This month started with some very positive news for ESA, with the return of Luca Parmitano after a very impressive mission on board the ISS including 4 EVAs to make the AMS ready for further research. Not only that but Solar Orbiter was launched, a mission conducted together with NASA to investigate the Sun, the star which secures life on our home planet, Earth.

But this is also a month in which we have witnessed the spread of the coronavirus across the globe. To begin with, there was some hope that it would be possible to limit its geographical spread, but the interconnected nature of today’s world, which has so many positive aspects, also provides a fertile breeding ground for the global spread of such a virus. As soon as the virus reached Europe we defined clear measures for ESA to minimise its spread. Due to the necessity for us to continue operating satellites, there are some limits to what we can do. Each and every one of us, though, must act responsibly to help counteract the corona virus, including through minimising travel, avoiding events attended by many people, washing our hands regularly and finally contacting a doctor immediately in the event that we develop the by now well-known symptoms.

There is one other message that I would like to take this opportunity to convey: for some months now there have been discussions about whether or not I would stay on for another term. Having given a great deal of thought to the question, I finally decided against it.

I will be 67 at the end of my term and I believe it is time to hand over to a younger leader. After more than 25 years heading public institutions, now is a good time to move on. I am still a civil engineer and eager to be active as such by focusing once again primarily on teaching and doing my own research.

I will leave ESA with good feelings, even though I will not have implemented 100% of what I had intended. I thank all those who have supported me these last few years. Together we can look back on many achievements – transforming ESA inside and out.

Our record budget for the coming years was secured in November 2019, including a vital increase in the budget for the mandatory programme that funds science and the basic activities that underpin research and development at ESA. The Councils at ministerial level in 2016 and 2019, as well as the interim ministerial with our Member States in 2018, secured strong commitments to our future. This includes what we do and how we talk about ourselves – Space 4.0, United Space in Europe, and our four ‘pillars’ – Science and Exploration, Space Safety and Security, Applications and Enabling and Support Activities. In the coming years, Europe will have an active role in exploring the Moon and Mars, will take the lead on safety and security in space and cyber-resilience, and will continue to provide the very best missions for everything from Earth observation to comet interception.

The space industry is evolving quickly, and together we have ensured that ESA will have a central role. We have issued a joint statement with the European Union and revitalised the ESA-EU Space Council. We are growing our relationship with industry and young businesses through the Business Incubation Centres and the Downstream Gateway, among other initiatives – challenging citizens with the brightest ideas to use space data for life-changing applications. We have also forged new connections with academia through the ESA_Labs embedded in universities around Europe.  

Inside ESA, we are building for the future – literally in the case of renovation work including improvements to our Paris headquarters. The future ESA should be worthy of the innovative efficient building that is being prepared for us. We are working on improving our diversity through the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer, on reducing our environmental impact through Green ESA and on driving forward the digitalisation of ESA activities under the leadership of our Chief Digital Officer. We strengthened ESA’s Executive Board into a team of teams comprising the Directors and Director General to simplify and consolidate decision making. I hope that changes such as these that I have pioneered and implemented will have a positive impact long after I have gone.  

Still, there remains more than a year of my current term and I intend to use the time fully to continue to work for ESA, for space and the outstanding opportunities it presents to promote and advance peaceful international cooperation.

This year I will be working on negotiating the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement with the EU for the next Multiannual Financial Framework – the EU’s long-term budget – cementing our work together. With the Directors, I will be carrying on with preparations on a programmatic level for the next ESA Council at ministerial level in 2022. In addition, we will have another informal Ministerial in June this year addressing specific tasks relating to the future of ESA, as well as a Space Council with the EU at the end of this year. The time will go quickly!
In the aftermath of a highly successful Space19+, there is still more work to be done, working closely with our Member States to make ESA ‘The European NewSpace Agency’. This includes discussing a new setup for ESA in a changing space environment.

It has been and remains an exceptional honour and pleasure for me to serve ESA, its Member States, its staff and contractors and to help bring ESA and Europe forward in and through space.

To conclude, even in difficult times, there is only one course of action: to keep moving forward!