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French Government Group Wants Europe To Join 2nd Space Race

A French parliamentary group saidChina’s recent anti-satellite demonstrations, plus Chinese and Indian plans forlunar exploration, are clear signs that a second global space race has begunand that Europe should join it.

In a reportissued Feb. 7, the French Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientificand Technological Choices makes a series of proposals, some of them specific, toreinvigorate Europe’s civil and military space policy.

Among the50 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.

Theparliamentary group views the growing space budgets of the United States, China,India and Russia in particular as confirmation that space remains a realm of strategiccompetition with multiple military and commercial applications.

Europe,they say, is losing ground to these nations and is at risk of becoming a spacealso-ran if it does not redouble its financial effort and end duplication amongindividual European nations. The report says Europe’s NATO members should set agoal of making their existing military satellite telecommunications systemsinteroperable within two years. Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain operateindependent systems and sometimes compete with each other for business.

Theprincipal authors of the report are Christian Cabal, a member of France’s NationalAssembly; and Sen. Henri Revol. Both have long been active in promoting Frenchand European space investment, saying Europe should not allow itself to fall toofar behind the United States.

But it isthe recent acceleration of investment in China and India, and the reawakeningof Russia’s space sector — the authors say Russia has multiplied space spendingby 10 since 1999 — that is the focus of the report.

Thereport’s one-paragraph introduction is an example. It mentions the followingrecent developments: The U.S. Vision for SpaceExploration’s goal of a lunar base by 2020; China’s manned space flights; Chineseand Indian plans for lunar exploration; the successful atmospheric re-entry andrecovery of an Indian orbital capsule; China’s alleged use of a laser toilluminate a U.S. military satellite; and China’s mid-January use of a ground-based missile to destroy a retired Chinesesatellite.

Membergovernments of the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed in December 2005 to givea “preference” to European rockets — Ariane 5 and the future medium- andlight-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 purchaseof Russian nuclear-heating technology for Europe’s Mars exploration program. ESAscience managers have said nuclear-propulsion technologyshould be considered for satellites traveling too far from the sun to rely onsolar power. But the subject remains sensitive in Europe and ESA has not agreedto a full-scale nuclear-propulsion research effort.

The Frenchparliamentary group proposes that France’s Atomic Energy Commission begin suchwork in cooperation with industry.

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Charles Q. Choi
Charles Q. Choi

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at