While the conquest of space continues to evolve, with an increasingly important role for private actors in the United States with Space X or the development of space tourism with the flight of Jeff Bezos in July 2021, Europe is also looking towards space. New infrastructures and technologies and even a new market: here is an overview of European space ambitions.
Reusable rockets are revolutionizing the conquest of space by lowering the cost of putting rockets into orbit. They involve the partial or total reuse of the first launch stage. The Americans have developed the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, whose some parts has already been reused nine times. In Europe, ESA, the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes) and Ariane Group should create the first reusable launcher developed by 2030, as announced by Bruno Le Maire ” Europe has missed the turn of the reusable launcher, we did not believe in it, we have fallen behind our American partners who have developed SpaceX and Falcon 9, and this delay must be caught up”. This launcher called Maïa “must be operational in 2026”. It’s an opportunity to create new projects of small reusable launchers, intended to put into orbit small satellites, involving “start-ups” and thus promote competition in the space world.
So, until now, Europe has relied on Ariane 6, whose first launch is scheduled for the first half of 2022. Ariane 6 marks the first page of future European launchers. Ariane 6 is designed for large satellites and space exploration, or for launching several mini satellites at once. The arrival of a new family of reusable and eco-responsible European launchers will serve the needs of Europe’s sovereign access to space in the coming decades.
However, Europe is not starting from scratch. Two important technologies were already under development: on the one hand, a new engine, Prometheus, whose first example will be tested in early 2022 in Vernon. And on the other hand, the reusable stage demonstrator, Themis, which will allow the return to Earth and a reuse of the next launch.
The most ambitious telescope in the history of space exploration was successfully launched with the Ariane 5 rocket on Saturday, December 25, from the Kourou space center. It is the James Webb Telescope, a ten billion dollar project and three decades of development, and is the result of collaboration between the American (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies.
Revolutionizing aerospace construction practices, the telescope features a 6-meter mirror with moving mechanisms to unfold. The telescope also includes imagers, spectrometers, a sunshade, containing the propulsion and communication system. The James Webb mission will last five years and could extend to ten years.
In addition, the contribution of Europe and France to this project is not negligible; first, NASA has chosen its European partner for the launch of the telescope, a first for an American institutional mission. The European Space Agency (ESA) also provided one of the instruments, the MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument). France contributed to one of the two parts of this instrument, the MIRIM imager (equivalent to a camera), developed by Cnes, CEA and several French laboratories.
First, what does the term “NewSpace” mean? NewSpace is a new entrepreneurial industrial sector, which has emerged in the United States, where companies are investing in space. It mainly concerns the arrival of private companies in aerospace. The sector represents today a new consequent market. NewSpace is characterized by the exchange of technologies between aerospace and other fields such as digital, Big Data or aeronautics innovations.
In figures, NewSpace represents more $15 billion in investments achieved in a decade. In France, this sector represents more than a hundred players, with about forty start-ups of 700 employees, and research laboratories, several tens of millions of euros in sales and investments.
Moreover, to illustrate the dynamics of European NewSpace, we can cite Charles Beigbeder, head of Audacia, who decided to tackle New Space by launching Geodesic.
In Reims, Venture Orbital Systems, a young startup founded by 21-year-old Stanislas Maximin, has inaugurated a factory to produce the first French micro launcher that will be able to send up to 70 kilos of payload to an altitude of 600 kilometers.
Finally, at the project stage, the European sovereign connectivity constellation could become a program in 2022. The European Commission awarded an initial €7.1M study to “established industry players” in December 2020. Then selected two consortia of companies from NewSpace for alternative six-month studies, each worth €1.4M. These two groups will define the secure connectivity needs that could be served by a European system combining different orbits, in order to recommend an optimal sovereign infrastructure.
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