15th European Interparliamentary Space Conference

Jean-Jacques Dordain at EISC 2013
11 November 2013

Speech of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, 

14-15 October 2013, Belgian Senate, Brussels

Good morning everyone,

The European Interparliamentary Space Conference (EISC) is an event that I myself have never missed. I am at my 15th meeting of this conference. I don’t think that there are many in the room who have the same experience of EISC, though I am not a parliamentarian. And after 14 meetings the pleasure is still there. In fact it is both a pleasure and a duty to attend this type of conference. 

It’s a pleasure because we are among friends, among friends of space. You are all convinced of the importance of space for life on planet Earth and for the future of planet Earth. But it is also a duty because we, the space agencies, are using taxpayers’ money and the least we can do is to explain what we are delivering and how we are giving back to the citizens what they are giving to us – and you are the representatives of the citizens. So last year we were together in Warsaw around the time of the accession of Poland as the 20th member state of ESA. Today we are in Brussels, I mean in Belgium, not in the EU institutions – I go to Brussels much more often to attend EU institutions meetings than meetings with Belgium as member state. But today we are in Belgium, one of the founding members of ESA, a big contributor in absolute terms and even bigger in relative terms, relative to its GNP, since Belgium is number two among contributors to ESA in relation to its GNP.

Since last year a lot of important events have happened putting Europe, its member states and its citizens at the forefront of space in the world. First, there have been a series of unprecedented successes. I would like just to mention some of them. Among the successes which are pushing the frontiers of knowledge I would like to recall that on 21 March we revealed the first fossil light after the Big Bang from data obtained by the ESA spacecraft Plank. That was a fantastic event, because it was the first time we had seen this light with such accuracy, providing work for scientists for decades to come. Then just last month, in Glasgow, we organised the Living Planet Symposium, which gathered together more than 2000 participants from all over the world, scientists who have taken part in exchanges based on the data provided by ESA’s Earth Explorer missions, providing evidence of climate change, providing data with which to understand climate change and providing the means to monitor the essential parameters of climate change based on the ENVISAT, GOCE, CryoSat, SMOS, and very soon SWARM satellites since SWARM is the next satellite dedicated to climate change that we shall launch in November from Plesetsk in Russia. I would not like to close this list without mentioning Gaia, which is ready for launch. It will be launched at the end of this year from French Guiana. With Gaia we will reach another step in the understanding of the Universe, since Gaia will be able to provide the cartography of more than 1 billion stars.

Coming to the competitiveness of European industry, I would like to mention the second launch of Vega, in May this year. Two successes in a row for this brand new launcher – we have never done that before in Europe, so Vega broke a record for Europe. Vega launched Proba-V, a satellite made in Belgium, but also ESTCube, the first satellite from Estonia, and I am very glad that ESA was able to launch the first satellite from that country. Maybe the most important thing about Vega, Proba-V and ESTCube is that all three were designed by a new generation of engineers. When you look at the engineers who have developed Vega, they are all between 30 and 35; the same for Proba-V, and for ESTCube it’s even lower than that. So the young generation are already on board for these types of spacecraft. We launched ATV-4“Albert Einstein” on 5 June, and it docked with the International Space Station on 15 June – the first docking without contact before docking. It shows the fantastic accuracy of the piloting and guidance systems of ATV, which are fully automatic. After a successfully completed mission, ATV-4 will re-enter the atmosphere on 28 October.

Then we had the launch of Alphasat on 25 July. Alphasat is the biggest telecommunication satellite ever developed in Europe. It is based on a lot of partnerships at different levels and I am very proud of that. It’s a partnership between ESA and CNES, a partnership between Thales and Astrium and a partnership between ESA and the operator Inmarsat. Alphasat is full of new technologies and since launch these new technologies have been working perfectly. This is a demonstration of the competiveness of European industry. 

We are also delivering new services to citizens; I have already mentioned Proba-V, which is an operational service for vegetation that is providing land coverage of planet Earth. Alphasat is also delivering telecommunication services. We have also provided the first positioning based on four Galileo satellites and the accuracy that we can obtain from these four Galileo satellites is very promising. I am confident that by the end of 2014, the early Galileo services will be operational.

Every day these ESA successes demonstrate that Europe can be in a leading position in the world. All the missions I have mentioned are globally unique. Europe is also a very attractive partner around the world, not only to space powers but also to the countries of Africa or South America which need space. In Europe we are able to share data instead of using data as an instrument of leadership.

After this successful series of missions I would like to recall that we had a very successful Council at ministerial level. Last year our conference was held one month before the Council at ministerial level, so everything was still to be done. I can report today that the Naples ministerial was a fantastic success. The objective of the ministerial was “competiveness and growth”. Space is no longer considered an expense, but an investment in the economy with a high return, so it’s a good investment – it’s such a good investment that I am always recalling that the UK has increased its contribution by 25% in ESA programmes and activities.

