Europe has its own astronauts.
But so far they have only been passengers, or better: fellow passengers.
You have to line up with Russians and Americans and use their missiles for flight opportunities.
Hitchhikers in space.
But maybe not much longer.
Because according to information from WELT AM SONNTAG, the European Space Agency (ESA) is considering preparing its own manned space flight with new rockets.
She doesn't want to lose touch in an industry that is currently in great flux.
But at the moment Europeans are struggling mainly with technical problems.
And there is also a risk of drastic additional costs for the new Ariane 6 rocket. Difficult negotiations are pending.
"The earlier, the better"
"I am convinced that one day Europe will have a manned transport capacity," says Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director for Spacecraft Carriers.
The decision on this is not a short-term decision, but ESA is now preparing this option.
The ESA will soon commission studies “for new starting solutions”.
A “manned version should be an option,” says Neuenschwander.
He would appreciate it if Europe could implement its own manned missions as quickly as possible.
“The sooner, the better.” But ultimately this is a political decision.
It would be a change of strategy by the Europeans - again.
Because 30 years ago there was all of this with the Hermes space glider.
However, due to high costs, this project was buried in 1992.
Therefore, Europe must continue to look for opportunities to fly and also watch recently as the space company SpaceX, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has risen to set the pace in the industry.
Musk has just sent four people with his rocket to the ISS space station and is building a fleet with thousands of Internet satellites.
But other US companies also have ambitious space plans.
And soon even India plans to launch manned missiles.
ESA does not want to lag behind.
Uniform laws in space
At first glance, the chances of political support are not that bad.
The so-called EU Space Council only met on Friday under the German Council Presidency.
The ministers of the EU states responsible for the topic spoke out in favor of an initiative to strengthen the “space ecosystem”, for uniform space laws and closer cooperation.
The topic of manned space flight was not addressed directly, but there are considerations for new launch vehicles.
Europe needs its own access to space, it was stressed.
But it's not that easy.
After all, all of this takes place in a complex situation between the EU, the ESA with its 22 member states and the industrial companies involved.
And then there are the acute problems of the corona crisis.
The best example of this is the new large European launch vehicle Ariane 6. It is actually intended as Europe's answer to the large rockets from Musk and its space project SpaceX.
But the European company is delaying more and more and is becoming more and more expensive.
Industry demands more money
The first Ariane 6 flight was planned for summer 2020, but ESA is now talking about the second quarter of 2022. It also wants a further 230 million euros for the new rocket.
This is much less than the industry - above all the Ariane Group, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran - actually wishes.
In fact, "the industry is asking for an amount that is many times higher," said ESA Director Neuenschwander.
But in the opinion of the ESA only part of this is justified.
It is true that "there are significant additional costs that are also based on technical difficulties, reinforced by reduced productivity due to Covid-19," says Neuenschwander.
But the industry has an obligation to manage certain technical difficulties itself.
In addition, the Ariane Group has promised a contribution of 400 million euros for the new rocket.
The ESA therefore only presents additional costs that are justified according to the contracts.
"There is a discrepancy between the industrial demands and what the ESA puts on the table," the ESA director put it soberly.
The Ariane Group does not want to comment on their demands at the moment.
With the additional costs put by ESA at 230 million euros, Europe's new rocket would cost almost four billion euros.
"The rocket is a huge step forward"
Ultimately, says Neuenschwander, “the entire Ariane 6 model is about to be renegotiated”.
It's not just about funding, it's also about how many copies of the rocket will be built.
After all, the market has changed dramatically with the appearance of new US competitors.
But Neuenschwander also emphasizes that the Ariane 6 project is not in danger.
“The rocket is a huge step forward for Europe,” he says.
After all, the take-offs would be cheaper than with the Ariane 5. The ESA aims to cut costs by 50 percent, the industry speaks of 40 percent.
"We are not yet at the goal setting, but on the way to a significant cost reduction," says the ESA director.
In addition, the new start-up rockets (boosters) can also be used for the future version of the smaller Vega C rocket.
However, the next problem is already lurking here.
A Vega mission with two satellites has just failed, possibly because cables in the fourth stage drive were swapped.
Against this background, it is at least questionable whether the European states would feel like entrusting ESA with the project of a manned transport missile.
This text is from WELT AM SONNTAG.
This text is from WELT AM SONNTAG.
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