ESA boss Aschbacher: “Space has limited resources”



Interview

As of: December 27, 2021 5:03 p.m.

Mars mission, moon rocket, astronaut selection: the European Space Agency ESA has big plans for 2022. General director Josef Aschbacher explains the plans in an interview with tagesschau.de and calls for new rules for space.

tagesschau.de: What is your personal ESA highlight in the coming year?

Josef Aschbacher: We have a very important mission that starts between the end of September and the beginning of October. Her name is “ExoMars” and she has a rover on board called “Rosalind Franklin”. The rover is the largest that has ever been on the surface of Mars. He has a wide range of scientific instruments on board for exploring Mars. We are carrying out the mission in very close partnership with our Russian partners from Roskosmos.

To person

Josef Aschbacher has been Director General of the European Space Agency ESA since March 2021. Before that, the native Austrian worked for many years in various positions for ESA, including director of earth observation programs.

tagesschau.de: To what extent does this mission go beyond NASA’s mission with the “Perseverance” rover, which landed on Mars in February?

Aschbacher: There are more scientific instruments on board in our mission. For the first time we will drill up to 1.70 meters into the surface of Mars with a drill, take samples and analyze them in a laboratory. It will be very exciting and very complex.

tagesschau.de: In 2022 NASA plans to put “Artemis I”, the first mission of the Orion space shuttle, into orbit around the moon. Here, too, the ESA is significantly involved.

Aschbacher: That’s correct. NASA’s SLS rocket – the moon rocket that will fly back to the moon decades after Apollo – bears a small ESA logo. We supply very essential components, for example the “European Service Module” with electrical supply and drive systems. Without the module that is being built in Bremen, NASA’s moon mission could not be carried out. We are an essential partner that NASA relies on. The time window for a start begins in mid-February. There is no exact date yet.

“We should use space sustainably”

tagesschau.de: Space has long since turned from a science space into an economic space. They recently expressed concern about the dominance of Elon Musk and its “Starlink” satellite. What is the problem?

Aschbacher: Elon Musk has launched almost 2000 “Starlink” generation satellites so far. On the one hand, this is very good because there is a lot of activity in space. On the other hand, these satellites make up about half of all currently active satellites in space. That is nice for Elon Musk, personally I also admire his huge vision and his energy to realize very complex projects. However, its activity also has consequences, namely that space is occupied and occupied by its satellites – not only physically by the satellites themselves, but also by the frequencies that are used.

That is the problem: we should use space sustainably. We all depend on satellites on a daily basis – for example for navigation devices, weather forecasting or information on agriculture, forestry, disaster control and climate research in the broader sense. Telecommunications are also very space-bound. Space has limited resources. We must think globally together about how the resources are used and who has what right to use satellites and the frequencies associated with them. This requires new, binding rules.

tagesschau.de: Elon Musk acts like this because there is no regulatory, worldwide “space agency” that slows him down. It seems utopian to bring space agencies and companies – that is, states and the private sector – to one table, doesn’t it?

Aschbacher: It’s a challenge and a very complex process. You have a mix of public and private individuals like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. But one must not forget that the national authorities of the states issue the licenses for the launch and operation of satellites. This is regulated nationally, but also at the international level via the ITU, the international telecommunications authority based in Geneva. So you can already intervene to regulate.

tagesschau.de: You have been ESA Director General since March and have made it your task to position Europe more confidently in space. In the USA, the enthusiasm for space activities is traditionally greater than in Europe. Have you noticed a rethink among the politicians of the ESA member states who are releasing the funds?

Aschbacher: The US is more focused on expansion and exploration. The NASA program focuses on the space station, moon and Mars. The European program focuses more on our own planet, i.e. climate protection and sustainability as well as practical applications for people such as reliable telecommunications and navigation. This is reflected in politics too, and this is precisely what Europe’s priorities in space are aligned with. Of course, Europe also has astronaut and exploration programs, but they are much less funded than NASA’s.

tagesschau.de: When it comes to astronauts, ESA currently has a permanent subscription to the ISS. After the French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer followed in November.

Aschbacher: I agree. At the moment we have Matthias Maurer on the International Space Station. He carries out more than 35 experiments on the ISS with German participation and many other international experiments. After Matthias Maurer, the Italian ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will fly to the ISS in the spring. She should also meet Matthias Maurer there. Then, as ESA, we will have three astronauts in direct order in space for the first time. The last four to six candidates for the ESA application process will then be selected towards the end of next year. With 22,589 applicants, we had a record of interested parties.

Waiting for “Hot-Firing Test” for Ariane 6

tagesschau.de: Will ESA’s new Ariane 6 launcher also launch from the spaceport in Kourou for the first time next year?

Aschbacher: The question is currently being discussed. We currently have two milestones ahead of us to really answer that question. One is the so-called “hot-firing test” in the facilities of the German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen. This test will take place early next year. If there are no technical changes after that, the Ariane 6 could start in the second half, towards the end of the year.

The interview was conducted by Ute Spangenberger, SWR, for tagesschau.de.


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