European Space Agency (ESA)

ESA : “Competition is a driver, cooperation is an enabler”

Dossier : Vie des entreprisesMagazine N°759 Novembre 2020
Par Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ WÖRNER

Johann-Die­trich ‘Jan’ Wör­ner, the ESA Direc­tor Gene­ral, tells us more about the space indus­try, the place of Europe and the main chal­lenges facing the sector.

In the past years, the space industry has undergone several evolutions and disruptions. According to you, what are the main aspects that can be remembered here ? 

In gene­ral terms com­mer­cia­li­sa­tion is the key aspect. The deve­lop­ment in this direc­tion is very strong in the US, but one can see it in Europe as well. The mar­ket situa­tion in Europe is not com­pa­rable to the US, the­re­fore it needs spe­cial acti­vi­ties to deve­lop a mature space indus­trial land­scape. ESA is sup­por­ting the­re­fore star­tups with our Busi­ness Incu­ba­tion Cen­ters and has spe­cial tools to get SMEs into busi­ness. More and more the downs­tream is beco­ming impor­tant, the space and the non-space actors are coope­ra­ting. With the Downs­tream Gate­way ESA esta­bli­shed a spe­cial ins­tru­ment for these activities. 

We also witness a reinforced international competition with the arrival of new private actors. In this landscape, what is the place of Europe ? 

Com­pe­ti­tion is a dri­ver, coope­ra­tion is an enabler. Based on this mot­to, ESA is sup­por­ting com­pe­ti­tion but at the same time the ove­rall struc­ture of ESA with 22 Mem­ber States is based on coope­ra­tion. ESA is also buil­ding many pro­grammes in coope­ra­tion with most of the space agen­cies in the world. Europe has a broad varie­ty of pri­vate actors and ESA sup­ports the com­mer­cia­li­sa­tion by seve­ral means, e.g. public pri­vate part­ner­ships. New Space is unders­tood as a way for­ward to cost reduc­tion, com­mer­cia­li­sa­tion, agi­li­ty, flexi­bi­li­ty and inno­va­tion. In this unders­tan­ding ESA is wor­king in dif­ferent roles : as an R&D agen­cy, as a part­ner, as a cus­to­mer and as a bro­ker. Only by using the dif­ferent roles at the same time, we can satis­fy the needs. 

And we sup­port the streng­the­ning of Euro­pean indus­try so that it can bet­ter com­pete with pri­vate actors on the inter­na­tio­nal market.

Actually, what are the main topics that you are working on ? 

ESA’s pro­gram­ma­tic setup is defi­ned in 4 pillars :

  • science and exploration ;
  • safe­ty, secu­ri­ty and sustainability ;
  • appli­ca­tions ;
  • enabling and support.

In each and eve­ry pillar there are pro­grammes to shape the future, from Mars Sample Return to Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence for Earth Obser­va­tion and Space Safe­ty. 

What are the main challenges you are facing ? 

The world­wide deve­lop­ment is very fast and the glo­bal com­pe­ti­tion is fierce. Digi­tal trans­for­ma­tion is a must and the spe­ci­fic chal­lenges of the Coro­na Cri­sis have to be tack­led. As men­tio­ned above the com­mer­cia­li­sa­tion is one key aspect and needs to be acce­le­ra­ted as well. 

En Bref

The Euro­pean Space Agen­cy (ESA) is Europe’s gate­way to space. Its mis­sion is to shape the deve­lop­ment of Europe’s space capa­bi­li­ty and ensure that invest­ment in space conti­nues to deli­ver bene­fits to the citi­zens of Europe and the world. ESA is an inter­na­tio­nal orga­ni­sa­tion with 22 Mem­ber States. By coor­di­na­ting the finan­cial and intel­lec­tual resources of its mem­bers, it can under­take pro­grammes and acti­vi­ties far beyond the scope of any single Euro­pean coun­try. In 2020, the bud­get of ESA was 6.7 bil­lion of euros. 

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