A French parliamentary group said China’s recent anti-satellite demonstrations, plus Chinese and Indian plans for lunar exploration, are clear signs that a second global space race has begun and that Europe should join it.
In a report issued Feb. 7, the French Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices makes a series of proposals, some of them specific, to reinvigorate Europe’s civil and military space policy.
Among the 50 proposals:
- Sanctions should be imposed on any European government that does not give preference to European launch vehicles for its government civil and military satellites.
- France should begin preparing nuclear-powered satellites to permit deep-space exploration, using expertise at the French Atomic Energy Commission and in French industry.
- Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket should be made capable of launching astronauts within five years.
- Managers of Europe’s Galileo satellite-navigation project should engage in negotiations with the NATO alliance on how Galileo’s encrypted, government-only signal should be used and protected.
- France and other European governments should give assistance to companies that propose to develop suborbital flight systems designed to create a space-tourism industry.
The parliamentary group views the growing space budgets of the United States, China, India and Russia in particular as confirmation that space remains a realm of strategic competition with multiple military and commercial applications.
Europe, they say, is losing ground to these nations and is at risk of becoming a space also-ran if it does not redouble its financial effort and end duplication among individual European nations. The report says Europe’s NATO members should set a goal of making their existing military satellite telecommunications systems interoperable within two years. Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain operate independent systems and sometimes compete with each other for business.
The principal authors of the report are Christian Cabal, a member of France’s National Assembly; and Sen. Henri Revol. Both have long been active in promoting French and European space investment, saying Europe should not allow itself to fall too far behind the United States.
But it is the recent acceleration of investment in China and India, and the reawakening of Russia’s space sector — the authors say Russia has multiplied space spending by 10 since 1999 — that is the focus of the report.
The report’s one-paragraph introduction is an example. It mentions the following recent developments: The U.S. Vision for Space Exploration’s goal of a lunar base by 2020; China’s manned space flights; Chinese and Indian plans for lunar exploration; the successful atmospheric re-entry and recovery of an Indian orbital capsule; China’s alleged use of a laser to illuminate a U.S. military satellite; and China’s mid-January use of a ground-based missile to destroy a retired Chinese satellite.
Member governments of the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed in December 2005 to give a “preference” to European rockets — Ariane 5 and the future medium- and light-class Soyuz and Vega vehicles — whenever technically and financially possible. They stopped short of adopting a French proposal for stronger language.
ESA also has been considering the purchase of Russian nuclear-heating technology for Europe’s Mars exploration program. ESA science managers have said nuclear-propulsion technology should be considered for satellites traveling too far from the sun to rely on solar power. But the subject remains sensitive in Europe and ESA has not agreed to a full-scale nuclear-propulsion research effort.
The French parliamentary group proposes that France’s Atomic Energy Commission begin such work in cooperation with industry.