Europe’s move

Europe has a long tradition of being the continent of explorers and inventors. It is this heritage that has given rise to Europe’s privileged economic and social situation, created for the benefit of its citizens. There had been signs that Europe was losing its traditionally strong position, and not only as a result of the political turbulence unleashed since the Brexit announcement: the risk of severe upheaval in society at large, as a direct result of the economic and social situation, is generating uncertainty over our future.

The same type of phenomenon can be observed in the space sector with companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, OneWeb and Rocketlab now driving developments across a range of areas. One particularly powerful example is in the launcher sector, where global competition has been intensifying with the advent of very cheap systems. In addition, breakthrough developments from new space sector players such as reusable launchers and marketing wheezes like sending a car into space are attracting attention and increasing pressure on the public sector.

ESA ministers decided in 2014 to develop a new launcher family comprising Ariane 6 and Vega C, based on the existing Ariane 5 and Vega. The promise to secure autonomous access to space and reduce the price by a factor of 2 proved sufficiently compelling to secure ESA member states’ agreement to finance the development. At that time, I succeeded in placing environmental concerns and the possible development of reusability among the high-level requirements:

  • Maintain and ensure European launcher competence with a long-term perspective, including possibility of reusability/fly-back.
  • Ensure possibility to deorbit upper stage directly

Due to time and cost pressure, however, these aspects did not make it onto the agenda for Ariane 6 and Vega C. Yet in the meantime, the world has moved on and today’s situation requires that we re-assess the situation and identify the possible consequences. In many discussions on the political level, the strategic goal of securing European autonomous access to space has not changed, however there is a growing sense that pressure from global competition is something that needs to be addressed. With Vega C, Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 approaching completion, it seems logical to complete these launchers in order to at least take that major step towards competitiveness. At the same time, it is essential that we now discuss future solutions, including disruptive ideas. Simply following the kind of approaches seen so far would be expensive and ultimately will fail to convince. Totally new ideas are needed and Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders. In this sense, the process of discussing and deciding on a launcher system that eschews traditional solutions can send a powerful signal out into other areas as well. I therefore intend to invite innovative, really interested European players to come together to define possible ways forward.

Leaders in France and Germany have expressed their backing for more disruptive actions with, for example, French President Macron making multiple references in his speech at the Sorbonne on 26 September 2017 to “l’innovation de rupture” (disruptive innovation) as a major strategic priority for Europe before adding:

Je souhaite que l’Europe prenne la tête de cette révolution par l’innovation radicale.

[I want to see Europe take the lead in this radical innovation revolution]

Similarly, the coalition agreement between the two political parties in Germany published in recent days provides a sound foundation for such a step:

Wir setzen uns dafür ein, die Europäische Weltraumorganisation (ESA) als eigenständige internationale Organisation zu erhalten und wollen sie weiter stärken.

[We are committed to maintaining the European Space Agency (ESA) as an independent international organisation and intend to strengthen it further.]

Europe and its citizens deserve no less, that we all work together to make the future possible, in Europe, across the world, out in the universe…

Comments

19 Comments

  • Leo Nyman says:

    Lets take another look at the Star-Raker concept created by Rockwell in the 70s. If viable, lets finally build and fly it!

  • This is one of the fruits of Elon’s vision and execution — it creates passion in others to up their game, to truly attempt their best. Fantastic.

  • Livier I. González Cordero, PhD says:

    “Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders.” Yes, you must do exactly that. But, in the direction of “international cooperation”, not competition. The exploration of space is a humankind endeavor, not a single human political entity endeavor.

    • Derek S says:

      humanity benefits because of competition

    • Permela RAMSEY says:

      Europe’s future will be more like that of the population that is replacing Europeans than like that of the Europeans who are being replaced. The future of all European nations depends more on their demographic evolution than on the history of the Europeans that European governments have been replacing via immigration, etc. People whose plans, predictions and expectations are based on Europe’s past history will be disappointed. I predict that a moderator will censor this comment.

  • Paul Amey says:

    1. Accelerate the development of the Skylon spaceplane concept.
    2. Apply more effort into manufacturing large Structures in Space. Pultrusion etc.

  • Dave Huntsman says:

    Mr Woerner –

    I consider myself both a friend of Europe; and a believer that we on Earth are all better off if all free nations both compete, as well as cooperate and coordinate, when it comes to space development. To that end, I applaud you for being the first European space leader to recognize that the current plan a la Ariane 6 et al is not sustainable. In fact, in my view it is clear that Europe – an area of both greater population and greater economy than the United States- is already ‘behind the curve’ here in 2018; much less in 2020 and beyond. So it is already past-due to address the situation.

