In November 2008, ministers responsible for space activities in ESA's Member States and Canada will gather in The Hague to set the course of Europe’s space programme over the period ahead.
They will be invited to endorse the next stages in a series of ongoing programmes and to commit to the start of new programmes. The main purpose of ESA's programmes will be to consolidate space as a strategic asset of fundamental importance for the independence, security and prosperity of Europe.
Space is an enabling tool. It gives European decision-makers the ability to respond to critical challenges such as climate change and global security. It makes a significant contribution to Europe's growth and employment, it provides indispensable enabling technologies and services for the knowledge-based society, and it increases the understanding of our planet and Universe.
Space also contributes to European identity, cohesion and security, providing inspiration for possible future human endeavour and drawing young people into scientific and technical education.
Consistent with the above, ministers will discuss a programme structured around five main topics:
- Space applications to serve Europe’s public policies, enterprises and citizens
- Meeting Europe’s security and defence needs
- Fostering competitive and innovative industries
- Contributing to the knowledge-based society
- Securing access to technologies, systems and capabilities for independence and cooperation
Realising this exciting suite of programmes will require new ESA facilities. Negotiations with Member States are under way to find the most efficient European infrastructure to cope with the upgraded needs of a space sector that reaches higher on the political, strategic and economic agendas of all Member States.
As an example of these negotiations, over the last few months, the UK and ESA have been discussing the possibility of establishing an ESA capability in the UK.
Officials have worked to define the scope of the capability and identified three areas, namely climate change, integrated applications and robotic exploration, in which an ESA capability in the UK could be established. These are essentially emerging areas of activity for ESA and would complement the existing ESA capabilities across Europe.
The Harwell business campus in Oxfordshire would be the focus for a facility and, with its existing wide range of activities and infrastructure, provides an excellent environment for a development. While the idea is agreed in principle, a final decision can only be made after the successful conclusion of the ESA Ministerial Council in November 2008. In the meantime, the UK and ESA will continue to develop their planning.
Daniel Sacotte, former Director of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration, has been appointed Director Advisor to the Director General, charged with the task of developing and drafting ESA's approach to a balanced ESA infrastructure, in preparation for the Ministerial Council.