Space | 18. March 2011 | posted by Jan Wörner

ESA Council meeting and a reception at the German Ambassador's in Paris

An important meeting of the ESA Council took place on 16 and 17 March in Paris. Among other matters, it dealt with the International Space Station (ISS), ensuring European access to space, and the appointment of ESA Directors. On the first evening of the Council meeting, I was invited by the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Paris, Reinhard Schäfers, to visit his official residence. It was a good opportunity to speak, not only about German space strategy in general, but also about the coordination of space activities at a time when we are all concerned regarding the news about the events in Japan.

Before posting a complete transcript of the speech that I gave at the Ambassador's reception, I would like to make some brief remarks regarding the activities at the ESA Council meeting. The outcome of the ESA Council meeting was as follows:

  • the continued use of the ISS until 2020 was jointly approved
  • the partners agreed to ensure continued European access to space
  • ESA Directors, including three Germans, were appointed.

But this summary does not reflect the issues encountered before and during the negotiations. As far as the ISS is concerned, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie; BMWi) was very reserved, particularly regarding the Columbus Control Center and the share of German participation. After lengthy discussions in the Council meeting, in ad hoc groups with key stakeholders from France, Italy and Germany and with Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA, a variety of solutions were considered. At times, it seemed that the negotiations would end in failure. But in the end, perseverance, growing trust between the various parties involved and, above all, good preparation on the part of my DLR colleagues paid off. A compromise that can hopefully be used as a basis for further progress was achieved. Once the production of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) has finalised, substantial efforts will be required to safeguard German interests.

The discussion about ensuring European access to space, that is, the continuation of the Ariane success story, was also shaped by differing national interests. Thanks to excellent preparatory work, a common ground was found here relatively quickly. With respect to the appointment of ESA Directors, national interests were matched up. Germany can be very satisfied with three ESA Directors.

Overall, the two days of discussions have shown me that the European Spirit beyond national interests requires greater effort. This aspect was addressed in my speech at the ambassador’s residence, which I quote here, in full:

Dear Ambassador Schäfers,
ESA Council colleagues,
Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain,
representatives of the French Government,
representatives of French and German Industry,
representatives of international partners.

Thank you to Ambassador Schäfers for hosting today’s reception and for providing this wonderful location.

Less than one week after the big earthquake and subsequent Tsunami in Japan, I am still concerned, sad, worried and feel somewhat helpless. Can we talk about the fascination of space activities here while just 10,000 kilometres away people are fighting to survive, trying to get food and water, and are managing the biggest nuclear accident we ever had?

For me, the situation in Japan has a very personal touch, as it is linked with my stay in Japan for one year as a young scientist and engineer, to many personal friends and to the fact that my work at that time was focussed on the safety of nuclear power plants during strong earthquakes. Mankind has experienced many natural and man-made disasters throughout history, but the amount of individual, societal and technological damage to a country with a high standard of living, is unprecedented.

It is my deep conviction that, while still observing the very burdening news from Japan, we can and should think about future activities for the sake of mankind, and this includes space. Having said this, I would now like to present some of the central points of the new German Space Strategy.

There are booklets in German and English available for you.

What are the basic characteristics of the German Space Strategy? A new German imperialistic activity as proclaimed in some media?  To act  independently of Europe? Just industrial policy introduced by space?

None of that!

The formulation of the German Space Strategy aims to define goals, measures and respective tasks for meaningful space activities.

As for a strategy that means a way towards a vision one might also dream of a really unified Europe being part of a peaceful world. Despite the beauty and power of conviction of such an approach, the danger would be that the present reality would hamper measures and reaching of goals drastically. There is no single European institution responsible for space activities, and not one single supranational Government responsible for Europe so far.

The strategy must therefore be placed in the context of the current situation of existing national entities/countries that define Europe.

It is based on

  • a review of the past
  • competency in science, technology and industry
  • existing cooperation in Europe and beyond
  • existing structures in Europe and Germany
  • current and future challenges
  • political priorities
  • general guidelines
  • financial possibilities.

The strategy considers global challenges such as

  • globalisation
  • knowledge society
  • climate change and sustainability
  • civil and military security

and focusses consequently on

  • benefit and demand
  • sustainability as a principle

and especially on strengthening international cooperation.

Europe’s space activities have led to numerous scientific and technological achievements. European developments in Earth observation and the exploration of space and our Solar System have received world recognition and are the basis for global cooperation, not only but especially, on the ISS. In this context, unhampered European access to space and the ability of the western world to send astronauts into space are of special importance.

Benefits include not only direct applications like communication, environmental observation, navigation, etc., but also science as a major driving force for innovation. The strategy covers various fields, from space and Earth science, research, human spaceflight focussed on the ISS, and links between various fields, to making improved use of synergies, such as dual use.

The next steps on the national level are clearly defined: DLR will develop the guidelines, which will then lead to a comprehensive space programme.

The strategy aims at expanding international cooperation in space within Europe and beyond. In this context, ESA’s role as the intergovernmental space agency of Europe is highlighted. ESA should not be just another entity where national interests can be achieved but should live in the spirit of mutual programmes and solidarity. Especially with the Lisbon treaty, the EU has also entered the arena. Galileo and GMES, the flagships of European joint space activities, are already on the way but still not all respective problems have been resolved.

It is our clear position that EU space activities should be complementary to ESA and its member states and should take advantage of the existence of a well-functioning European Space Agency, our ESA.

This understanding automatically leads to the well-known shape of a triangle, where the corners are the actors, namely ESA, EU and the member states and the connecting lines define the interrelations including intensive cooperation. Bilateral or multilateral cooperation can be established between all space faring entities, be it nations or intergovernmental and supranational organizations.

Examples for such cooperation, besides our strong and long lasting commitment in ESA and the EU are for instance:

Bilateral: development of Merlin, a French-German climate satellite based on our long and successful tradition of cooperation in space and other fields.

Multilateral: International Space Station, Galileo and GMES. In particular, the French-German relationship is proof that neither disagreements nor publication of rumours and false quotations are able to hamper intensive and friendly cooperation even in difficult areas. We have to ensure that the overall situation develops fruitfully for the sake of the defined goals, and does not continue to be just another vicious circle. A smart development of the triangle, the functions, the interrelations and the overall coordination, can be a sound basis for upcoming space missions as well as for future political developments towards a really unified Europe.

Now at the end of my speech, I would like to get back to the situation in Japan:

The actual observations are a clear indication of what globalisation will mean in the future: we are no longer just individual nations with activities that end at the national border; the interlink, be it economy, society or environment gives rise to international cooperation in all fields. Space can play an important role as the International Charter on Space and Major Disaster has proven.

I would like to end with a quotation by Ronald Reagan:

"The truth is, our space programme doesn’t invest in machines; it invests in people. And you don’t only launch rockets, you launch dreams."

If we understand this, not only as a technological or scientific challenge based on curiosity, but also as a challenge and dream for the society in Europe and the world, beyond national borders, hope and optimism can substitute the current dismay and worries.

During this difficult time, my deep sympathy goes to Japan, the Japanese people and many of my Japanese friends.

Thank you for your attention.


About the author

The ‘Jan Wörner’ blog was written by Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner during his time as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Jan Wörner wrote all the posts himself and then sent them to DLR Corporate Communications for editing, picture research and online publication. to authorpage