    If I may offer some constructive criticism….I feel that (based on this admittedly short blog piece), you, as well as Europe, may still not be ‘getting it’. By that I mean:

    1. You essentially emphasize that Europe must change course in space, and in particular space launch, if for no other reason than that it will likely lose competitiveness. That is true; but it is also, secondary.
    You:
    “companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, OneWeb and Rocketlab now driving developments across a range of areas. One particularly powerful example is in the launcher sector, where global competition has been intensifying with the advent of very cheap systems. In addition, breakthrough developments from new space sector players such as reusable launcher….“

    There is a driving set of forces behind both SpaceX, and Blue Origin; even more important, in the end, than money. (After all, Elon Musk started SpaceX with only $100m—which was enough to launch three times – all failures. He held the thing together to get that fourth launch in with leadership, and hope, and vision; as well as help from friends, and….using his own personal credit cards.)

    What those companies – and most ‘newspace’ companies have – is a driving vision. SpaceX and Blue have related – but still different – visions. Elon’s driving vision- at least the first step in such – is to see humanity established, off-planet, in his lifetime; the reason he has focused so much on Mars. Doing whatever it takes to accomplish high flight rates, reusability, and a drastic reduction in costs, are necessary, not in and of themselves, but because without them (and other things), the vision simply can’t happen. Simple, but true.

    In Blue’s case, since high school – literally- Jeff Bezos has believed that for humanity to increase its chances of survival, as well as saving Earth, requires the establishment of, among other things, off-world industries. A sustainable in-space economy cannot happen without, among other things, higher flight rates, reusability becoming the norm, lower costs…..again, it is the division that drives those; not per se ‘competitiveness’, or some such other.

    What’s Europe’s vision in space, Mr. Woerner? It’s got to be more than just ‘be competitive for the next few years’. That’s not a vision; that’s just surviving.

    May I suggest one possibility?

    What is needed is for a “New European Space Vision for the 21st Century” (by whatever title).

    It could look something like this:

    ‘The New European Space: Vision, Mission, Goals

    •VISION: Millions of free people living and working in thriving democratic communities beyond the Earth enabled by harvesting the vast resources of the solar system and using the products, wealth and technology so generated to greatly improve and protect the quality of life on earth.

    •MISSION: To lead the enabling and expansion of humanity’s activities, including humanity’s economy, and the best parts of human culture, throughout
    the solar system, by the end of the 21st century.

    •GOALS:
    ​To return ESA to becoming a technology-generation engine again, not only for a sustainable and growing
    space economy and overall competitiveness, but for the over-all economy and security of the Europe, and the free peoples of Earth.

    To become the leading advocate for proven alternative means of government action that can bring forward space
    development faster, cheaper, and in a more economically sustainable way.

    All decisions regarding specific ESA strategic plans, missions, and budgets, will be informed by the above 21st Century plan.

    I would maintain that a Europe that adopted some such path- using an actual guiding vision – would, automatically, remain ‘competitive’ or more; in fact, the rest of humanity would end up reacting to Europe’s leadership; not, as is now the case in space, with Europe having to react while others- even small, individual companies- do the leading.
    
This is just one possible path; there are others. But I hope my basic point is clear. As someone once said, long ago…….Where there is no vision, the people perish. (And, they might have added, without vision, so can space programs).

    As a friend of Europe, please do not hesitate to contact me further if you feel it would be beneficial.

    Sincerely,

    Dave Huntsman

    • Martin Millnert says:

      Aim for the starsm land on … Mars?

      I second this point, the call for a vision.

      The way I see it, it rhymes very poorly with public management in general to establish so vast visions.
      Also, to so boldly declare the vision to be off-world societies — further away than the moon — absolutely scares a great deal of people for various reasons, and a very common criticism is that funds are being spent for visions they may not agree with. Earth Sciences is much easier to motivate with “earth hugging” minds, and ESA is very strong in this area IMO, with the Copernicus and other initiatives.

      But it is nonetheless true that “in order to spend money to do something”, a clear vision is necessary. Elon (and others, but Elon’s got the right set of parameters to strongly influence the outcome) initial spelled out goal is clearly settlement of Mars. Mr Wörner has expressed concerns with too ambitious goals because, I assume, what a professional career under 5 year public funding cycles does to you.

      At the IAC ’17 I attended a panel of agency leaders/”VPs” discussing the topic of ambitions and the vision. After the debate stalled somewhat on “we would like to do more but we’re stuck by funding/political gridlock”, I put in the last question to the panel: “You’re saying there is no public support – the public must be engaged and activated in order to secure funding, but, what if it we can turn this problem on its head. What if, tomorrow, you received all the funding you could dream of — how soon would there be boots on Mars?”