Competitiveness and growth rely on three pillars. The first pillar is the combination between knowledge, innovation and services. We cannot really separate progress in knowledge, innovation and services to citizens. Services to citizens always come from progress in knowledge and innovative technologies. The second pillar is leveraging investment. At ESA, we are developing more and more public-private partnerships – real public-private partnerships. We at ESA are not providing a market, we are just providing new technologies, and private investors are putting money to use these new technologies to open new markets. But we are also developing these public-private partnerships in the full end-to-end chain of economic value. And the third pillar is efficiency and expertise, and I shall come back to that.

So we achieved at the ministerial, in spite of the economic difficulties, funding for three, four full years of activities. And we have moved very fast to implement all the decisions. In less than six weeks, approval for industrial procurement has been obtained, six weeks between decision and industrial procurement approval. The whole of European industry was at work by the end of January, two months later, with the signature of the first industrial contracts. The design of Ariane 6 was frozen in July and in July we issued the request for consultation, which is a competition for ideas. The result has been fantastic: we have received 159 proposals for Ariane 6, and we are now evaluating all these proposals. This will provide the basis for the industrial organisation of Ariane 6. In July we also signed the agreement between Astrium, Thales, CNES and ESA on the Neosat satellite, which is a new telecommunication platform which will be developed with electric propulsion. And tomorrow morning I will be in Luxembourg to sign the contract for Electra, the other telecommunication platform which will be developed in Europe to allow European industry and operators to stay competitive on the world market. 

So we are moving fast, but others too are moving fast. Since last year a lot of changes have taken place in the world, especially in the commercial fields where there is business to be done. The competition has increased dramatically in only one year. In the telecommunications domain, with the first electric propulsion platform being delivered by Boeing, but also unfortunately with a shrinking of the market. And in launch services, which have seen a reduction in demand (coming from the telecommunication market), there has been a significant increase in the supply. There is Falcon 9, there is Antares, but also Atlas V back in the commercial market, H2A in the commercial market, Proton back to operational services and SeaLaunch which is still operational. So for 20 satellites, which is basically the accessible market per year, there are 10 launch services on offer, meaning that significant restructuring is to be expected in the launch services domain. This means that we have no chance in Europe to stay competitive without, first, a competitive launcher, and second, a domestic market, because the ones who will survive will be the ones who are competitive on the one hand but also the ones who can rely upon a domestic market.

Today European industry is competitive, but competiveness today is the result of the investments made 5 years ago. Today we have to prepare the competitiveness of tomorrow. And to prepare the competitiveness of tomorrow we have to innovate – innovate in new technologies, innovate in new industrial organisation, innovate in each part of the end-to-end chain of economic value, from research to market. Innovation is not made of uniformity. And rapid innovation cannot be based on consensus. This is very important. Innovation requires leaders and flexibility, which is the essence of ESA’s optional programmes.

Innovation also requires taking risks. We have to take risks in space because we are exploring the unknown – not only the unknown in space, but also the unknown in technologies. It’s not so easy to take risks. Especially in a risk-averse society. Nobody likes failure these days, but we have no alternative but to take risks. And the only way to reconcile risk and success is expertise. Expertise is not in books, it is not in computers, it is not in regulations – it is with the people. People at ESA, people in industry, people in research organisations. Today we have the best people, but we have to maintain this expertise.

This is the objective of ESA industrial policy. To support the competiveness of industry, to develop expertise in European industry – we like competition at ESA, because we like the best ideas, we like the best price. But competition should not be used to destroy expertise, meaning that we have to make sure that at the end of the competition process we still have the expertise which is required for further competition, and also for innovation. 

We have to renew this expertise by attracting the best talents among the young generations to science and technology. It’s not easy. There is a lot of competition between science and technology and other types of activities. You can make more money if you are a banker, you can be more visible as a lawyer. So it is not so easy to attract the young to science and technology. But we have no alternative, we have to attract them, we have to educate them and we have to motivate them. We have no alternative, and this is why I’m grateful, Madame Tilmans, that you have chosen the topic of young generations for this conference. Because we, the older space generation, and also you, the decision-makers, we have to join forces to attract, educate and motivate the best talents among the young generations. It will not be enough on its own, because nothing will happen without the young themselves, and this is why I’m so glad you have invited them into this room. Because they have to take initiatives, they have to take the lead in carrying through changes. This is what I say each time I make a speech to newcomers at ESA, my new colleagues. I always tell them: “Don’t let ESA change you, you have to change ESA”, and I mean it.

ESA is lucky because there is “Young ESA” which has emerged, this is their initiative. And they are very active. And this is why I have no doubts about the future of ESA, because the young generations are taking responsibility for that future and they are taking it seriously. But this collective challenge is a very difficult one. It’s a key challenge for the future, not only in Europe, but all over the world, maybe except in China, which is the only place where I have seen the young generation having taken the lead. And we have to succeed in doing that also in Europe.

I would even say that attracting young talents to space is more difficult than landing an astronaut on Mars. It is very simple: we have no chance of landing an astronaut on Mars if we do not succeed in attracting, educating and motivating young talents from Europe and beyond. I shall answer your question, Madame Tilmans: I think the most interesting part of space is that space is the best way to design a collective future on planet Earth.

Thank you very much.

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