ESA Dreams of Industry Ties

A plan to breathe life back into the European Space Agency (ESA) by forging new partnerships with aerospace industry was unveiled last week at a meeting of ESA's Council at its Paris headquarters. At the same time, ESA decided to create an all-European astronaut corps and to kill a proposed moon mission.

The new suite of programs is the brainchild of ESA Director-General Antonio Rodotà, an Italian electrical engineer. Rodotà proposed items such as an Earth observation program that would encompass both research-oriented "Earth Explorer" missions, wholly funded by ESA, and applications-based "Earth Watch" missions, developed in collaboration with industry (Science, 16 January, p. 316). Another possibility is a satellite navigation program that would make Europe independent of both the U.S. Global Positioning System and the Russian GLONASS system.

Council members greeted the plan with "a mixture of sympathy and skepticism," says Gérard Brachet, director-general of the French space agency CNES. Noting that ESA initiated the development of satellite communications in Europe, but was soon outrun by the industry consortium EUTELSAT, Brachet says, "ESA does not have very much experience in this field. ... It is industry that should play the principal role in the commercial applications of space."

The Council declined to back a project called Euromoon 2000, to send a small orbiter and lander to the moon in the early years of next century. Development work on the project had already begun at ESA's technology center, ESTEC, in the Netherlands. Brachet noted that Euromoon had been developed without first gathering the support of the scientific community and ESA's Science Program Committee.