      NASAs ambition there is quite clear. ESA’s not as much. In part it is understandable; political/financial-gridlock.
      What I would really love to hear from Mr Wörner is, if the political/financial grid-lock was to easen, let’s say from immense public support, A) Is Mars and beyond really then still “scary”? B) Can ESA lead on the grand multi-generational vision?

      I’ve been participating in this growing young space folks community via reddit etc and attended the past two IAC’s and I can say there is a enormous appetite for all things space, but most of the progressive forward looking types I have run into — exactly the type of characters Jan is speaking about above — have the one thing in common: they/we all want a lot more space than the moon (that’s already checked in my book). A great majority of these folks are, like people before and after Sagan, more identifying as a ‘human’ than as a European, etc, as well. I guess the beginning appreciation of the enormous size of “space” does that to people. This is an area where the positive space industry can contribute enormously to society at large.

      I sincerely believe there is a huge interest even among general public for grand visions and projects, but there hasn’t been, until Elon, any clear global outspoken leadership on the subject of vision. As a good friend commented the Car In Space gimmick: “It gives me hope.”

      This (vision & role) would be a great debate for ESA to host and I would love to participate.

      So ESA: Let us give people hope!

    • Derek S says:

      As an American I wholeheartedly agree here, but what about dropping all focus on the access portion of space and focus on the research and technologies you could develop in space. Utilizing one of these low cost suppliers already running could work and allow you guys to focus on a niche without care for the accessing part of space. giving you a head start or advantage if specifically focused in that area!

  • bilou says:

    quelle autonomie d’accès à l’espace de l’europe
    en faisant envoyer des astronautes européens avec des moyens navettes et lanceurs russes soyouz !

    et en envoyant des sondes vers mars avec des fusées américaines ou russes c’est cela l’autonomie de l’europe !

  • Ilja Skrynyk says:

    Dear Mr. Woerner,

    I do agree with your statement, that Europe must bring disruptive ideas to the world to maintain a strong position in the world, be it in Aviation, Blockchain technology, space etc.

    I attended the DLRK 2017 (Deutscher Luft- und Raumfahrtkongress : German Aerospace conference) last year and had the opportunity to attend discussion rounds regarding the future of space with many industry and agency veterans. As a student, I am not too well versed in the ongoings of development, industry, funding and trends. I was very amazed to see that pretty much everyone agreed that the politics are too slow, investors do not want to take risks and therefore do not fund and Europe is left with many good ideas, people willing and capable of realising them but no funding. Many examples were given of events in the past, e.g. how the Galileo satellites built by OHB were unnecessarily expensive because OHB didn’t receive one contract for all satellites at the same time and had to restart their production lines every time, substantially increasing cost.

    Many examples like this were mentioned and I sensed great frustration in the room. Everyone seemed to be extremely passionate and yet felt so left alone and disappointed by governments (and investors) not allowing these disruptive ideas you mention to become a reality.

    My question is, how do you think this cycle can be broken? How can governments (or perhaps investors with governmental support in case of failure?) be convinced to support funding of new ideas? I worry we are stagnating and watching the world go forward without us. For me, the recent Bundestagswahl in Germany just shows how terribly slow and unresponsive our governments have become and I truly do worry that the systems of old can not support the future of tomorrow.

    Kind Regards,
    Ilja Skrypnyk

  • Peter Illes says:

    Complete the current developments, but start developing a 100% reusable solution right now, based on SpaceX experience: a BFR class system using the same technology (methalox engines, propulsive vertical landing, carbon-fiber tanks). It is a very versatile solution that can competitively cover the whole launch market (probably with the exception of very small payloads <500kg) at very low cost, including future markets (solar system/planetary exploration and colonization, space resource extraction, space manufacturing, space hotels, micro-gravity research, etc.). At the moment this is the best technical solution so doing anything else is irresponsible (unless there are some new breakthrough inventions) – and *every* European citizen knows this who has any interest in space.

    SpaceX took <5 years to develop Raptor for <$1B, so this should be doable roughly within the same timeframe. There are some hard decisions to make: there must be a new innovation and manufacturing infrastructure that is optimized for efficiency (for political reasons development cost is probably "non-optimizable").

    Within 10 years space will start to be industrialized and real, mass volume cheap access (vs taxpayer-sponsored "looks-like" cheap access) will be a must. If Europe does not have a competitive solution by then (sooner is better) then the next industrial revolution and colonization will happen without us.

