Staring into space

November 17, 2000

European leaders want to integrate public space efforts into other activities. Jane Marshall reports.

Space is no longer a separate entity, and space exploration must be fused with other activities through policies decided at the highest levels of government, says a report on the future of Europe's space programme.

Antonio Rodota, director general of the European Space Agency, presented the report, Towards a Space Agency for the European Union , last week. He said that Esa was confronting major changes, including the pledge of European leaders to make the European Union the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy.

"We started questioning ourselves about a coherent approach to the evolution of Europe, with its political, financial and industrial implications, and I decided to ask for top-level advice from eminent personalities in those fields," he said.

Rodota has appointed a committee of three "wise men" to study organisation of the public space sector in Europe and the role of Esa within it. The committee will make recommendations on the direction the agency should take.

The three are Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister and United Nations envoy to the Balkans; Jean Peyrelevade, president of the French bank Credit Lyonnais; and Lothar Spath, chief executive officer of Jenoptik AG and former first minister of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

Bildt said: "We need to integrate space into European political and other activities." Policies should be decided "at the highest level, the European Council of heads of government, and at the same kind of intervals as political priorities are set in other areas," he added.

The report, which was approved this week by Esa council members and the European Union research council, says examples of key developments in European society, where space-based assets are being merged, are telecommunications, navigation and "the obvious importance of earth observation for environment and overall security".

It says that first steps in space integration are being achieved thanks to decisions by Esa and the EU to develop a joint European space strategy.

Esa was set up in 1975 after a merger between two intergovernmental organisations that had started developing scientific satellites and launchers in the mid-1960s.

The 15-member research and development agency provides for European cooperation in space research and technology and provides space applications for use in scientific purposes and operational space applications systems. These cover such fields as earth observation, telecommunications and space segment technologies, for example in-orbit platforms and space transport systems. Among its projects is the Ariane launcher programme.

• Development of a global monitoring for environment and security (GMES) system and the laying of foundations for coordinated European action were discussed in Lille last month at a conference organised by France's national Centre for Space Studies under the French EU presidency.

Participants included Philippe Busquin, European research commissioner; Lord Sainsbury, UK science minister and chairman of Esa's ministerial council; and Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, French research minister.

Mr Busquin said a GMES would contribute to understanding and controlling global climate change. He added that it could check that international environmental conventions were being respected. He said that the different demands for such a system needed to be clarified before investment could be justified.

The EU and member states must organise the industrial effort into public-private partnerships, and the research community must be coordinated to avoid incomplete or contradictory applications.

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