Published September 19, 2022
ESA wants more money. Let’s instead develop the space industry and partnerships like in the US. What if we were inspired by the American capitalist model, rather than expecting everything from the state?
Public spending on space, a gesture without the possibility of a result
In a Sept. 13 article, La Tribune reports that ESA (European Space Agency) director Josef Aschbacher wants member states to push for a 30 percent increase in their budget from $14.38 billion to $18.7 billion. Euro.
This is a lot, but it highlights three weaknesses of the Agency:
Another American situation
In the United States, the evolution was different, and today the differences with Europe are striking. Previously, with the passage of the Launch Procurement Act of 1998, NASA was legally required to use private launch vehicles when possible. This has helped private companies like SpaceX grow in a competitive environment that is encouraged to develop independently of the state, even if it continues to pay them. Very quickly, these companies, which had their own money, took the initiative, tried innovations. Some have been successful, others less so.
This encouragement of freedom and prosperity has spawned what is called New Space, a whole world of companies of all sizes, from Bigelow (inflatable living quarters) to SpaceX (Elon Musk) or Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos) or even Stemrad (an Israeli company). an American company that developed an anti-radiation vest), who have their own project, who are trying to implement it and do not ask anyone for anything (except private investors who want to support them). From time to time they receive a contract from NASA, if the latter is interested in it. It is very different from companies, both in the US and especially in Europe, who work on a space project only to order (Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Arianespace, for example). In other words, SpaceX didn’t wait for NASA to launch reusable technology to try it out.
In Europe, space companies are very wise and waiting for orders (even if they keep the research high, in anticipation of what might happen). Moreover, the ESA, like any other administration, is held with four sticks in front of whimsical or inappropriate lines that we have always followed, mutations are rare and slow, a paradigm shift is impossible. For a long time ESA, like NASA, ridiculed reusability, and now ESA is lagging behind. For NASA, it’s a little different because it’s in the New Cosmos environment, which allows it to capitalize on the innovations of others (which didn’t stop it from going astray and then diving into the Artemis dead end, that huge expensive and useless thing).
ESA now has a reusable Prometheus engine program and a reusable Themis first stage program, but it’s a little overdue because due to its mastery of the reusable technology it is the inventor of, SpaceX is capturing all launches and ESA can’t count on just those which are imposed on their customers for political reasons (in principle, why choose a launch for 200 million when you can do it for 100 million?).
As a result, ESA falls back to second place. The new Vega launcher can only launch small charges. It takes some time, but this is a game in the kindergarten yard. Its Ariane 6 medium launcher is an improvement on the Ariane 5, but without major innovation and notably without reusability. It will not fly until 2023 and will already be obsolete.
As far as manned flights are concerned, the contempt for this type of mission by what might be called the scientific establishment has led to a significant delay in Europe unthinkable in an American New Space environment dreaming of astronauts on Mars or on the Moon. or space tourism. It is the same haughty and arrogant spirit that sees private money as impure until it is reformed by the tax system, and who cannot imagine partnering with private sector bosses who should remain in power.
It’s not how you progress. This is not a way to maximize the fruits of the development of the human mind. A unified structure, an administration populated by career-advancing civil servants who have no entrepreneurial spirit, that is, a taste for risk by the necessity of being better than competitors, and who must only cater to hierarchical or political superiors who have already achieved success, cannot risk themselves in adventurousness which could harm their administration (or the politicians who control and sanction them) and therefore themselves.
The European space is severely limited in this context, especially because there are no major entrepreneurs in Europe like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos to push, push, incite ESA. We can only count on the chance of coming to the top of the pyramid of civil servants who are a little more courageous than the rest, or simply more aware of the catastrophic situation in which their administration (in this case ESA) finds itself. like Josef Aschbacher, try to straighten the bar or get out of the rut.
But in any case, without private capitalism and without the envy of big European capitalists (Bernard Arnault or François Pinault is not interested in space), the sky will remain the playground of the Americans. It doesn’t make sense to spend more money to drop them off a tower in the desert.