  • Europe can gain major long-term advantage by developing low cost launch from the lunar surface. This would open the door to multiple forms of lunar ISRU.
    Where Europe needs to focus is on developing technology for producing basalt fibre from lunar regolith. Unlike many processes that have been proposed basalt fibre can be produced simply by heating basalt rock to melting at about 1500 C and extruding the fibre. The Soviet Union developed basalt fibre as a thermal barrier to permit guided missiles to reenter through the atmosphere without burning up delivering the payload to the target. Your upper stage could be protected with a basalt fibre shield permitting reentry and reuse not just deorbiting. China is developing basalt fibre shields for satellites to protect against hypervelocity impact from space debris. Their work shows that the performance of basalt fibre in a Whipple shield is superior to Nextel ceramic fibre but at a fraction of the cost. https://patents.google.com/patent/CN101792026A/en
    Bigelow spacecraft use layers of Nextel and Kevlar and foam. Basalt fibre could replace these expensive fibres at much lower cost, particularly, if it would be produced on the Moon. Why not build the spacecraft to reach Mars from lunar materials?
    Low cost launch from the Moon may be possible with elecromagnetic catapults reducing launch costs to possibly less than 1 euro per kg. Development of such technology would be consistent with the Moon Village idea and put the EU ahead in an area where the U.S. is not a player at present.

  • Christian C. says:

    I’m actually wondering if, looking at the recent successes of the private sector, we should actually invite them to come to Europe as well since it should not be a battle more like a together and if someone can supply a proven launch system, why not use it, adapt it and concentrate on what can we actually do with it.

    • Martin Millnert says:

      “If you can’t beat them, join them”. Yes, this is an obvious idea. I am quite afraid the industrial-political system in Europe would not enjoy the situation, which IMO is unfortunate. The alternative ought to be to “demand” of said industrial-political system to create compelling and competitive solutions. A “X Prize” scheme comes to mind as a good roadmap driven method to get certain key components into place for a BFR-class fully reusable vehicle as goal with engines as first stop. But without a strong “whip” it can be difficult to motivate said industrial-political system sufficiently. Thought leaders typically don’t have overwhelming public support despite simply seeing the next 5-10 years developments roll out rather clearly.

  • Dear Mr Voerner,

    I believe there is a window of opportunity for ESA to partner with companies like SpaceX while NASA has its own way regarding launch vehicles. Consider taking a participation in SpaceX negotiating a technology partnership and licensing.

    Why not engage in a collaboration between Raptor and Prometheus design teams?

    Why not send ESA astronauts to train on the future Dragon2 capsule?

    Why not build a 16t payload to be send by Falcon heavy to Mars?

    So many opportunities are shaping fast, Europe could build its own version of BFS by joining the train!

    Sincerely,

    Pierre Favrat.

  • Dave Salt says:

    Dave Huntsman makes some extremely valid points, based upon his long and distinguished career within NASA human spaceflight, which I fully endorse. Nevertheless, I believe the fundamental reason for the advances made by both Musk and Bezos, as opposed to other launch companies such as Arianespace and ULA, boils down to the basic difference between a ‘dictatorship’ and a ‘democracy’.

    Both Musk and Bezos are essentially self-funding so they can dictate the goals and direction of their companies. Others must first persuade their funding agencies or shareholders of the ‘worth’ of their goals and directions, which is more akin to the democratic process of persuading ‘stakeholders’.

    This has deep implications for the decision to develop a reusable launch system because, though many would agree that we now have the technologies, the ‘business case’ for this more expensive solution (i.e. reusable rather than expendable) is still difficult to close because of concerns over the necessary markets, in terms of sufficiency (i.e. will there be enough demand) and elasticity (i.e. will demand increase as launch costs reduce).

    Musk and Bezos both seem to believe in the ‘Field of Dreams’ philosophy (i.e. “build it and they will come”), which may well turn out to be correct but is not a persuasive argument to ‘pitch’ at your stakeholders, who will almost certainly have other pressing demands on their limited resources.

    This line of thinking suggests that if ESA wants European companies to develop reusable launch systems it has two basic options:
    1) It can ‘retire’ the technical risks/costs by funding programs to develop/mature the necessary technologies and operations required by a commercial system;
    2) It can ‘retire’ the market risks by stimulating the development and growth of new markets and/or provide launch market guarantees.

    Nonetheless, if ESA wants to justify such developments it must present a long-term vision that focuses on space as an effectively infinite set of resources, in terms of energy and materials, that can be harnessed for the benefit of *all* humankind. Moreover, this focus should not see space as ‘refuge’ from planet Earth but as an ‘extension’ of it (i.e. a place to off-load heavy industry and so ensure people will choose to remain on Earth, though a few may wish to ‘colonise’ space). By the way, this is not a new idea, though Mr Bezos is probably the most recent to propose it… Krafft Ehricke coined the term ’Extraterrestrial Imperative’ around half a century ago.

