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DLR, Europe and international cooperation

18. February 2011, 11.57, Jan Wörner, 2 Comment/s
The topic of 'national activities versus international cooperation' has been discussed quite a bit recently. The 'either … or' question has become a fundamental issue for everyday politics. Our activities in the first two months of 2011 prove that we are not treating this as an 'either … or' issue; instead, we see the combination of national and European efforts and the activities arising from these efforts as a promising arrangement.

Obviously, the existence of nation states around the globe, including within Europe, gives rise to national policies. It is also evident that for DLR to succeed, research cooperation and technology development must transcend national borders. With this understanding, let's look at few current examples.

The topic of energy took centre stage at our traditional New Year reception in Brussels, which was held at the representative office of the German Federal state of Baden-Württemberg. Prior to this, Ulrich Wagner, one of my colleagues on the Executive Board, talked about energy and transport at the European level - topics for which he is responsible.

In the aviation sector, work has been progressing over the last few weeks on the establishment of new European objectives for the coming decades. Another one of my Executive Board colleagues, Rolf Henke, along with Uwe Möller from the DLR office in Brussels, have been discussing various aspects of this research area with colleagues from European bodies, industry and scientific institutions. The final objectives will be decided upon jointly at a 'High-Level Final Meeting'.

Sojus-Trägerrakete in der Integrationshalle des europäischen Weltraumbahnhofs Kourou in Französisch-Guayana. Bild: DLR, Jan Wörner, CC-BY-ND 3.0As for space research: the second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Johannes Kepler launched successfully from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on 16 February 2011. The fact that the 200th launch of the Ariane rocket succeeded on its second attempt should not be perceived as a lack of European competence in this field. In fact, it should be viewed in the most favourable of terms, because the monitoring systems performed their intended task, to warn of anomalies, perfectly. ATV Johannes Kepler, a modern space transporter and the embodiment of European engineering prowess, is currently en route to the International Space Station to deliver supplies to the astronauts and cosmonauts. ATV-2 was named after Johannes Kepler, who was a polymath (a theologian, astronomer and mathematician) who worked in several places (Graz, Linz, Prague) and had important professional contacts (Tycho Brahe and Galileo Galilei). Naming a European venture founded on diversity and cooperation after him makes perfect sense.

Between the first launch attempt on 15 February and the successful launch on 16 February 2011, I had the chance to see first hand the preparations under way for the lift off of the Soyuz launchers from French Guiana - an aspect of European cooperation with Russia. The first Soyuz launch from the European Spaceport in French Guiana in September will add another satellite to the Galileo satellite navigation system.

Success at the European level is always based on cooperation, which relies on national technological expertise and joint (financial) efforts. This requires maintaining a constant balance between the interests and activities of individual countries and their common goals. But this balance is not always easy to obtain right from the beginning. In addition to research and development, we must constantly keep abreast of the cross-border political dimension and the overall picture, taking proper account of the diverse interests. The current discussions regarding further development and financing of the International Space Station and European launch vehicles are a good example of the challenges involved in European cooperation.

Top image: Launch of the Ariane 5ES with ATV-2 on board. Credit: Arianespace.

Bottom image: Soyuz launch vehicle in the integration building at the European Spaceport in French Guiana. Credit: DLR, CC-BY-ND 3.0.


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  • By Alan Hewat, Grenoble France on 19.06.2011
    I am sorry to see Jan Woerner publicly contradicting Jean-Jacques Dordain in the BBC article "US and Europe plan new Spaceship" http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13286238 The US has developed a new re-entry vehicle, but has cancelled their programme to launch it. The EU has developed an excellent ATV and launcher, but lacks a re-entry vehicle. In contradicting Dordain on EU-US collaboration for an ATV capable of re-entry, is he saying that Europe should wait for finances to improve :-) then go it alone on re-entry ?
  • By Jan Woerner, Chairman of the DLR Executive Board on 21.06.2011

    Dear Mr. Hewat,

    I was not directly contradicting Jean-Jacques Dordain; simply expressing my opinion that, in the current economic climate, the scale of funding needed to complete development of a more capable ATV-derived spacecraft is not likely to be available in Europe. But a re-entry capable ATV might be a useful first step in the iterative development of a joint NASA/ESA orbital vehicle. ESA’s stated intention is to work with NASA to define possible ATV-derived spacecraft designs by October 2011. Europe does not necessarily have to "go it alone" in developing an ATV re-entry capability – a decision about this will need to wait at least until the results of the joint study are presented. It is possible that some of the work done by NASA on its Orion spacecraft would be re-used in any joint ESA/NASA venture.

    With best regards, Jan Wörner