not what we should be doing', and every country is making huge efforts to find the money, despite the economic situation."

One of the most ambitious and potentially significant proposals is for a project called Solaris, to harness the potential for solar power generation in space.

"We do need to convert into carbon neutral economies and therefore change the way we produce energy and especially reduce the fossil fuel part of our energy production," explained Aschbacher.

"If you can do it from space, and I'm saying if we could, because we are not there yet, this would be absolutely fantastic because it would solve a lot of problems."

Sanjay Vijendran, who heads the Solaris initiative, said the concept of solar power from space was "no longer science fiction.

"The potential is there and we now need to really understand the technological path before a decision can be made to go ahead with trying to build something in space," he added.

Other proposed projects include the Aeolus weather forecasting satellite, and the British-assembled Mars rover known as Rosalind Franklin, named after the DNA research pioneer.

The meeting will end with the announcement of first new batch of ESA trainee astronauts since 2008.

Since the ESA opened the vacancy for able bodied astronauts and those with a physical disability in 2021, more than 22,500 valid applications were received, with 257 for the disability program. From these numbers, the agency hopes to recruit four to six what if calls "career astronauts" as well as establishing a pool of reserves.


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