  • Robert Clark says:

    By following the private financing approach SpaceX has cut literally *billions* from the development cost of a rocket:

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/02/three-years-of-sls-development-could-buy-86-falcon-heavy-launches/

    What’s needed is some European billionaires to step up to privately fund rocket development. That will accelerate the European space program.

  • Frank Keck says:

    Just a reduced repetition and reminder of what I posted for the “Challenge the DG” a few years ago, which seems to fit here as well.

    Space Infrastructure – Does ESA want to support the private sector to conquer space?

    Transportation costs is THE key to space exploration! The current transportation costs are a killer for bigger visions like a Moon village. This does not mean to discard the vision of a Moon (or Mars) village, but to focus on the necessary steps to reach such a long term goal.

    Instead of thinking to transport a few people to a Moon village we should focus how to allow “millions” of people using space around Earth. That’s what currently happening in the private sector.
    (BTW: I would not like to pay e.g. 100,- EUR (per European citizen) to get a few astronauts to Moon, but I would probably save a long time and pay 100.000,- EUR to spend one week adventure vacation on Moon.)

    The private sector is already active (and successful) in this field. We as ESA should not try to re-invent the wheel or try to compete with them (e.g. by developing new launchers); instead we should support them now. At the end we will benefit from the resulting cheap transports to Earth orbit. Based on these transports we can develop our road to Moon and beyond; such a solid space infrastructure around Earth (used by “everyone” like cars and airplanes today) will make greater visions sustainable and not becoming a one-time-event.

    Referring to historical experiences, governments shall not build settlements but provide the required infrastructure to motivate the private sector to do so. E.g. cars: Let’s go some years back in time. A government sees the benefit of cars. Instead of trying to design cars the government builds roads. This motivates the private sector to design and build cars because these cars can be used by everyone and therefore they can easily be sold. And finally the government can buy good developed cars from private companies.

    Let’s transfer the car experience to space flight.

    The current development in the private space sector shows that there are private motivations for space flights. I think it’s time in Europe to realise that private space flights will soon become real. We can ignore it, go on with our traditional “thinking” and leave the complete market to U.S. companies. Which is really an option, but do we want it?

    The question for ESA is (which brings us back to the subject): What will be our role in this new era of private space flight?

    One of ESA’s purpose is the support of Europe’s space industry, including recommendation of space objectives to our member states (funny, the ESA convention does not reduce our purpose to guarantee only geo return, but wants us to provide smart recommendations to Europe). This includes the analysis of the current situation, trends and predictions of future space explorations.

    Our role in future could be the provider of space infrastructure. Some ideas:

    Space Communication:
    The only need for a private spaceship should be to integrate a standard “radio”. There should be no need to care about ground stations and pass times for communication with a spacecraft.
    – Could we extend EDRS to provide such a service (to allow permanent spacecraft communication around Earth, perhaps space internet as well)?
    – Or has OneWeb already a next generation of satellites in their pipeline, which will extend internet access to Earth observation satellites? Yes, I’m writing about using an IP address, ssh and sftp to connect to your satellite around Earth (and yes, bye-bye SCOS, my satellite as a web interface powered by apache… ok, and was just hacked by my neighbour… but security is another subject).

    Space Navigation:
    Like integrating a standard GPS in a plain, a standard navigation device could be integrated in private spaceships. Could Galileo already provide such a service? Or can it be extended to do so?

    Space Traffic Control:
    Like air traffic control, there will be a need to track and coordinate space flights in real time. Could we extend SSA to provide the required tracking tools. Like transponders for airplanes a similar standard one could be developed for space (to automatically send flight number and position).

    Some other services: E.g. Space Ports, Space Policing, Space Rescue Service

    It’s clear that we cannot blindly provide an infrastructure which will not be used. Therefore the use cases of private companies must be identified. And I’m sure that there is more than space hotels and space extreme sports. We have many colleagues which are very well informed about commercial space flight ideas, let’s ask them to bring us all up to date.

    I am convinced that we need a strong space infrastructure around Earth. A fundament which is used by everybody and therefore stable and consistent. Only such a wide fundament can ensure that missions going further (e.g. Moon) will not become one-time-events only.

    Just focusing on geo return and reduction of internal costs, could at the end risk our jobs (at ESA). And our focus would ignore an on-going evolution in the space sector which would allow us (if we participate) to move to new jobs.

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